28 February 2011

Inspiration 2: Study

      During the design process,  the Study Room underwent several transformations. We had originally planned to isolate the Study, but we later decided to make it an integral part of the Living Room. 

      We also decided not to build any custom furniture in that room, as we wanted to keep furniture arrangements flexible.  We plan to furnish it slowly and lovingly over the next few months, according to our needs and budget.

       Here are some of the images that we've collected in our Study Folder for inspiration:

 Reading Nook

Linear Arrangement


Symmetrical Desks 

Efficient use of corner

 Table in middle allowing to sit on opposite sides

We are still not sure what the dynamics will be in our new home.  Will our kids study downstairs or will they prefer to do their homework in their respective bedroom?  Where are they going to keep their books?

      Right now, in our tiny 2LDK apartment, it is easy to store books right back to their original location, but what about in our new home?  I have the feeling that we'll find books scattered around in every room of the house, including the loft...  We need a strategy!

25 February 2011

Jichinsai Ceremony

      Today was a very symbolic day in the course of our home building project:  we celebrated Jichinsai, a ritual that is performed to acknowledge the spirits and pay respects before using the land. From what we've gathered, the ritual has the purpose of clearing away bad luck, impurities, or evil which might be connected to the land.

      This ritual typically involves a priest who prays for safety, happiness, and protection from disaster. 'Jichinsai' seeks to pacify the spirits of the land for cutting plants, breaking ground, and digging holes.

      Not only were we lucky enough to enjoy outstanding weather today, but this Friday is also a TaiAn day - - a day considered to bring good fortune, according to the Japanese Calendar!

       We did a simplified version of Jichinsai that was performed in the presence of our Contractor Suzuki-san from Archimoda, Two Style Director Shioda-san, and our Architect Yakushiji-san. For this event, we were asked to prepare some rice, a large bottle of sake and some salt.

      We started out by making offerings of sake, rice and salt on the four corners of the land, starting from north-east going clockwise, as well as in the center.  The goods were poured and sprinkled once to the left, once to the right, and again once to the left, symbolizing the heart - .

This ritual closely resembles that of "Ch'alla" performed in Bolivia where beverage is poured onto the land to honor the Pachamama- Mother Earth.
     
We then went to greet our neighbours.  Suzuki-san had prepared typical gifts - small towels, as well as a letter providing details on the construction plans.  He explained that we would soon be building next to their home, and that they should expect some disturbance.  

This seems like a nice way to establish good relations with our neighbors.  Our kids were also very happy to give out the little gifts we had prepared for them...

     Heading back to our apartment through Inokashira Park, we stopped at Benzaiten Temple for a little praying of our own....

     So excited now!  Building starts next Monday!

23 February 2011

Construction Contract

       We are currently preparing to sign our Construction Contract this coming Friday. The payments for the construction of our house are broken down into 4:

1.   Down payment, made when we retained the services of our architect, which was equivalent to about 5% of overall cost.

2.   First installment, due at the time of signing the construction contract, equivalent to about one third of the value of the overall project, minus the down payment paid earlier.

3.   Second installment, due when the structure of the house has been erected, again equivalent to one third of the overall cost.

4.   Third installment, when the house is complete. This is when the House Loan kicks in, allowing us a bit of room to breathe…

      We have been going over the numbers for the past couple of weeks and it's time to formalize our agreement, otherwise, we can't start building!


      Back in September, we started out with a Defined Construction Cost which included specific budget allowance for windows, equipment, flooring, etc. 

      We also had a list of features that are not part of the construction itself but are still needed, such as plumbing, gas installation, mortgage insurance, and others as well as "optional items" such as heating/air conditioning system, wood deck, underfloor heating, window mouldings, etc.  

      As we advanced with our plans and selections, we then added and subtracted from our optionals.  We of course supervised the budget closely from the start to avoid last-minute surprises.

     Once we sign the contract, we will also be able to proceed with the Jichinsai - ground breaking ceremony.  More on this in our next post...

19 February 2011

Wallpaper vs Paint

      Long before we even thought of building this house, we knew we wanted paint on our walls rather than tacky wallpaper.
 
      My first 1K apartment in Fuchu-shi was covered with unappealing green textured wallpaper. 

     I did my best to hide it with posters and maps, but the overall feel of that room was still extremely uninviting.  But hey, the place was a steal, and at the time, I was really pleased with the eclectic decor!

 
      Our subsequent places had somewhat nicer features and white or light beige-colored wallpaper.  That was a bit of an improvement. But humidity and mold will do awful things to your wallpaper, and our walls have greatly deteriorated over the years. 

      A quick survey among friends and family revealed a few interesting facts about paint and wallpaper:
 
*  In Japan, wallpaper is less expensive than paint, at least initially, and that's why is so popular.  Paint, including labor cost, is at least twice the cost of wallpaper.  Certain kinds of paint, like Shikui, are three times as costly.

*   There are hundreds of varieties of wallpapers to choose from, with different properties, textures, and colors. Surprisingly, some are quite nice.  We looked at Sangetsu and Lily Color.

*  Back home (Canada), wallpaper isn't really an option people consider.  The obvious thing to do is to get painted walls.  Also, given that DIY is popular there, people repaint their walls themselves.

*  Cost of paint + labor in Canada (based on prices for my brother's home built a few years ago) is similar to the price we were given here. 

*  Wallpaper was in vogue in Europe in the 1940s.  Mom says she hated the feeling of wallpaper, as if you lived in one of those doll houses.  She has never once regretted the decision to use paint in the house as it's easy to clean, tasteful and color can be changed easily.

*  Latest wallpaper glue does not contain formaldehyde, so no need to worry about Sick House Syndrome.  However, there will be a bit of a smell in the house for a while after wallpaper has been applied.  Also, stripping away old wallpaper and applying new one may not be an easy DIY job and might require professional help.

      We compared the cost of paint from two companies, to limit our choices:  Nihon Paint and Benjamin Moore.  The latter is more expensive, but probably has a greater range of colors.  We will probably choose Nihon Paint, and are waiting for our contractor's recommendation on best paint.
 
Love this grey... Can we get the dog too?
      We now need to seriously think about our home's color scheme. Because the architectural detail like the crown molding and base molding will be be white, we can go for colors that provide some contrast.  The trick will be to create a nice flow of color to create unity while still providing character to the individual rooms.  Color is now way up on our priority list.


17 February 2011

Inspiration 1: Bathroom

      From the start of this project, we began gathering pictures we liked from magazines and the Internet that would later serve as inspiration for the various choices and decisions we made along the way.

     Today, I thought I would share a few of these images that we used to try to picture our powder room/bathroom. 

Crisp and Fresh.  Love the tray...

Those blue walls...

Mirrors and bracket lights

 
Detail of cabinetry

Extra storage for towels

That lovely mirror...
Whether or not the choices we are making now in terms of cabinetry, equipment and accessories will combine as gracefully as they do in these photos is something we won't find out until the very end.

9 February 2011

Hair Salon

     It's time for a haircut, again!  My kids tell me to just let my hair grow, but I don't really think it suits me so much, especially since I wear glasses. 

     And let's be frank, spending hours at the hair salon is not my idea of fun!  Granted I enjoy the little head and shoulder massage Japanese hair salons usually throw in after a lengthy shampoo.  But I can never think of a time in the week when I can afford to allot 3 hours to my hair!

     Twice a year, my sister and I will spend one afternoon pulling each other's hair out of plastic hats for streaks.  The reason I agree to color my hair is that my sister insists the lighter tones make me look younger. Yeah, I wish.   Plus it's economical: we do two heads with just one pack of coloring lotion.  As we labour over each others' head, we sip coffee and catch up on each other's lives...

     And here's another major reason I shun the hair salon: cost is prohibitive!  I am so reticent about spending 7,000 or 8,000 yen on my hair, which is a pretty low average in Tokyo.   To avoid overspending, a major pet peeve of mine, I even cut my kids' hair and my husband's too! 

     Anyhow, the reason I am bringing this hair issue, is that I wanted to introduce this relatively new hair salon chain - IT'S - that offers an incredible deal on a haircut:  1300 yen! The place is modern and smart-looking which is why I was tempted to try it.

     I've only been to the Kichijoji salon, but I can see from their website that they have several other locations throughout Tokyo and surroundings. 

     And another reason this salon is so appealing to me is that I don't waste any time.  You can either book an appointment online or at the salon using a computer located at reception serving in Japanese and English!  You then get a ticket showing the time of your appointment and you can be off doing errands until it's your turn.

     Service is very courteous and quick because the usual shampoo part is skipped.  I usually just bring a picture of what I want, explain my preferences, and in about 15 minutes, I'm all done!  My hair has been set and blown into style, and I'm off the hook for another 6 months! Love this place!

7 February 2011

What's up with the kitchen?

     Lots of development with our kitchen in the past few weeks...  We have now finally been able to find a solution that pleases us and that takes into account all of our preferences and choices.  Hopefully the overall cost will be manageable.  
    
    Instead of the usual Kitchen Maker route, we have decided to work with a carpenter who will outsource the cabinets but will install and paint our kitchen.   Our last meeting with our Building Contractor, Suzuki-san, was dedicated to confirming our preferences for the style of the cabinets and other details.   We patiently went over all the details...

     We chose this type of cabinets, but we will have them made in white, using wood and melamine.  We feel we have made an excellent compromise and we are very happy that our kitchen will have the same feel all around.   Plus we've confirmed that we can have a Dupont counter which we're very happy about too!

     During our long search for the right appliances, we visited numerous showrooms.  One of them was Sanwa Company from where we will be getting our sink.  This model meets our requirements for size, shape and drain. Yes, we were picky even about the sink!  It also had to allow us to put in our current dish basket...  We probably drove our architect nuts with all these demands!

     We also went back and forth on our choice of faucet.  This Grohe faucet is the one we've finally selected for its nice European look.
    
     Now, for the dishwasher, we're not fussy.  As long as it's one of the new small models that use less water per load, we're happy.  And of course, it has to be a drawer type, because back home a lot of dishwashers aren't.  And we also wanted to make sure that we could get a drawer above or below the dishwasher.  Suzuki-san confirmed this could be done.  Great!

     Now onto the Range Hood.  Our main concern was to get an appealing model but at budget price.  We found this Panasonic model we liked and confirmed that it could be mostly hidden behind a kitchen panel.  I know many people like to display their range hood, but in our case, we wanted this item to be as discreet as possible...

     There are still various little issues to take care of regarding the kitchen, like the cabinet handles for instance.  That's why we need to visit yet another showroom, that of Atom, this time in Shimbashi.  But at least now we know we're on the right track!

     We're also installing an Underfloor Storage Unit in the kitchen.  These are neat little space savers usually 60x60cm in size that allow you to stock such things as rice, wine, and other goods under the floor, thereby freeing cabinets.  These are called Yukashita Shunou in Japanese - 床下収納.

     The unit itself will be covered by our choice of floor tiles, so it won't be very visible, except for the border.  We're hoping to find a unit with a dark grey or black border so that it won't attract too much attention.

3 February 2011

Flooring options

      Flooring for the house was an easy enough choice:  Natural Wood. But which wood?  What tone? What style?  Instead of researching blindly among the hundreds of options, we were shown a number of samples and drew our favorites from there.   Of course, the selection also suited our budget. 

     For the first floor, the choices of woods that we were able to draw from was limited due to the fact that we are installing radiant heating on most of that floor.  

     To accommodate radiant heating, the wood has to be specially engineered so that it will not shrink or crack from the drying effects of the heat.  We opted for a light-toned Oak wood that will darken slightly with staining.  

     For the second floor and the loft, we needed to find a solid wood with the same style and tones.  We selected a grade of Birch wood that was neither too light nor too dark.  We hope that these lighter tones will help provide a sense that the house is more spacious than it actually is.

     For the entrance we looked at ceramic tiles.  The tiles we chose is deep grey with grooves and an overall rough appearance.  We just fell in love with them and think they will match very well with our white moulded closets at the entrance. 

     Let's hope the effect will be what we expect... That is certainly the most stressful part of planning a house, wondering whether the choices we make on paper will make sense in reality.

     We were also considering ceramic tiles for the Kitchen, Powder Room and Toilet, although the general preference in Japan is to opt for wood.  What is the best flooring for areas where humidity is likely to be prevalent?  Certainly not carpeting!  That's definitely the worst and it's easy to understand why.  But we were surprised to see that solid hardwood only ranks 6th on a chart of best flooring options for the bathroom.  Here's the ranking from worse to best:

7. Carpet (water + fiber= bad match)
6. Hardwood flooring (nice, feels good, but not waterproof)
5. Laminate Flooring ( slightly better than solid wood, but still...)
4. Engineered Wood (waterproof base, hardwood layer on top, ok choice)
3. Stone (beautiful, durable, but slippery and expensive)
2. Vinyl Tiles (popular, inexpensive, variety of textures and colors, but still vinyl...)
1. Ceramic tiles (inexpensive, rich texture, waterproof, looks great)

     We hesitated for a while between ceramic tile and vinyl tiles, mainly because we were worried about possible injuries if anyone ever tripped and fell on a tile flooring.  Tajima's Tile Collection is quite impressive, but in the end, we felt that vinyl still can't beat the look and feel of ceramic tile. So we made our choice!  

     We had to be sure to select tiles that wouldn't be too slippery, especially for the sake of pets.  We opted for a dark grey shade here as well, as shown in this image. 

     We hope that they will complement the white European-style kitchen cabinets nicely,  and make a pleasing transition from the rest of the hardwood flooring.  Plus the darker shades will probably show less the dirt than lighter tones.  That's always a plus. 
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