admiring: Hamilton, in all its glory

Since the Broadway hit Hamilton is a frequent topic of conversation in our house – to the point that the seven-year-old will bust out lyrics like nobody’s business – “Hey guys, I want to be in the room where it happens!” – I thought I’d highlight a few fun things we’re considering for holiday gifts in these parts.

But first, I wanted to recommend the fantastic documentary – Hamilton’s America, the first in PBS’s Great Performances series.


It aired on PBS last Friday night, but my understanding is that it is available for streaming for four weeks, and after that point, you can still access it if you have PBS Passport (a benefit for PBS supporters, as we are). It was phenomenal. We loved watching the back story of how Miranda and his talented team worked for six years on this production, but it’s far more than just the story of how a show gets made. There are interviews with historians, politicians, artists, playwrights, musicians. Cast members visit and tour historical sites and view and touch journals and writing desks and weapons from the story. At one point near the end of the documentary, as they are discussing the inspiration behind the song “One Last Time” about George Washington stepping down from power, and the peaceful transition to a new leader, we were all pointing at the screen and shouting “This is so RELEVANT!” It’s just so much fun to deep dive into a subject in a new way, and it’s a testament to this living, breathing work of art that it’s so profoundly engaging and smart. So watch it!

This book is purchased for the little one:


I’m picking these up at the Book Fair next month for the big one:



And t-shirts, right?


I’m already excited for Christmas morning.

If you’ve got other Hamilton-inspired items, please let me know!

project addition: carriage house elevations

I just realized I’m telling this series of “stories” in a backward fashion – the garage will be the last thing constructed, not the first. But I’ll continue on in some sort of systematic fashion despite that. There’s no economy of scale anywhere in this project – we can’t pour all the foundations, lay all the bricks, spray in all the insulation – in one fell swoop. The addition will come first, because after the garage goes in there won’t be any access for large equipment into the yard.

I have moments when I really start to sweat at the complexity of it all. Nothing about this project is simple, nothing will be routine. There is no typical wall section here – everything has to be thought all the way through before pulling the trigger because we literally have no room for adjustments. But we build more complicated things all the time, so I take a deep breath and try to push on.

Elevations – elevations are a funny thing to look at if you aren’t used to looking at them. They aren’t a great representation of reality because everything about a three-dimensional building is reduced to a two-dimensional one. There are little cues that can help you “read” one, but they’re more important for the construction document side than for explaining how a building will look in real life. I thought I’d share them anyway, and hopefully they explain in further detail what the building will look like.


Three sides of the carriage house aren’t really that exciting – guess what? It’s a big, brick box! We can’t install windows on walls that are on the property line, and I discussed yesterday that we had decided not to put any on the alley side either. M actually thought that big brick expanse on the alley side might make a good spot to install some sort of art installation down the road, something to brighten up the alley a little. Might be a fun project.


But the courtyard side of the building is the one that we really like.


You’ll see in the lower left hand corner, the drawing cuts through the areaway stair down to the garage door. This door opens onto the stair landing. You can go straight up the stairs to the apartment, or you can turn to your right, open the door, and step down into the garage. Also at the garage level, you can see the two operable awning windows – the dashed lines represent the direction the windows open, so these hinge at the top and open outward. We love awning windows – you get a nice breeze through them, but they can also stay open in a gentle rain because the opening is somewhat protected by the window “awning”.

You can see in this elevation that the height of the courtyard is much higher than the garage floor below, so this side of the building will look the shortest in elevation.

The apartment floor cantilevers out over the garage below – this does a couple of functional and aesthetic things.

It provides us a change to break up the expanse of brick on this elevation – the one we’re going to look at the most. We aren’t 100% sure on the cladding material and finish on this piece, but it will be wood siding of some sort – either opaque stained to match the brick color, or possibly a tropical hardwood or stained wood of some kind. Either way, it helps to define that living space as a special one, and (as you’ll see when I get to the house addition posts), it mirrors the look of the rear of the addition.

Having that “frame” cantilever beyond the garage does a few other things – it provides some protection over the garage door below it, which is always welcome at an entry door. And while it won’t fully cover the landing at the bottom of the stairs there,  there’s always some protection that comes from standing next to a tall wall – so this will just extend that protection a little more. It gives us a place to install a recessed light fixture to illuminate that stair too, a nice, clean detail.

The frame also provides a bit of privacy from either side. You can see that the top and one side slope in towards the windows, while the other side and the bottom are straight. Of course this won’t provide total privacy at this giant wall of glass, but it does shelter the windows somewhat, and I think it will also provide a nice, focused view from the interior of the apartment. We’ll still have large roller shades to provide privacy when needed.

And if you’re into that higher level of detail, you can see the wall sections through that cantilevered frame at the windows in the right two sections. In the left one, you get a sense for how tall the windows are in the space, and also how the exposed roof structure will look.


That’s a fairly comprehensive overview of one half of this project. Next weekend I’ll write the posts on the addition portion of the project, and hopefully have some good news to report from Thursday’s hearing. Thanks for all the notes of encouragement!

project addition: carriage house plan

Carriage House tour, continued.

Yesterday’s post focused on the garage portion of the building, and this post will highlight what’s happening 10′ up from the alley level.

Constructing a two story-garage was really a no-brainer for several reasons. First, we have a four foot grade change at the rear of our property down to the alley, so the height of our garage will already appear 4′ shorter from the house. Second, a large portion of the cost and the complexity is in constructing any sort of building here – so if we’re going to go to the trouble of constructing the foundation and framing for a garage – floor, walls, and roof – why not extend the walls a bit more and get a living unit above? It’s a significant value add to our property, much more than just the additional square footage of the dining room addition on the house. So it helps to “earn its keep” a bit by merely existing. Third, we’re already zoned multi-family, and so it’s nice to be able to take advantage of that zoning. For now, we plan to use the apartment as a guest suite for visitors, but also a flex space for our family – like a big project space that doesn’t clutter up the main house, or a place to host a fun sleepover party, or even the occasional family “staycation” – because, why not? In the future, the girls could live there over their summer vacations from college, or we could host a foreign exchange student, list the space on airbnb, or we could rent to a student for a semester, or even longer. All those options are available to us. Down the road, if we were to sell the house, it could be used for an au pair or an in-law suite.

So we’re trying to design the space with all those options in mind – which really means that we’re not OVER-designing the space at all. We want to create a very simple, open space, with lots of daylight, ventilation, views into the garden, access to outdoor space, and basic living functions covered (or roughed in for future installation). And we need to watch costs in the space, focusing our dollars on an energy efficient building envelope and choosing materials with an eye for sustainability and ease of maintenance.


To orient you in the plan above, north is up, and up is also the backyard. The alley is on the south side of the garage.

Cross Ventilation – you’ll notice this theme in the house addition as well. We’re being careful to include features that provide a comfortable living environment year round with as little dependence on heating and cooling as possible. That means thinking seriously about the wall, floor, and roof sections – how they are insulated, venting requirements, moisture mitigation, etc. 

We talked about many different window options on the alley side of the building – it’s the tallest wall elevation, and windows would certainly look better above the garage doors versus a big blank wall of brick. But security is in issue, as well as privacy – there is a house directly behind us across the alley, and so we’d likely have curtains or blinds drawn across those windows at most times anyway, and the windows would also rarely be open. We decided that operable skylights would be a much better choice here. They will allow for cross ventilation – drawing air from the north wall of windows through the space, and they will also have motorized sun shades to block light if necessary.


Here’s the roof plan, oriented the same direction. The carriage house has a flat roof, but there’s still a lot of complexity to the roof pitches of a flat roof and all of the penetrations. The roof will slope to the alley, and we’ll have two scuppers and downspouts on the alley side to carry water from the roof. You’ll also see something that looks like a third skylight – that’s actually a roof hatch.

Access to Outdoor Space – the apartment will have great views into the courtyard, but we also wanted to provide access to private outdoor space, so we’re structuring the roofs of both the addition and the carriage house to accommodate the weight of a roof deck and a “green / food roof” – we want the ability to create green space and living space on both. Here’s the apartment plan again:


If you look at Door #11, that’s the door into a room that will contain a ship’s ladder to the roof hatch. It’s located over the stair down to the garage level, and will be a little more comfortable to climb than a straight ladder would be. We’ve dashed in the future roof deck and railing for now on the plans – this might be a project that we complete at a later date. But we will already have power and a hose bib on the roof, so we’re planning ahead for that installation.

Keep it Simple – The apartment layout is fairly simple – one open room with a large expanse of north facing windows, all operable. There will be a small kitchenette that will be installed using salvaged cabinets and sink from our current kitchen – refinished – and a simple, tiled bathroom. The dashed lines just in front of the kitchen are the skylights above. There’s a nice sized landing at the top of the stairs, plus a space just inside the door for a suitcase stand and hanging rod for clothes. We’ve also included an “away” space on the opposite side of the kitchenette / bathroom – we might build in some bunks there for visitors, but it could also make a nice storage closet for a future resident.

Natural Light – So much glass! Fingers crossed we don’t choke on the window bid, because I seriously love the window wall in this place. Five window bays across, with operable awnings at the floor, and operable casements above. We may switch to fixed casements for cost reasons, but even if we do, there will be a large amount of glass that can be opened up, drawing in cool air down low and expelling hot air through the roof. I also think this space will make a cool painting studio – so it might be that we have a few easels up, and our work becomes part of the space, always changing.

Modest Materials Done Well – The roof insulation is on top of the structure, so all of the roof joists will be exposed in the space, and we’ll paint everything out clean and white, with some plywood finishes. Simple materials, clean lines, a little modernist escape.

Here are a few inspiration photos to give you an idea of the general look of the space we’re going for, although our space will be more modest.




It may not be a large space, but I think the high ceilings, the wall of windows, the future roof garden – all of these things will certainly up the “cool” factor. And then you can all plan your visit to our fair city!

P.S. Question on yesterday’s post about alley access – yes, we will have to go through the garage to get to the alley – no gates on the side fences because they go directly onto the neighbor’s properties. Feel free to ask any other questions, and I’ll try to answer them in the following post.