Monday, May 28, 2012

wildlife, amphibian edition

Say hello to Bufo marinus, the Cane Toad. This is the big South American native (usually 6 inches from nose to butt) whose appetite for cane beetles led to its introduction in sugar producing regions around the world. Yes, it's the amphibian that's devastating Queensland (the Simpsons even made reference to it in their Australian episode), and yes, the cane toad is poisonous to potential predators, except for possum, possibly. But they seem to really like eating the palmetto bugs (the enormous Florida woods cockroach, Eurycotis floridana), so they're cool with us. And they make a great sound in the evening...

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Sunny morning in Miami. Gotta go work on the gutters, to make them do this, but better:

completing the cabinetry

Yesterday, our cabinet maker installed the doors and drawer fronts on the kitchen cabinets. Both the pantries (left, in progress) and the base cabinets under the sliding glass doors/window are now simple volumes clad in bamboo. The low cabinets have Haefele pulls, but we haven't yet decided on what handles to install on the pantries... it seems a shame to interrupt those gorgeous expanses of bamboo.

Friday, May 25, 2012

childhood dream realized

Remember when you were a kid and fire fighters were the coolest thing in the world? Today tin box had the awesomest group of visitors from Miami-Dade Station 14. That's right, fire fighters came over to our house and asked for a tour. And they took photos. Fire fighters took photos of our house. And they kept talking about how cool it is. Fire fighters!

I'll bet that never happened to Steven Holl.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

in praise of field modifications

Our steel erectors are back for a few days to finish up some details. John (left) and Mike put up the last pieces of trim along the top ridge of the upper roof. They modified the trim to act as a raceway protecting the cables for the photovoltaic panels, eliminating the need for the clunky PVC box that normally accompanies the Uni-solar panels. This improvisation is one of the best field modifications in the project, so far.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Our cabinet maker's countertop experts installed our kitchen counter today, and it looks gorgeous. We're using Richlite, a solid-surface material made from thin layers of paper bonded with phenolic resin. The Richlite has a dense, matte finish which will become even more lustrous once we apply the finish coat after its final sanding. The black surface works really well with both the bamboo cabinetry and the painted metal finishes of the windows, walls and structural frame.

dumpster gone

We had the dumpster hauled away for the last time yesterday. In theory, our prefabricated steel frame and exterior panels reduced the amount of waste produced on site dramatically, though we honestly don't have any numbers to compare. Our disposal costs include having the refuse sorted into different recyclable materials. Besides sending the usual materials - steel, wood and cardboard - for recycling, the company also sends concrete to be crushed into gravel for road construction. We haven't yet received the final account of our waste disposal. When we do, we'll post the results.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

remembering Sant'Agostino

Early this morning, an earthquake struck the region of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy. While this temblor left much less severe damage than the 2009 quake that nearly destroyed the city of L'Aquilia, it still caused several fatalities. Among the dead are two of the three workers who provided overnight monitoring of the kilns at the Ceramica Sant'Agostino tile factory. Based in the town of the same name, Ceramica Sant'Agostino made the ceramic tile we used on our bathroom walls, and it is possible that our tile was fired in the building which collapsed this morning.

Our thoughts and condolences are with the families of Nicola Cavicchi and Leonardo Ansaloni, the two Ceramica Sant'Agostino employees who perished today, as well as with the families of the other victims of the earthquake.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

bouncing off the satellites, continued

Google's spy satellites have finally located tin box. The latest updated images show the house the way it was a few months ago, with all of the roof and some of the wall panels installed, but before windows and doors went in. More interesting, though, is the fact that the satellite images shown at different scales are from different photographs. When you zoom out, you get an image from last spring...

Monday, May 14, 2012

lust for lights

We've been doing a lot of shopping for light fixtures over the last two days, with a series of unsuccessful hunts for simple cord sets (literally a cord and socket with which to make a pendant lamp) leading to interesting discoveries of LED exterior lights and other things we'd had trouble finding. One of today's trips netted four lights for our bathroom vanities, sort of. We found a 20" long LED fixture by George Kovacs (left) that will be perfect in three of the bathrooms. However, the factory has a backlog of 6,000 orders to fill before we'll get our lights (we were promised mid-June) which we read as an exciting indication that energy-efficient lighting has come of age as a first choice for homeowners. This is a very good sign, not least because it suggests the economy is rebounding, but especially because companies are making, and customers are choosing, energy-efficient options. We found a similar dilemma with dual-flush toilets. A very promising sign indeed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

accidental misprision

After weeks of staring at our structural steel and drywall, it occurred to me that I’ve seen this relationship between gray structure and smooth, light walls before.

Michelangelo’s magnificent vestibule at the Laurentian library – one of the most amazing rooms in the world – is one of a number of spaces in Florence where dark pietra serena stone is carved into the Classical orders, in contrast to the creamy plaster of the surrounding wall surfaces.

imagining a garden

We spent a lot of time this week thinking about the landscape/gardens/habitat around and inside tin box this week. We laid out some of our coral rock (the bounty from our septic tank installation) to give us an idea of the broad outlines of the raised planters we want to build on the south side of the house. Holly started sketching the front in perspective to help visualize the relationship between plantings, stone and ground. We visited a neighbor with a terrific vegetable and fruit garden, and started to fantasize about what we could grow with our abundant sunshine and rainfall. We thought about what kinds of plants we can grow above a septic drainage field, and which ones we can't. And then Faichild Tropical Botanic Garden hosted their annual flowering tree sale...

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Last week's septic tank and drainage field excavations also gave us a chance to bury electrical power and data lines running to the house from the nearest utility pole. These conduits need to be buried 30" below the surface to protect them from inadvertent damage, whereas (strangely) the main water supply line only needs to be 12" below grade. The water line, which was laid weeks ago, is the white PVC pipe hanging in the air in this photo. It will be packed in clean (rock-free) fill to protect it from punctures after the electrical conduits are backfilled.

Why four conduits? Two are for power lines, one is for a telephone line and the fourth is for cable/internet service. Most likely, we won't use the telephone line, but it will be good to have the conduit in place, just in case. What else is buried outside tin box?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

progress and gardening

Our septic tank and drainage field were installed last week. This required removing the construction fence in front of the house, which gives us our first broad views of, and from, it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

no new house smell

Our painter primed the interior partitions today (the exterior walls are prefinished, and won't be painted), which leads to two thoughts: one, the house is wonderfully bright in all types of sunlight, and two, sustainable paints have no odor.

Regarding the light, the weather changed rapidly and repeatedly today, with intense showers interspersed with strong sunlight. The white primer on the interior walls reflects the light - which is mostly indirect light from the north or from our well-shaded east- and west- facing windows and doors - throughout the house. The result is a diffuse light which reflects off the galvanized surfaces of the roof decking and the light gray concrete floor. The mood of the house changes quickly with the quality of the light outside.

But it was the complete lack of odor today that really impressed us.