Sunday, August 19

DIY Shower Building and Pebble Tile

I really hate tile. I think I'd like my next shower to be completely stainless steel sheets. Or outside. Or on a boat. I just don't like tile.

That said, you can only be so adventurous when it comes to a shower. Especially when you're building one yourself. For the first time. And the potential disaster that could come from even a tiny mistake is costly enough to dissuade you from the above-mentioned stainless steel shower wall (not to mention the price tag).

Although the yurt bathhouse was cold in the winters and early mornings, I loved the shower. I loved the light coming through the polycarbonate paneled walls and ceiling, I loved the exposed copper pipe, the custom shower knob, and the fact that the water drained away through the deck boards to our mini grey-water field.

At times I yearned for a bathtub...

The shower building process was completely new to us (just like everything else we've done in the past four years...). Here is roughly how it went.


  With the basics finally tackled, it was time for tile. I was really dreading this step because I hate tile (did I mention that already?). We spent an entire day over the hill, annoying the crap out of salespeople in the tile show rooms. Once they realized all we wanted was to dig around their warehouse for 'overages' and 'mis-orders' they became pretty unhelpful. Finally we hit the jackpot - a full crate of Italian 18" travertine tiles collecting dust in the way back of a warehouse. We pulled out piece after piece, each one completely different from the next. They were covered in fossils and geodes, and made up of layers and layers of who-knows-what kind of rock. This wasn't your ordinary tile. So we stole negotiated a price for what we needed and drove away happy. I mean, pieces of ancient rock that are polished and cut into squares? That's not really tile, right?

The travertine going in.

 So there were the walls. Now the floor. Early on we'd decided to try for the pebble look, but avoiding exorbitant price tags, we opted to make exactly 5 trips down to Smuggler's Cove and come home with backpacks full of beach stone. I spent the next week downstairs, measuring the thickness of each stone with calipers, and epoxying them onto a tile mesh, grading thicker stones around the edge and thinner towards the center drain. This was really a trying project.

My custom pebble sheet.

Another pebble sheet awaiting installation.

The install.

The smallest, most awesome pebbles were individually installed around the drain.

Ultimately, 100% worth it. I LOVE our shower, especially the floor. Every time I step in I am amazed and gratified that every single stone beneath me was picked up by our hands off our local beach, measured, and glued. So much work went into it, but I wouldn't have it any other way... a labor of love and cheapness.

Monday, July 2

Marmoleum Flooring

I've had an infatuation with Marmoleum for a long time. It goes way back, before we built the yurt, and long before we started our home. I couldn't believe I could purchase lime green flooring and not have to color, dye or otherwise create my own personal version of color heaven (this "crock-pot green" obsession started when I got THIS PIECE from Mom, which is now selling for the low low price of $728 on amazon. I'm obsessed - everything must match it).
There is plenty of inspiration for Marmoleum ideas on the internet - so we perused our options and Erin slowly talked me down from the ledge of "crock-pot green" bathroom floors. We liked the look of this guy's cabin floor. Random. Modern.
 And this person's kitchen. Orderly. Stripey.
I was still hankering for the greens though...
We continued to research and discovered we were about to go down a costly path. Marmoleum, in any form - tile, Click, sheet - is expensive. Then there's the adhesive - also costly. We decided we would install it in our bathroom because we still needed bathroom flooring, it's good around water if you heat-weld your seams (we didn't), and our bedroom would be too expensive to cover in the stuff. We needed about 70 square feet, and began scouring craigslist for overages, extras, castoffs - we're those kind of people.

Lo, we found a store 1.5 hours away that was selling discontinued colors for discounted prices! We made the trek, picked up a box of beautiful grey sky blue 13" square tiles, and headed home where we promptly decided we didn't like the color. They are now for sale. Post in the comments if you want them.
 Thinking we'd already exhausted our local flooring stores for options, both of which would only special order Marmoleum flooring and, as Marmoleum dealers, had to install it themselves, we were stumped. Then we remembered what awesome, creative, DIYers we are, so we went back and talked the salespeople into parting with a few large scrap pieces of Marmoleum sheeting in brown, dark grey and light grey for a grand total of $50. Win!

We decided to forgo the expensive Forbo Marmoleum flooring adhesive, and on recommendation from another website (can't remember where) we purchased a tub of this stuff for about $5 from our hardware store:
Designing the layout of the scraps proved easy enough, and we carefully cut each piece to size with a razor knife. Oh yeah, they also tell you you need to rent a 100 pound roller to roll the seams. I'm going to go out on a limb and say you don't need one. We made one with a sonotube and some leftover concrete, carried it upstairs and rolled it around on the freshly installed floor. Like I said, DIY.
It is not easy to take photos of bathrooms.
We are out of toilet paper. DIY Marmoleum Floor.
Dark grey, brown, light grey, brown, dark grey, brown, light grey. DIY Marmoleum floor.
Overall, it is awesome and I absolutely love it. It is my favorite of all our 4 floors. Warm on the feet, classy, and cheap. I think it would be the perfect yurt floor - durable, comes in sheets or tiles, seemingly endless color choices, and inexpensive if you do what we did. Its environmental score-card is also worth mentioning - its impact on the natrual world, from the extraction of the raw materials to the disposal of the product at the end of its useful life, ranks it First as a nature-friendly floor covering (and we even used scrap - it doesn't get greener than that!).

Speaking of green... in the end, I'm glad it doesn't match our crock pot, or our bedroom wall.

Wednesday, May 9

Kraft Paper Floors

Casual visitor: I really like your bedroom flooring. What kind of wood is that?
Us: Um, the paper kind.
Paper floors?

Mm hmm. Our bedroom flooring is paper. A while ago, when construction was just a pipe dream Erin and I smoked every now and then, he brought up the idea of paper floors. He'd seen something obscure about it on the internet, and he thought I would love the idea because it's so cheap. I hated it.

Fast forward like 5 years... we're out of money, we still need a bedroom floor, and all of a sudden I love the idea! We found an online instruction video which was really helpful, and brainstormed ways to make it our own. We decided we didn't like the "patchwork" pieces look, and wanted to create something that could be mistaken for wood. We decided to go with planks.

1 gallon of Varathane Water-Based Poleurethane, a roll of brown kraft paper, and a gallon of Elmer's Glue later, we were ready to begin. We cut the paper into long-length-planks and short-length-planks that together would span our whole room. We also made three different plank widths - 8", 10" and 12" - to give the floor some variation. Each plank was individually crumpled, flattened, and re-crumpled three times to get the grooves we wanted. 
Our kraft paper floor
Once we'd glued all the "planks" down according to the video, we ended up with a few spots that needed to be cut out and re-planked. This was a pain, but pretty easy. When the whole thing dried we stained the floor with a dark (almost black) wood stain to make the grooves and crinkles stand out. Most of the stain was rubbed off, but it added a lot of character to the overall floor. We put on 6 (?) coats of the polyurethane and called it good.

Kraft paper floor next to dark stained English oak
We love this floor - it looks great with our lime green bedroom wall (Benjamin Moore's "Feel the Energy", in case you were wondering.)

As far as yurt floors go, I think this would work swimmingly. If you don't want to spend much money on real flooring, but you want to avoid the plywood floor look, I say do it. Our bedroom is around 200 sq. ft., so pretty big, and we used a 100' roll of paper. The subfloor here is plywood, and before papering the floor we went around and filled every screw hole, nail hole and crack with putty so the paper wouldn't have mini-divots throughout.

I have to say, I was skeptical in the beginning, but this turned out quite nice, and I would recommend it to anyone trying to put in a unique floor on a very tight budget.

Saturday, March 31

Color Your Yurt

It was a tough decision. I'm glad Mom was in charge of making it instead of me. I hate decisions that involve picking colors because I will forever believe a better option existed that I failed to pick. Luckily, I think Mom made the right color decision for her yurt. It looks great on the property - it stands out, but not too much.

We spent a long afternoon prior to ordering our yurt, sitting by the pond. We clutched our free yurt fabric sample sheet, held up at arms' length and folded over and over on itself, trying to envision the perfect color combo.

Colorado Yurt Company didn't, at the time, have a super-fun-add-colors-to-a-white-yurt video-game-like page on their website. If they had, our lives would have been infinitely easier. This "Color My Yurt" site is really cool, a lot of fun, and I recommend you check it out. Click around until it's just right, and then envision yourself in the perfectly colored yurt.
Oh, The Possibilities!
Go to it, kids.

Tuesday, March 27

Top 5 Places to Stay in a Yurt

I recently came across a site for glamping (= glamorous camping). I've heard of the term before and it never sat right with me. This is probably because we'd been "glamping" for the last two years, and it kindof lost the glam aspect. Yes, there are amazing moments when you realize that frogs and crickets lull you to sleep every night, and you know exactly what time it started raining last night, and you gain a true appreciation for heat that manifests without wood and matches. Nice, but hardly glam.
Anyone have a spare bathtub?
We love camping. Any opportunity to get out of dodge and set up a tent is usually capitalized on, and camping in a yurt would definitely have seemed glamorous before we lived in one. Strangely, once we moved into the yurt, the jonesing-for-camping phase died out in favor of hotels, motels, and BnBs - anywhere with indoor plumbing and heat that started with the touch of a button.

Do not get me wrong - staying in a yurt, whether for a night, an extended vacation, or living there for a few years, is an amazing experience. I highly recommend it because it's unique. Depending on where you glamp, you will most likely have a to-die-for view, heat, kitchen facilities, and someone else will clean out your composting toilet, which really puts the 'glam' in glamping.

Mmmmm...crank up that hot tub! Glamping at its best.

These are, in order, the top five places I would choose to Glamp in-the-round:

1. Baja Wilderness Retreat - Baja California Sur, Mexico
2. Orcas Island Cabins - Seward, Alaska
3. Bjorklund Ranch - Santa Barbara, California
4. Bell Lake Yurt - Harrison, Montana
5. Treebones Resort - Big Sur, California

Know of any others I should add to the list?

Wednesday, March 21

Yurt Floor Plans

Our yurt has an open floor plan. Yes, we could have added walls. We could have added a loft. Coulda Woulda Shoulda, right? As it was, mom never planned for her yurt to be permanent housing. She envisioned it as a ping-pong-art-studio-yoga-room-temporary-guest-quarters. After 3 years and four months, the yurt finally sits empty (minus some random furniture and ping pong table), awaiting further inspiration from mom.

While the open floor plan for the yurt is nice, I believe the overall feel of the living space could be greatly improved with a few carefully thought-out walls. Obviously, bedroom walls create a sense of privacy, even if they don't go all the way to the yurt ceiling. Closets create a space for your clothes and other belongings, evoking a sense of permanence (as opposed to a camping-feel). Kitchen counters and basic kitchen plumbing make cooking a pleasure instead of a chore.

In hindsight, I'm surprised that we put up with a "camping" feel for so long. This could all have been greatly improved with a few walls and some basic kitchen set-up. Behold:

Oh my Lord. This is a gorgeous yurt kitchen. Photo credit.

This yurt floor plans designates about 1/3 of overall floor space to bed/bath. Since our bath is outside, imagine the bath space as personal office space, or a second bedroom. Image Credit

Our 30 ft. diameter yurt has a lot of space that I don't think we utilized to its full potential due to lack of a proper floor plan. The idea of real rooms, a few walls, and an actual kitchen really up the appeal of yurt-living to me. And how 'bout a loft? Lofts are just fun!

AWESOME! Photo Credit
 But where would the ping-pong table go....?

Saturday, March 17

Behold the Beauty of the Earth

It's not often I can't peel my eyes from an internet video (hello double negative). Erin found this one today and I was rendered speechless by the beauty. Hope you've got the bandwidth to handle the HD.

Tuesday, March 13

Is There a Bathroom in Your Yurt?

Yeah, it's a good question.
Technically, no. It's not in the yurt, it's on the deck.

By the end of 2009, we had dug more holes, added more support structure under the deck, and built a bath house. Build it right on the deck, Mom decided. Just fine, we said. We'd made plans to temporarily move into the yurt while we began construction on the barn, so a bath house sounded like a good idea.

But first, we decided to take a road trip to Oregon, backcountry ski in Yosemite, sail our way down the interior coast of Baja in our outrigger sail-canoe, and climb the Middle Teton.

When we were done, we ended up back at the yurt.

First we built the "pergola"
Then the bath house framing took shape.
Recognize that flooring? Extra planks became our custom bamboo counter top.
We covered the bath house with polycarbonate sheeting.

Walkway to the bath house got covered too - good idea!
Custom-built redwood door with polycarbonate panels - see through!
Trial run for the door.
We found a bitchin sink at Urban Ore in Berkeley.
Details, details.
Gross cabinet we found somewhere (?) for bathroom shelves. Don't worry, I fixed 'er up.
Custom door track made from an aluminum bar and skateboard wheels.
Door in action.
Our bath house siding (and all lumber for the pergola) came from Anderson's Alternatives, our local reclaimed lumber business. Nate Anderson is a great guy, does business all over California, and has a deaf dog named Guiness.
Come together.... right now....
Over me.
Shower walls are see-through polycarbonate sheets. Because we obviously do not value our privacy.
Old double-hung window reclaimed for the bath house
And this is the corner for the composting toilet ....

We have compiled a small list of things we'd do differently if we had to do it over again which, thankfully, we don't:
  1. Don't use wood counter tops in an un-weatherproofed building unless you varnish and re-varnish the crap out of them.
  2. Speaking of un-weatherproofed, Erin spent 80,000,000 hours, give or take a few, that first rainy winter trying to weatherproof this building. We were cheap and bought the 8 foot sheets of polycarbonate. They are impossible to tie together in a rain-proof way, so our advise is to buy the sheets exactly as long as the area you need to cover, and buy the U-channel for butting them together.
  3. DO NOT BUY AN ENVIROLET/SANCOR COMPOSTING TOILET! I wish we had seen this page of negative reviews before purchasing ours, but you do not want me to get into that right now. Hundreds of people with nothing but bad things to say.
That is all.
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