In our latest Backstory series, we'll be previewing the loft renovation that is the featured My House in Dwell's November issue—our first-ever online sneak peek. Here, Emeryville, California architect Peter Benoit shares the process behind customizing the San Francisco Bay area loft he shares with his wife, Lynda. Check outPart 1: As it Was, Part 2: Drawings and Demolition,and now, Part 3: Construction.
Now that the demo was pretty much done, I started construction of the wood box. I decided that I was going to build it myself to save money on labor more than anything else.
I had a mandate from Lynda—as soon as I demolished the existing stair I had to make a new one within 48 hours, because she didn’t want to climb a ladder to get to her clothes. I had never built stairs before, but I did learn how to frame when I worked with a house builder for a summer when I was back in Massachusetts. This picture shows the first stair stringer— the structural support for each of the steps—being fabricated. I used a regular old framing square, skill saw, and hand saw to square up the cuts.
I built the closet platform and landing first, and then nailed the two stringers into place. Our floor is uneven—it used to be the roof of the old building—so I had to custom shave and shim each of the stringers to get them to be level and sturdy when they were secured to the structure.
We used the completed, rough stair like this for a while before I got to cladding the wood box.
This was my typical workshop throughout the construction of the wood box. I had two portable metal sawhorses that I would set up, and I used my task chair at my desk as support when I needed to cut really long boards. Once I measured and cut all the individual pieces of cladding I’d test the fit, then go back and finesse them, then nail them up. It took forever. I bought an air compressor and a finish nail gun that made this possible—I couldn’t have done the work without it.
Once we removed drywall on the living room side, I laid up sheets of plywood—all by myself. I had to do this choreographed sequence of getting the board onto the sawhorses, dead lifting it up onto some temporary nails in the studs, climbing the ladder while keeping the board from tipping over, and then nailing it up in place. In retrospect, I have no idea why I didn’t do it from the ground up.
This shot shows the bookcase framing up. I built a regular wood-stud wall and spaced it off of the plywood with a narrow deck at the top. The wood bookcase cladding went in and out and wrapped each of the stud bays. I did some basic rough electrical wiring with new convenience outlets at the base, and stubbed out for the lighting at top. (Hello, Lynda!)
Lynda did all of the tiling work in the kitchen. We used Heath Ceramics second stock tiles and applied them directly to the drywall. Lynda sorted them all by grade and color, and hand assembled the pattern as she went up the wall. She hadn’t any construction experience before, but she was awesome, learned fast, and really did a great job.
And here’s the wood box about half-way completed. Once I figured out how to get into a rhythm on each of the cladding courses (all the way across), I could lay one in about a half an hour. I tried to keep the heartwood (dark) and sapwood (light) portions of the board balanced as best I could, but pretty much let the natural randomnesss create its own pattern and texture. When I finished all the cladding, I hired a carpenter to install the individual bookshelves, hang the doors at the stair, and finish up cladding around the stair treads and risers. And we got rid of the ceiling fan.