Intensity of Caring

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Only slightly further along than a month ago, but the metal roof is on both sides now and the grade is close to its final level. Still waiting for the concrete panels at the door and the kitchen. Note the svelte overhangs. Photo by David Klee.

For Fay Jones, architectural details were a “measure of the intensity of caring” in a building. It’s a nice sentiment. Certainly, I’ve taken much care with some of the details in this house, including very small things like how little overhang there is on the eaves—just an inch where the metal hangs over the shingles below. This is partly to keep the profile of the building as simple as possible but it’s also a reference to some of the early, modest, shingled houses on the Cape. Even the old Kingsbury Shores cottages have overhangs of just a couple of inches and the rakes are set flush against the sidewalls.

Another detail that took some effort was the relationship of the plywood panels on the interior to the door and window jambs. I was determined not to have any trim and to have an interior without any paint. But modern windows are made to sit nicely in 2×4 or 2×6 walls and have drywall butted to their jambs, then covered with a casing and paint to hide the joint. The new cottage 1 exposes that joint, holding the plywood ¼” from the edge of the jamb and each plywood sheet ¼” from the adjoining ones. This means that the plywood needs to be cut and installed carefully because the edges are visible. But it also allows the wood to shrink and swell a little without buckling and introduces a pleasing rhythm of shadows throughout the interior, a modern echo of old wainscot. There’s even a sort of baseboard at the base of the wall, 4” high, a traditional detail executed in modern fashion. To emphasize the shadow in these joints, there will be a thin piece of black tape against the stud behind each of them.

One of the reasons that it’s very nice to be working with Art is the care that he gives to the details, too. He’s been looking for just the right material to back up the plywood joints, for example. But he’s also worrying about things that no one will ever see—the kind of stuff that a less conscientious builder could safely ignore because the client would likely never know.

Insulation illustration
View of second floor bedroom, showing framing and blocking.

For example, in several places on the outside walls, we have 2×4 blocking, which is a stud laid flat on the face of the vertical studs to serve as a nailer. The trouble is that this blocking compresses the fiberglass insulation by about 30%, reducing its insulating performance significantly. To compensate for this, Art is switching to a different insulation for all the areas behind the blocking, using a spray foam that has a much higher R-value than fiberglass but is also much more expensive. We might have used it everywhere but for the cost. By using it just behind the blocking, we’ll get consistent performance from our insulation all across the wall while keeping the overall cost reasonable. It’s something I wouldn’t have thought of but am very grateful that Art has.

If the measure of an architect’s caring is how he handles the visible design details, a measure of a builder’s care is what he does with the details that you don’t see.

Eastham weather: 53 degrees, partly cloudy

What’s happening on site: insulation

4 thoughts on “Intensity of Caring

    1. I’m not sure quite what you mean but the entire building above the foundation is wood-framed. The cellar is 3 courses of concrete block above poured concrete.

  1. Ah, no, it’s wood shingles–Atlantic White Cedar, right up to the roof. There will be areas of cementitious panels around the door and at the kitchen projection but the walls are shingled otherwise.

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