31 March 2011

Progress Report

      Couldn't resist going to check out the progress again yesterday.  Things are moving along really quickly as the elemental frame of the house has been erected. 

      There were five workers on the project yesterday instead of the usual two.  Here they are taking a much-needed rest.  We can still see piles of wood there, so the hard work isn't anywhere near over.

It's amazing though how quickly and efficiently the house is taking shape.

We can now decypher our second floor and the shape of our Loft. 

      At a time of such uncertainty, it is nice to see that some things are running as planned.  That's one thing we can count on here in Japan, and this gives us a sense of renewed faith and hope in our future here.  

      We'll try to continue checking and posting on the day-to-day progress.  Meanwhile, there are still so many details to go over to finalize our plans.  My schedule for today - my day off work- includes visits to various showrooms, kids in tow, to select kitchen door handles, bathroom accessories and ligths.  Busy but exciting!

30 March 2011

Post and Beam

      We've been expecting a bit of delay in construction due to unavailable materials that normally ship from northern Japan.  We've been notified that our windows and flooring wouldn't start shipping until mid-April, postponing work by about 2 weeks. 

      Last week, we also had a meeting with our loan officer at SMBC to get our ducks in a row for the home loan.  We were asked to gather the usual: official hanko, seal registration certificate, ward registration certificate, medical insurance certificate and of course, our "Construction Contract" with the mandatory "Inshizei" of 15,000 yen we had to get from the post Office.  This is a Stamp Tax levied by the National Government which is placed on the formal housing loan documents and which varies based upon loan amounts.

      We went over to our property today, to see how things were going.  Here's our inspector checking out the beams from all angles.

      So it seems that at least some of the wood has been delivered and the structure of the house is starting as planned.

      We can now see close up the beams and how these fit together according to Conventional Building Method or Zairai Kouhou (在来工法).  This method is known as the Pre-cut system - プレカットシステム or traditional Japanese Post-and-Beam construction.

Here's a breakdown of the types of joints in the P&B method:

      According to a very reassuring article I just came across, "Post and beam construction guarantees structural integrity and its stability against earthquakes, hurricanes, heavy snowfall, etc. is extraordinary"  Let's seriously hope so!

28 March 2011

Spring in Kyoto

      We're straying a bit from home building-related topics today...  The kids and I just spent a glorious 3-day week-end in Kyoto, for a much-needed break from the accumulated stress in Tokyo.

      Expecting warmer temperatures, we were surprised that it snowed on Saturday, but we still managed to get around to see a few of Kyoto's gems: the Golden Pavilion and the Ryoanji Garden. 

      For a short while, our worries took a bit of a back-seat and we were actually able to enjoy ourselves visiting these sensational places, and so did the kids!   Spring is definitely on its way here. 

Here are some still shy Cherry Blossoms from the Roanji Garden:

And some stunning fully-bloomed Plum Trees taken at the Kyoto Zoo.

      I can't remember the last time I strolled leisurely taking photos of nature in Japan.  Our life is always so full of other "important" things to do, especially now with home-planning, and it really felt wonderful to take the time to truly enjoy the simple but amazing beauty of Spring in a Japan that is feeling so much pain and so much grief at this time.

Spring will have a bitter taste this year in Japan.

24 March 2011

Lighting 2

      Partly due to recent events, we are running pretty late in deciding on our lighting.  But as long as we make choices as to type and location of each light, we can then easily decide on the model later.  But I feel I need to do this now, even though I am now on my own for a while.  Unfortunately, hubby has had to travel to Kyoto to set up a temporary office following the earthquake.  The kids and I have stayed behind since I still have to work...

    Here's an update of our search for lighting. Hours of intensive Internet searches over the past couple of weeks have finally yielded some promising results and we are now looking at this matter in a much more positive light.  Here are some of the models we are thinking about. 

      This is the pendant light we plan to install in the entrance.  It was Love at First Sight  for me with this hand-crafted pendant light.  And just imagine my joy when our architect mentioned that he could do a recessed ceiling, as in the picture, to showcase the light even more...   Some choices are definitely easy!

      It is definitely a good idea to take time to study lighting for your home carefully and leisurely.  We are now considering an Antique White Chandelier for the Dining Room, although we have doubts about the soundness of installing  any type of pendant light following the recent seismic activity.

  Plus, we'll have to take a gamble on this one, as it is sold over the Internet and we won't be able to see it beforehand.  We'll have to check the shop's return policy carefully though in case it turns out to be really different from what we pictured.

      These models found online are also somewhat less costly than lights featured in the big name catalogs.  For the hallway and stairs, we'll install down lights as well as bracket lights, perhaps like this one, simple and unobtrusive:

      And over the island, my personal favorite of all times...
And a real steal too!

      We've also had to spend time thinking about outdoor lighting, including porch lights as well as Deck and Balcony Lights.  We initially considered darker porch light models with a European feel, to recall the iron work on our door.  This particular model does not come with a Sensor, and of course we need sensor lights for the front of the house.  One solution is to buy the sensor separately, which is still economical.

      Since remaining within budget is a concern, we only looked at reasonably -priced models.  We're also considering this White Porch Light, especially after  coming across this beautiful photo  displaying the light in a home setting.

      During our last meeting, our architect explained that the Post and Beam Structure of our house would be completed next week, on March 30th.  This is usually when the Jotoshiki Ceremony takes places, marking the completion of the wooden frame of the house.  After that, the next step would be to install windows, doors and floors, but unfortunately we've been warned to expect some delay as the production of these items has been halted as a result of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in the Sendai region.  Let's hope the delay is not overly extended.

21 March 2011

Inspiration 4: Studio

      The tragedy in Japan is far from over, but we are seeing some signs of hope. It now seems very likely that a nuclear catastrophe will be avoided.  So many people have fled the country, but we are among the ones who feel cannot afford to leave.   This is our home.

      And despite  the disturbances, we need to focus on the last details of our home planning. One decision we need to make soon is whether or not to customize the Jewelry Studio.  We can either custom build all the furniture or mix and match pieces.

       Here are some pictures of workspaces that I found really inspiring and I thought I would share them with you:

Modern arrangement, furniture can be rearranged according to needs.

Neatly organized studio - love the partial window shade

 My favorite, bright and filled with storage space.

From Pottery Barnes, always lovely,
but a bit expensive to ship to Japan...

So inviting and classy...

14 March 2011

Sad Situation

     Following Friday's earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the north-eastern part of Japan, we are feeling extremely sad and fearful of the consequences of a breakdown of the nuclear reactors.  Many people are fleeing Japan, and sincerely, we would probably be doing the same was it not that we have now so many property-related engagements.

      The work done so far on our land has not suffered any damage.  This was confirmed to us by our contractor on Saturday, and we went to check things out for ourselves. 

      Of course, only groundwork foundations have been done so far so there really isn't much that could be wrong at this stage.  But we are worried about future construction work and especially about the safety of workers should strong quake aftershocks occur. 

     We had a meeting last Saturday, but making decisions about our house right now is next to impossible. But things still need to move along according to schedule, and we need to hurry and fix a number of things quickly. 

     One of the most disturbing news was the position of the water meter that is currently right where the steps to our house will be.  And while the water meter can be moved, the problem is the high cost of setting it a few cm to the right of our property, a cost we didn't expect. The alternative is to make narrower steps or to shave part of two steps, but none of these ideas seem appealing.

    Also, the tiles we had chosen for the entrance are no longer available.  We are awaiting samples and need to make a definite choice by Thursday.  The tiles will only be installed at the last stage of construction, but purchase orders need to be placed shortly.

      We are also having difficulty settling on lighting - haven't been impressed with the line-up so far, and we haven't even made any tentative decisions about color.  All of  these issues are not major, and in normal times could be solved easily.  But our heart is not in it right now, and we can't wait till things settle a bit around here.

      Our heart goes out to all of those who were affected by the disaster.

9 March 2011

Inspiration 3: Kitchen

      We must have looked at hundreds of kitchens since we started this project, wondering what features would look good in ours.

      Incidentally, we recently decided to make a drastic change in our previous selections in the kitchen: we'll have hardwood flooring instead of dark tiles.  We also opted for a lighter counter color, and of course, white cabinets as shown here. 

Here are some of our favorite kitchens so far...

Glass Cabinet with Blue Background 

      Our tall cabinet will resemble this one, with glass doors in the
middle, and perhaps also a colored back for effect.

Blue backsplash matching the island seats.
Wish we could get a hold of those seats...
 A large dark-toned mirror in the kitchen for a dramatic effect...

 Love, love, love the blue walls in this kitchen!

And here's the kitchen we'd like to have if only we had the space...

Hopefully our white kitchen will have a spacious feel and will be easy to clean. 

8 March 2011

Lighting Preliminaries

      Lighting has been taking precedence over all other aspects of our project recently...  We started out leafing through four enormous catalogs by Koizumi, Panasonic, Odelic and Daiko.   We also went through Endo Lighting's Online Catalog. 

     With the seemingly endless varieties of styles and types of lighting, it's hard to know what to choose for what part of the house.  Saving us from the agony of figuring this out, our architect drew up a tentative plan detailing the type and location of lighting throughout the house.   He also offered the following rough guide, based on earlier discussions about our preferences:

Dining Room: Pendant light for the Dining table and Bracket Lights for the room
Living Room: Down lights for the room, some bracket lights for decoration
Kitchen: Down lights for work space
Studio: Some Down lights for working
Hall: Bracket lights
Bedrooms: Down lights and Bracket lights for reading
Loft: Bracket lights

      We knew we wanted pendant lighting for the dining room and bracket lights for the hallways, so we headed on over to Koizumi Lighting Showroom near Akihabara last weekend with the hope of finding something we liked.  It's a good thing this showroom is also open on Saturdays - not the case with all showrooms... 

  We walked into Koizumi's modern building and at reception we received a remote control and a drink ticket.  Great customer service! As we made it through the 2 large floors of lighting, we realised that the impression we got from the catalog was quite different from the real thing.  It is really a good idea to go and see the lights before making any choices.

       We didn't ask for a Personal Assistant, as we simply wanted to walk around trying out the various lights we wanted to test.  It took us a while to figure out that there was a sensor in each light section that served to activate the remote control.  Cool!  And while we were unable to confirm any choices there, we are keeping a few models in mind.

     We later went to Endo Lighting in Aoyama as we were interested in three models on their catalog.  Endo has some pretty nice and unusual models, but price-wise it is a bit more expensive than its competitors.  
      As it turned out, we were in for a major disappointment as none of the models we wanted to see were on display at the showroom...  So how are we supposed to choose?  This is one area I do not want to choose blindly, so we will have to continue looking until we find lighting that pleases us.

      Now we need to leaf through our catalogs more attentively and to intensify our Internet searches.  We'll post later on our findings, as we are just getting started!   And just a quick note about pricing.  Our architect mentioned that on average lighting would be about 50% of gross price.  The discount might be greater over the Internet depending on the brand, so it pays to check models carefully. 

7 March 2011

Pink is in!

      It's hard to believe it's really snowing in Tokyo today!  Especially after such a beautiful week-end.   On our way to check-out our site, Naira and I took the time to look at neighboring properties, commenting on style or landscaping. 

      This is Plum Tree Blooming Season in the capital, and we enjoyed some very nice sights.  We also noticed a theme emerge...  pink is everywhere!

      Pink seems to be making an elegant come-back, as we can see here, perhaps as a perpetual reminder the lovely tones of the ume and sakura flowers...

     Here's a close-up of Ume Flowers I thought our folks back home would enjoy.   It's Pink Fever in Japan in March...  Absolutely stunning! 

So I guess this explains the pink portable toilet on our site!

The kids had a blast with this one!

First Foundations

     Over the week-end, we couldn't resist the temptation to go over to our place and see what advances had been made over the past few days.  The place was marked and the first foundations had been poured.  So things are nicely moving along.  

      Here's Naira on-site, taking a closer look at the work done so far... 
      Every time we see the wall left to our property we are reminded of how badly we need to paint it.  Our neighbour seemed nice enough when we introduced ourselves last week, but we will check with him before we do anything, just in case.  This side of the wall belongs to us anyway, so it shouldn't be a problem.

      And here's the official proof that we are building! Next to the date is the building permit number, and below our names appear in Katakana, then the name of our Architect, from Two Style,  and the name of our Builder, Suzuki-san from Archimoda.  Exciting!!

3 March 2011

Day 1 of Construction

      Construction officially started a couple of days ago, according to our contract, but the first two days were devoted to preparing materials and equipment.

      The digging actually began yesterday, March 2nd, and we stopped by in the afternoon to see what had been going on all day.

      We were excited to see a small excavator, a truck to transport soil, and 4 workers going about their task despite the rather cold weather. We introduced ourselves and took a few pictures of that memorable first day of construction.

      Not much to report on at this point, except for the fact that we are so happy that we are finally entering the active phase of our project and are now officially counting days to our scheduled move,  126 days  from today!

      We'll try to go back often to document the process and appreciate the progress.  Two Style Director Shioda-san explained that our contractor Suzuki-san from Archimoda kept a very clean construction site and that we were welcome to drop by anytime.  We'll definitely take him up on that offer!
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