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Triangle House

DIY, Inspiration By January 22, 2018 67 Comments

Gagoghs

The average price for a new construction home in the US in 2017 was $282,853. A typical single-family home goes from a plot of land to four walls of move-in ready space in about seven months. Along the way, the process taps at least two dozen different tradesmen & women and generates around eight thousand pounds of waste. For most people that’s all well and good (except for the waste part) and relatively affordable. Who has the time to build their own home anyway? Trust the people with the skills and have ’em call you when it’s done, right?

If you’re New Mexico artist Gagoghs, you look at your $18,000 budget, your own two hands and say “f$*k all that, I’ll just do it myself.” Four walls? Why not three? The Triangle House may have been born of necessity, but it quickly became Gagoghs’s greatest artistic achievement.

No, Gagoghs is not his real name. But he is a real dude. And a real badass. Save a few exceptions (electrical by Buffalo Solar), every cut, nail, and every slab of concrete was run through the saw, driven home, or poured by Gagoghs himself. So yeah. Badass.

A former Los Angeleno turned high desert dweller, Gagoghs mentions he has no formal training in the construction trade, which makes the fact he built a house alone even more insane. His days in Los Angeles were spent working in the display department at Urban Outfitters, which served as his intro to the trade. “I found I just had a knack for precision, and could easily see in my head how something needed to look in the end,” he says.

Taos

As life tends to do, it eventually whisked Gagoghs away from LA to Philadelphia. He remodeled a house in Philly, but before long felt the pull of The West again. “We had stopped through Taos while moving to Philadelphia,” Gagoghs says. “We couldn’t get it out of our minds.” Not surprisingly, the price to buy a home in Taos was relatively WAY EFFING CHEAPER than LA or Philadelphia. He bought an old rundown earthship that needed a lot of love and got to work. He fixed the place up, built an addition featuring complex concrete pours (self-taught on the job, because duh), and honed his skills a little more.

I’ve never been there myself (yet), but Taos is a pretty magical place from what I’ve gathered. It’s the kind of place where if you’re an absentee homeowner and don’t hire a caretaker, you may come back to find a nest of hippies shacking up in your spot. It’s the kind of place where you can secure ownership of a plot of land by care-taking someone else’s property against said roving hippies & squatters. It’s the kind of place where you can literally eschew your own name, say “F$*k the world, I’m Gagoghs now,” and everyone’s like “Tight.” It’s the kind of place that’s so isolated that if you’re entertaining some dillhole in Minneapolis’s fancy to interview you, you drive to a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere to get cell reception and kick back on the phone while elk pass you by indifferently.

I’ve always been one to feel the pull of The West, and every time I make a trip out that way, I have a real hard time coming back. So help me when I finally make it out to Taos. I can feel the vortex from here.

Triangle House

One of the trades that was completely skipped in the building of Triangle House was an architect. Exactly zero sketches, drawings, blueprints, or renderings of the house were made. Zero. It all existed upstairs in Gagoghs’s head, perfectly rendered and ready to be translated into reality. Why a triangle, you ask? “I just wanted to do something unique,” he says. Well he did that, while also guaranteeing that almost every cut along the way would be custom.

Over the years prior, Gagoghs had collected building materials from Craigslist, architectural salvage vendors, and by “finding shit out in the woods.” Once a plot of land was secured, he rolled up his sleeves, measured 32 foot sides, 60 degree angles, and started pouring concrete. Framing the house alone “was one of the biggest challenges of the whole project,” he says. “Everything had to be dead square, and dead plumb,” which of course all had to start with a perfectly level slab.

Concrete slab down & cured, so began an 18-month grind of daily solo work, one cut at a time. You know how walls are normally framed, where it’s built on the ground then raised up and fixed in place? Yeah, you can’t do that alone. Gagoghs was literally building from the ground up, consulting those drawings in his head along the way. Problems that arose required making adjustments. “But everything pretty much went according to how I envisioned it,” Gagoghs says.

Fast forward thru those 18 months of building, framing, and the daily grind, and Gagoghs was on the home stretch, ready to build the interior rooms and move in. Exhausted from a year and a half of non-stop building, it was time for a relief pitcher.

Cue my brother Sam. “I knew the bathroom needed to be here, the kitchen over there, and the living room there,” Gagoghs says, but he only had a basic idea of the interior’s design. Gagoghs and Sam collaborated to finish the place in style. “We worked six days a week for three months,” Sam said. “It was flawless, we really brought out the best in each other.”

Reclaimed

Aside from plywood sheeting and framing lumber, all of the building materials making up Triangle House are reclaimed or recycled. Remember those years of Craigslisting, architectural salvaging, and back-woods scavenging? Well it paid off, helping to make an $18k budget a reality. Working with reclaimed materials also introduced some other challenges. When nearly all of your materials are reclaimed, you end up having small quantities of lots of different stuff. This is great to add variety, but Sam mentions it could have quickly gone very wrong. “We didn’t want the house to look like a set from Mad Max or a steampunk movie,” he says. “We had to disguise a lot of our materials simply because they were so random. If you’re using an old bed frame to use for your shower wall, you want it to look like a shower wall. We didn’t always try to draw attention to the fact that things were reclaimed. Fully integrating those items into a modern design was such cool challenge. We both have a very clean aesthetic, so getting everything to work in a graphic way was really exciting.”

What’s Next

With the interior of the main level complete, all that’s left is to finish the upstairs living space and some outdoor landscaping. With such an incredible house nearly complete in a town that’s a major tourist destination, Gagoghs admits he could easily make good money renting the space. But that’s not what it’s about for him. “I just love my energy in this space too much to give it up to random people,” he says. “Who knows, maybe one day it can be a museum with all my artwork on display after I’m long dead.”

Museum or not, income-generating or not, who cares? Triangle House is a feat of artistry & self-sufficiency to be sure, but at the end of the day it’s just three walls that house the spirit of a guy who wasn’t out to prove something, but who couldn’t resist the challenge of doing something truly unique & seemingly impossible.

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Kitchen Work In Progress

DIY, House By May 2, 2016 1 Comment

We had some big dreams for the kitchen remodel, and we went into this project with one major goal: to do as much of the work ourselves as possible. We knew going into it that we didn’t have the tools or know-how to pull it all off, but we also didn’t wanna just hire someone to transform our home while we were at the office, then crack a beer after all their hard work at the end of the day. That process tends to be a lot more expensive, and when you have personalities like ours, a lot less satisfying too. Plus, cracking a beer after you bust your ass all day feels pretty damn good. Lindsey and I really wanted to be as involved as possible, and for the things we didn’t yet know how to do, we had amazing backup in these guys:

Matt and John Bennett

That’s Lindsey’s brother Matt and her dad John. John’s a lifelong contractor who’s been doing some of Central Iowa’s best remodeling since he settled down there in the 80’s, and Matt’s fixing to follow in those footsteps, with some great work of his own already under his belt. We definitely owe these two a lot for their help on several parts of this job, so thanks again guys! Not only were they willing to drive four hours north to help out, but they brought some tools that we didn’t have and taught us a lot along the way. Next time we lay floor tile (hopefully those rad concrete ones Lindsey talked about here), it’s all ours to tackle. 🙂

Lower Cabinets

One of the first things we wanted to get underway in the remodel was the cabinets. I wanted to paint the lower cabinets while they were in place, and it made sense for me to do so way early on in the process for a few reasons. First, the lowers are quite a bit larger than the upper ones are, so maneuvering them around onto sawhorses while uninstalled would have been pretty cumbersome. Plus, we had junk flooring that we were gonna pull up later, junk countertops that were gonna come out, so on the off chance that I made a mistake spraying, I likely wasn’t going to mess up anything that mattered. Finally, we wanted to use the partially completed job as motivation to keep things going!

To get a really true black color, we used a primer that was tinted down to a dark gray which would allow the black to deepen, rather than having a bright white primer underneath it. For the finish coat, we diverged from paint that I’m familiar with (Sherwin Williams ProClassic) and went with a Benjamin Moore product (Aura). I’ve always been a little hesitant to change from a brand that I’m super familiar with and confident in, but we didn’t have a choice in this case. ProClassic isn’t made with a tint base that allows for super dark colors to be made, so we picked up the Aura. At the end of the day, I’m happy to say that I really couldn’t tell a difference when spraying, or with the results. Yay, Benjamin Moore!

Lindsey cleaning cabinets with a TSP substitute

Lindsey sanding cabinet doors

Just because we were going to be taking out the floor and countertops didn’t mean I wanted to jack them up and get paint all over them. We still wanted to live in as clean of a house as possible for the next several months. After some painstakingly detailed prep with tape, plastic and paper, we had the whole kitchen looking like a scene from Dexter and ready for primer. Around this time we also wiped all of the surfaces down with a TSP substitute to clean them, then took an 80 grit orbital sander over everything to rough up the surface so paint would stick. For really visible surfaces like the drawer fronts and doors, we made sure the sanding pad on the orbital was really well worn down when we hit those, to help avoid swirl marks in the finish that a fresh 80 grit pad can give you.

We got the primer on with little fanfare, and we were super excited to get all the doors and drawers painted with finish coat and see how the black looked. Initially we’d chosen Black Knight as the color they’d tint that Aura product to, and if you’re like me you think when you see it that it looks damn near pure black. Maybe not quite, but close. We found out after painting all eight doors and six drawers that that definitely wasn’t true. It looked like a weird blue-green-black that was not at all what we were going for. Thankfully the folks at the paint store were super gracious when we brought in the swatch and one of the doors, showing that the door looked way different from the swatch, and they replaced our gallon with another, this time in true solid black.

cabinet-white-uppers

cabinet-blue-lowers

cabinet-paint-blue

josh-painting-kitchen

 

kitchen-black-cabinets

Pretty spiffy, eh? Once we had these lower cabinets all black, we were even able to tolerate the boring, bowed formica countertops a little more easily. They still didn’t look good, but they looked better than they did against the light oak from before.

We found that kicking off the remodel by tackling the lower cabinets first really motivated us to keep it all rolling. We were so motivated, in fact, that we took hammers to the wall separating the kitchen and dining room a few days later…

Wall Demo, Part 1

Hammers and pry bars rule!

There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into us starting this part of the project off. We still weren’t certain whether or not the wall was load-bearing, but we knew that we couldn’t hack the dungeon-y dark dining room any longer. So on a random afternoon we hauled out a couple of pry bars, pulled off the trim on both sides, and went to town.

A few hundred pounds of plaster lighter, with kitchen light streaming in between the lath, we let the dust settle and realized we were definitely at the point of no return. And thank god. Even with limited view between the studs and lath, we could tell how much of a difference the change was going to make in the space. The dining room was twice as bright, which made that room feel way bigger. We could also envision ourselves entertaining friends, with all of us able to see each other and chat, instead of Lindsey and I hidden away in the kitchen like The Help.

Once we were all cleaned up from knocking out the plaster, we coordinated a time when Lindsey’s dad could come have a look-see and find out what our next steps needed to be going forward, and took a step back to have a breather.

Good news of the non-load-bearing variety, plus electrical rough-in and maybe even the upper cabinets & backsplash, next time! 🙂

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Bedroom Trim Painting

DIY, House By April 18, 2016 387 Comments

Now that I’m not painting as a career anymore, I really enjoy the chances I get at home to get back into it. You may think I’m crazy, as I always hear people moan and groan whenever they have to tackle a painting project. I really do love it though. Painting caps off projects nicely, since it’s usually one of the last things to get done, and it’s when you finally start to see all the hard work paying off. This refresh of the bedroom was no different, and I found myself having a ball during the whole process!

Spraying trim in the bedroom

As Lindsey mentioned before, there are a couple of things with this bedroom project we’d have done differently if we were gonna do it all over again (which some crazy, perfectionist part of me is actually tempted to do). The big thing we’d do differently is choose to use an oil-based primer on the trim. In my previous life as a painter, I used exclusively Sherwin Williams and came to have a lot of faith in their products. However, I was always working in new construction, which is a really different application than a 100 year-old craftsman with original woodwork. We opted for Sherwin Williams Multi Purpose and Pro Classic for our primer and finish coats, respectively. Right at the start, the finish looked just great. The bright white contrasted well with both of the blues we chose for the walls, and the finish coat has a really durable, clean look. My gripe, though, is with my choice to use latex primer. And I feel a bit like a newbie, but I totally should have known better.

Yellowing trim on the closet door

See how the trim around the door is a brighter white? Consequence of not using an oil-based primer to seal the yellow woodwork stains away.

That’s some pretty yellow woodwork we were dealing with. Even though I applied a couple of good coats of primer, plus a contractor grade finish coat, as Lindsey mentioned before we’re having that yellow start to bleed through. The end result isn’t mortifying, it’s just not nearly as cool as it was right when it was all fresh. These days, it’s more looking like an off-white than bright white. Passable, but like I said, the perfectionist in me wants to go back and do it all over again using this as a primer. Problem solved, seriously. The stain blocking capability of oil based primer just can’t be matched by a latex product. I recently used that oil-based primer to cover some reeeeaaaaally bad nicotine stains on the walls and ceilings of a lifetime smoker’s house. In one coat it blocked all of the stains perfectly, and that house just sold, with the new buyer none the wiser that a smoker had ever lived there! I know, it sucks to clean up oil-based paint and it smells awful, especially when you spray it, but no joke this oil primer woulda saved me the embarrassment of admitting that I (the professional dingus painter) opted for the cheaper, easier option and ended up with less-than-stellar results. Lesson learned & ego taken down a peg. Onward!

Spraying paint – you can dooooo it!

One big thing to keep in mind when you’re spraying walls or trim with paint is good masking. These spray tips atomize the paint so small that it ends up on errything if you’re not careful. Cover the floor with a thick, durable rosin paper (taped neatly against the edge of the baseboard) and cover the glass on windows with tape & plastic. If you’re only painting a section of the house, find a doorway that you can close off tightly with masking tape & plastic to keep dust from floating all throughout the house. If you do leave any furniture in the room (like we did), make sure it’s covered tightly with plastic and that the plastic is taped down tight to the paper you covered the floor with.

Bed and floor all masked tight for spraying

Like Lindsey mentioned, we used an airless sprayer that I’d borrowed from my boss to get the trim painted. I have the benefit of having sprayed hundreds of gallons of paint back in that previous life, so for me it was a matter of muscle memory to get a glassy finish on the trim. For the ambitious DIY-er, it might be a slight challenge, but it’s still absolutely doable to use a sprayer if you’re a newbie. There are plenty of tips and video tutorials out there that show how to operate the sprayer and apply product. Plus, considering how much better sprayed trim looks vs. brushed, it’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. You will have to sacrifice a little bit of paint in the interest of practicing and getting a feel for the gun, but it’s still worth it for the look in the end. When you’re using an airless sprayer as a rookie, just remember two things: 1) When in doubt, go thin. You can always come back again with another thin coat to finish coverage, and two thin coats is better than one thick one that runs in spots. 2) Always have your arm in motion when the trigger is pulled on the gun.

We used a Graco pump and gun, with a fine finish tip. Everything you’d need should be relatively easily able to come by for rent at your local Sherwin Williams or equipment rental shop, though I would recommend purchasing a brand new spray tip for the gun, even if the rental joint offers you one. If not operated at the correct pressure and properly cared for/stored, the tiny hole that’s machined into the tip can get blown out too big, which can lead to wasted product and runs in the paint if you’re not familiar with the process. No one wants that. I’ve always used Graco spray tips as well, and a fresh 410 or 412 tip (fine finish variety, specifically for trim) will give you the best control possible. More on what the numbers mean here if you’re curious, I won’t bore you.

Spraying the closet with primer

Once I had the sprayer all set up and had gotten a good solid coat of primer on, we let it dry fully (overnight). Once dry, we used some medium grit sanding blocks to gently sand the primed trim smooth. I say gently because if you have fresh primer over top of old, stained woodwork and you sand aggressively, you’re apt to burn right through the primer and expose the stained trim again, thereby defeating the purpose of priming that spot. This is especially prone to happen on edges & corners. All it really takes is a few gentle but firm swipes with a sanding block (check it with your bare hand for smoothness after you swipe it with the block a few times) to get your primed trim super smooth again.

After we sanded, we caulked every crack in the woodwork we could find (more pro tips on this process later – can’t share them all in one post!). Once the caulking had dried fully overnight, or whatever the tube said the dry time was, we switched over to the Pro Classic for finish coat. While I’m definitely unhappy with the performance of the latex primer we used, I’m super happy with how the Pro Classic looks. We opted for a semi-gloss to help the trim stand out a bit against the lower sheen walls, and semi-gloss also gives you a surface that you can clean more easily when you need to.

Using an airless sprayer can be a bit intimidating, but don’t let it stop you from trying. With all the tutorial resources out there, plus the comment section juuuuust down below (let us know if you’ve ever tried using one! ;), you have everything you need to tackle a job and have it look great. Now that spring is finally upon us, we’re gonna be pulling the sprayer out of storage soon and painting the exterior of our house, so stay tuned for that!

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Handmade artwork in the bedroom

Art & Design, DIY By March 27, 2016 1 Comment

Check out my first handmade weaving! I found a diy template over at A Beautiful Mess a few years back. My shoddy homemade cardboard loom was pretty much an epic fail but overall I’m pretty pleased with the results and I definitely learned a lot for next time.

art-bedroom-weave

After we painted and patched the bedroom walls and trim, it was time for some new artwork (don’t worry we’ll fill you in on that process in a future post). We’re still in the process of getting everything in place but wanted to share a work in progress. We love our new bedding from West Elm too!

bedroom-art-bedding

bedroom-bedding

art-bedroom-lips

art-lips

Lip art by: Mattea Whetstone

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