26 April 2011

Decisions and Upgrades

      This week-end, we were able to appreciate the advances made in the structure of the house.  We now have walls on all floors.  The roof structure has been fixed, so that's a good thing. 

      We spent a bit of time deciding on grout color for porch and entrance tiles as well as for bathroom and powder room tiles.  Our contractor had prepared samples for us to evaluate.  We also selected grout color for the ceramic tiles that will cover our front balcony.  Let's just hope that our choices make sense once the house is completed!

      We also went up to the loft to check out the view...

      We're extremely pleased that we took the time to plan this loft carefully to have as much usable space as possible and easy access from the second floor.  The staircase leading to the loft was placed between the kids' bedrooms and the space below the staircase will be used as storage.

      We took time to decide on a few other urgent matters.  The bad news continues with KMEW, the roof maker. Only a very limited series of products and colors can be delivered on time. Since we couldn't get our preferred pale grey color anyway, we decided to upgrade from the Quad series to the Glassa series, which is apparently thicker, requires less maintenance and lasts longer. The difference in cost here is about 500 yens per tsubo.

Current Limited Selection
       As I rode on the train this morning I noticed the sorry state of many roofs along the Chuo line. Some look stunning and I assume must be new, but others have completely discolored. Damage is apparent on both darker and lighter tone roofs. I happened to catch a maintenance worker repainting a roof and the difference between the damaged and the newly painted roof was stunning. So next time, let's ask our architect for specifics on about roof maintenance costs and frequency...

      Next unsolved issue: the current shortage of rockwool. As a result, we are opting for a type of insulation called Moko Foam (MOKO フォム) which is similar to Aqua Foam in that it expands to fill all voids, but does not require water to do so. We need less Moko Foam (16cm) to achieve the same quality insulation as with rockwool.

      The availability of other materials, including kitchen equipment, was confirmed except for our dishwasher.  We hope this will be resolved quickly.

20 April 2011

We've got walls!

      We've got walls now, at least on the first floor!

      It feels so great to actually be able to see and feel the rooms and how as they relate to each other.  It's also a bit easier now to picture how our furniture will fit.

Our Study / Living Room
     We're now only 2 weeks away from Jotoshiki, when the frame of the house will be completely erected, with windows, doors and roof installed.  So we're excited about the developments. 

Front Window Seat

      From what we gather from the news, the construction industry has been deeply affected by the triple disaster in northeastern Japan.  For one thing, a number of manufacturing facilities have been destroyed or temporarily disabled.  The government is currently seeking help outside its borders to supply sufficient building materials to erect makeshift housing units for quake and tsunami victims.

      For another, the 3 week on-and-off power outages has impeded other factories to ensure production at regular pace.  That is the case of our roofing company; as of now, we have been unable to confirm whether or not KMEW will resume production of the roof we want.  We're looking at alternatives, but they are costlier and not in the tones we want.

      Another problem affecting the construction industry is a lack of skilled workers to meet the pressing demand for housing.  We are wondering how all of this will affect our own building schedule, and worried because we've already made our summer plans.  A delay would be very unpleasant, to say the least.

15 April 2011

Touring our Site

      Last week-end we all went to our site and decided to try climbing up those ladders up to the second floor and to the loft. What a thrill! The kids were the first to climb, and they then toured every inch of the structure, including the scaffolding...

2F scaffolding leading to Yani's Bedroom
      In a matter of minutes they were totally comfortable going up and down and they were busy doing just that the whole time.

Touring all floors

What will be our Front Balcony
      We are sure glad we went over to check the details because we noticed a couple of issues we need to address with our architect and builder.

       One of the things we noticed is that the roof on a couple of sides was not coming out as much as planned. We consulted our architect who assured us that this problem would be fixed. So even though our builders have well laid out plans and instructions, errors do happen. So checking things for yourself is probably a good idea if you want to avoid unpleasant surprises.

      The other thing we noticed is how high the unfinished ceilings looked, with beams showing. This gave us the idea to retain some of the beams in the Living Room and the Kids Room and place the ceiling a bit higher than planned.

      Height really changes the feel of a room and we hope that these room will appear larger with this initiative. Since we hadn't thought of doing this before, the beams that were used do not have a beautiful finish and if we were to just stain them, they would show imperfections.

      So we decided to paint the beams white, the same color as the ceiling in those rooms. We found this picture a good source of inspiration:

       We have also decided to let show a couple of beams in the Master Bedroom which has an inclined ceiling, even though it is already pretty high.

Master Bedroom in progress
       We are happy that our architect and builder are flexible enough to consider our concerns and offer solutions. This is after all our first time building a home, and we are learning along the way...

14 April 2011

New Family Member

Isn't this little guy just adorable? 
Meet Pompom, our new pet!

      Our daughter has been reading up on hamsters for months now, and trying to convince us to get one. Her class' hamster spent the Winter Holiday with us and we all adored him. And it’s really true: hamsters are really easy to take care of. All they need is a bit of food, water, a clean cage with lots of grass, and space to move around. They are playful and a joy to watch. And they also like to be cuddled gently.

      Unfortunately, hamsters have a very short life span, and the poor thing died in the Spring at the old age of 3. Naira was devastated and her only consolation was that she helped bury him at school. She was the one who found him inert and alerted her Life Sciences teacher. The death of this little creature saddened us all, and we had been thinking of getting one of our own, but with everything that’s happened in the past month, we had delayed that decision. We are now very happy to have brought home Pompom who is now getting cuddles from everyone.

      This is the book Naira's been borrowing again and again from the library, a great resource with lots of pictures and information on what's best for your hamster.  Highly recommended by our Expert.

      We got Pompom from Kojima Pet Shop in Nerima-ku, which is located just a short bike ride away from Kichijoji Station. Kojima has shops all over Tokyo and you can also order products online. They carry other animals including marmots, rabbits, birds, and of course, cats and dogs. At the Nerima Branch, there is also a vet on the second floor of the building in case your pet gets sick.

9 April 2011

Great progress

      Lots of progress in the past few days.  Fukuzumi-san, our Master Carpenter, has been hard at work on his own, advancing the structure.  We went over a couple of times, and on Saturday we got a chance to tour the second floor as well as the loft!

      Seems like Yani is eager to learn the craft.  He's become very fond of Fukuzumi-san and never want to leave the site before his shift is over.  We got to watch him in action as he measured, sawed and drilled wood planks into the structure of the house.

      Fukuzumi-san is on site by 8 am and rarely leaves before 6pm.  That's got to be exhausting, so we try not to disturb him too much, especially when he's using his electric saw...

      We can now see the base of our roof.  We are still upset with the fact that roof tile maker KMEW  has not resumed production of the make and color we want, but we have another week to see what happens.  According to their latest statement, production of all product lines should start soon, given that blackouts are now over.  We're checking their website daily for updates.  The timing of this interruption is damaging to us because the roof needs to be installed soon.  If we wait, we will have to delay our moving date, perhaps significantly.  Not an option.

      This is the view from the Living room, where the frame is ready to hold our large windows overlooking the Deck.  The windows will be installed by the end of this month, given that there was a 2-week delay in production. 

It is just great to be able to walk around and "feel" the space.

      Another change in our building plans concerns the insulation.  We had originally planned to use Rockwool, but it is not being manufactured at this time, again as a result of the disasters.  Our Building Contractor is going to install Aqua Foam instead, a product of greater insulating value and higher cost, and we agree with this change.

      Despite the fact that all construction details are stipulated in our contract, we have no other choice but to look for options when certain products suddenly become unavailable.  Noone could foresee this natural catastrophy.  We know that we are working with conscientious people who are doing their very best to honor their commitment.  It pleases us to see that we are still pretty much going according schedule despite all the hurdles.

5 April 2011

Trying to keep it together

      The past few weeks have been a little overwhelming, to say the least. We met with our architect last Sunday and I nearly had a breakdown from hearing more bad news regarding our home deriving from the disaster.  

      We learned that some of the materials used for the external walls, Novopan, were no longer being manufactured. We have to switch to normal plywood. We also learned that the roof we had selected, a pale grey color, was not longer being produced due to power supply problems.

We can see our 2F now...

      Granted, changes in schedule and materials are nothing compared to loss of life, property and employment that has hit such a vast part of Japan.

      And yet, it seems that every little thing is now affecting me deeply and I cannot see objectively. In normal circumstances, we would just look for an alternative and do our best to live with it. But we feel that we have poured so much energy and funds into this project, we should at least get the house we want. We are extremely disappointed, but there is really not much we can do.

Can see the Loft too.

       We are starting to feel doubts about the soundness of our choice to build in Japan. But paradoxically, it is becoming even clearer to us that this is the only place where we want to live. While many friends and acquaintances have left for safer grounds, others have no plans of leaving and are actually also building their home in Tokyo. This is immensely reassuring to us, as we're apparently not the only ones betting on Japan being a safe place to raise our family.

Where the stairs to the 2F will be.

      On the plus side now, Efrain is back in Tokyo after working for the past 2 weeks in Kyoto and Osaka. Also, school has resumed and our kids' life has finally returned to some level of normalcy. The trains are still a bit unreliable, but that is probably to be expected for a while.

      Spring is slow to come; we are still sleeping under heavy blankets and striving to cut down on power as much as possible, so not using any air conditioners but hanging on dearly to my hot water bottle at night...

Plenty of space for our bicycles
and a car in front of the house.

      My biggest joy yesterday as we went to visit our site was to see how our son carried on an animated conversation with our carpenter Fukuzumi-san while also offering his "help", genuinely interested in his work and tools.  We are looking forward to going back today to measure the progress.

1 April 2011

The Great and the Not-So-Great

      The good news first: the first thing we noticed yesterday cycling onto our street from the park was the huge banner displaying the name of our Architectural Firm, Two Style.  Great publicity!

      Here's Yani checking inventory, making sure everything is in order.  The kids love our regular site check-ups and enjoy taking keepsake pictures with their portable phones.  They are definitely excited!

      So this is when we start to realize that we we're finally getting somewhere after so much abstract planning.  Amidst the tension of the past three weeks, it is somehow reassuring to witness the daily progress and appreciate the result of the hard work of everyone involved.

       Now let's move on to the Not-So-Great Stuff:  some showrooms are definitely not worth a visit.  This is a true and tested fact.

      A few weeks back we wasted precious time and energy visiting Endo Lighting, which did not carry any of the models we were interested in and only had a small selection on display.  Endo also specializes in furniture and lighting seemed only to occupy a small part of their display surface.  Endo's products are a bit more costly than other brands, so there was no way we were going to chose their products without seeing them first.  Out with Endo!

      An other disappointment was Nihon Paint Showroom: we  expected this visit to help us find inspiration for our home's coloring scheme, but we realised the showroom is not designed for the general public; it merely provides general information about the company and their key products.  We were met there with a nice gentleman who gave us a "tour" and who graciously offered us a Color Wheel (which by the way usually sells for approx. 4,000 yen) to compensate us for traveling all the way out there for nothing!

      Third time's the charm, or so it seemed to me yesterday when I visited Daiko Lighting in Ryogoku.  The showroom was tiny, occupying a couple of small rooms and displayed about 40 or perhaps 50 products.  And of course, none of the lights I wanted to see!  So not worth the detour!
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