Living in a Work in Progress

Posted by Deborah on December 28, 2011

On July 31st of this year, Carl and I moved to Huckleberry Farm for good.  After nearly two years of almost weekly trips to and from the coast we had finally run out of time, money and energy for the bisected life we’d been living.  Unable to sell our house in Tigard, victims of the real estate debacle that seems to be gripping the nation, we rented it instead.  We found good tenants easily and suddenly within a couple of weeks we were packing up and moving.  We still didn’t have a fully complemented bathroom at the farm, nor a finished space for my studio to move to, but it was definitely time to make the leap.  As we’ve settled in the house has become more civilized with pictures on the walls, a washing machine, curtains, books and even a shower.  

After the effort of moving, our plans to begin work on the south foundation and basement studio space seemed monumentally exhausting and foolhardy as the inevitable sea driven rains approached.  We backed up from that plan, re-examining our needs and concluded that the effort to finish the shop addition to use as a temporary studio through the winter was manageable.  I began my first painting in that space this October 10th, but the construction of it actually began on August 24th, 2010.  That’s when Norm Hartwell came with his excavator to take away the old woodshed.

We’d already removed the plate glass sheets that served as windows and pried out the more stubborn bits of infrastructure so all Norm had to do was fold it up and put it into our truck bed.

Easy as pie.  The next part was harder.  We had to design a workshop addition that could fit into the contour of the land at the back of the house, serve as a strengthening bulwark to the compromised south foundation,  be something Carl and I could build ourselves and look good too.

More excavation and then building forms, pouring concrete and having friends come to help strip the forms on a very rainy September day.

Then on top of the footings Carl built more forms for the stem walls.  We had mostly good weather through this period of October and we had help from Conor McGrath a local second generation framer and know-it-all.

By the end of October, 2010 we had the walls up but that’s about as far as we got when the weather changed and getting over the Coast Range became more challenging, not to mention the flooding rains that persisted through the winter.

The poor walls stood out in the rain, swelling and absorbing all the winter.  There wasn’t much we could do except build the trusses–indoors.  Spending most of our time in Portland Carl devised a way to “prefabricate” parts of them there, and then we transported the pieces to the farm and in February he and I nailed them together–twelve beautiful trusses stacked on the floor of the basement awaiting a day of dry weather to install.

It was mid-March when that day came. Daffodils were blooming and the promise of a roof was close at hand.

Just as the sheathing was finished the rains returned and the roof was shrouded in the ugly blue that designates incompletion and poor function.  We looked upon this for another month .

By the end of April we were able to tackle the interior.  The floor was to eventually encase pipes of hot water for a hydronic heating system.  Carl had it all researched, talked to inspectors and  we were ready to go.  We shoveled a couple of pickup loads of gravel into the building and then borrowed a big old vibrating machine from our excavator friend Norm to tamp down the gravel and make it ready for the pipes.

Although we’ve been committed by both constitution and necessity to do all the work ourselves there are a few things best left to experts.  Concrete is one of them, along with sheetrock finishing and wood floor finishing.  This was the third time the concrete truck had grinded up the driveway since we’d owned the place.  Around here, the gravel guys are the same guys as the concrete guys and before we’d cleared the drive of its surrounding vegetation, they could barely make it up to the house. Legend has it that their side mirrors were torn off by the  massive english laurel branches that encroached on the narrow passage up the drive during some past gravel delivery.  They were leary when we first called them, but by now they knew we wouldn’t let them get stuck. We hired some great guys to float the concrete over the pipes.  It took them all day to carefully screen the concrete to a fine polished surface.  

Now progress was really being made.  Windows went in and the big doors we’d found at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore were painted and installed.  It was an enclosed space.  It was May. 

The space stayed like that for several months awaiting our permanent move to the house.  It wasn’t until we were living here full time and the urgency of having a studio to work in made it an imperative to make the space habitable.  It still needed sheetrock and wiring and painting, all the prosaic and tedious additions that give a space the things we expect from shelter.  Light and color and warmth.  Finally, in October I started my first painting in this space, and there are more to come over the next few months. 

But the real studio is still to be built.  This space will be a workshop, where panels are built, where tools are fixed, where garden fences are shaped, where the messy and practical work of life and art takes place.  The studio in the basement is the next project.  This one took a year.  Who knows how long the next one will take?