My Minimalist Monument to Moi is complete. How did that happen?
The final month of the build seemed to go slow, but it was a quick kind of slow. Kind of like the final 15 metres of a 100 metre sprint when everything is timed in hundredths of seconds but in my case, hundreds of details. It’s also the stage when you give up all thoughts of how you’ll run the race. It’s the stage when you just have to hold your technique, put your head down and tough it out. But it’s only the last 15 metres, such a short time in which to finish well. No time to think about it. All of your efforts will have been in vain if you don’t manage that final stretch perfectly. It’s all about not letting things go wobbly at the end. No pressure. That’s how I saw the final month of my build.
Let me describe the events of the final month to handover where it could have been easy to get the wobblies.
Cabinetry. There are three things that make a house liveable. Lockable doors, plumbing and cabinetry. The first two tasks went well. We got locks on the doors, and the plumbing, after a bit of swearing about Japanese expectations not understanding local techniques was installed smoothly .
The Monument however has minimal cabinetry, by design. So there was a lot of anticipation about one or two of the pieces that were planned for the space and had been left until the final days to be delivered. Yo Shimada’s cabinetry was always designed to make a big impact on the liveability of the space, but with so few design elements to play with, the pieces would also make a big impact on the perceived success of the design. There is nowhere in this house to hide these pieces. If they don’t work, it will be very, very obvious.
The kitchen bench for example is an epic inclusion. It performs a dividing and a linking function across the span of the upper floor.
The inset sink, was a question for me. I chose a big one. My rationale was all about maintaining clutter free surfaces. So a big sink with everything below the level of the bench top would give me somewhere to hide the dishes. There is no dishwasher to perform this stowaway function, so if the dishes had to be stashed somewhere during dinner parties, it had to be in this sink. But what would this huge sink look like in such a small house? I wondered all the way up until its installation.
I wondered also about how the bench itself would look, crossing over the stair. It was a leap of faith to do this, one of those design decisions that I’ve been rationalising to everyone throughout the build. How would this look? It sounded clever, but would it look weird or dangerous?
And what about the scale of the room? Will this massive piece of timber close the space in too much? How do you know that stuff until the actual pieces arrive and then how do you know if it works until you have the rest of the furniture in place? I have to admit, I was relieved when the kitchen bench top finally arrived. It didn’t disrupt the flow. In fact, through some crazy trick of perspective that only Shimada san could have imagined, it made the space lengthen.
There was also a question over the furniture pieces that I’d had designed and built by the master furniture craftsman, Roy Schack. The vanity unit for the bathroom was an expensive addition to what was already turning out to be a costly room. I wondered how the elegant timber structure he and Shimada san had designed for the space would interact with the large white sink I had chosen. And how it would work with the toilet in the very tight space allocated in the triangular glass bathroom.
I wondered also about the placement of the desk that Roy Schack had made. This was meant to sit free-standing in front of the glass doors, not up against a wall. It was designed to sit in proximity to the office space, where there were storage shelves that had been installed as an after thought. This was one space where I had indeed got the wobbles and not followed through on my original plan to remain minimalist, with all the paraphernalia of life hidden inside the storage boxes. So I’d asked Shimada san to design shelves for this area. What would be the impact of this minor wobble on the overall design of this particular space?
Of course, non of these questions could be truthfully answered without pushing the go button. I mean, how can you really know if a plan will work unless you actually go ahead with what is planned? So, for the final few weeks of the build, I really just put my head down, accepted what was happening and vowed to live with the consequences, or at least accept that if something had to be changed, it would need to be retrofitted. I watched every piece go in, with trepidation and then relief.
One particular item, however, always had a question over it from the moment it appeared in the design. That moment was late in the piece and the item was my partner Jonny’s baby grand piano. This was never meant to be a house built for a baby grand piano. Life does serve up curve balls though and this one appeared on the scene, thankfully, early enough to give Shimada san time to establish where it would sit (and whether the engineering would handle the weight of it). Getting it into the house, however was another thing altogether. The calculations of where it would fit didn’t take into account the difficulty of craning it onto site and then threading it up the internal stair to the top floor.
Nobody told me that a crane couldn’t drop an item like that onto the top balcony (without removing the balustrade). Nobody told me that the angle from the street would make it difficult to deliver it safely that way. So onto the first level balcony it went and then, with some careful manoeuvring and heavy lifting, it was slid through the cavity to the second floor with millimetres to spare.
This was probably the most dramatic expression of the exacting tolerances exhibited by Shimada san’s design. Things tend to fit with only millimetres to spare. There is a sense with everything that it needs to be planned ahead and that the planning must be trusted to the millimetre. There was no making it up as you go along for the simple reason that there’s no give in the design. If it fits it fits. If it doesn’t it really doesn’t so you need to walk through it first on the plan.
Which is another reason why completing a project like this requires you to have faith in the work that’s been done beforehand in the planning and then, when it comes to completion, you just have to put your head down and just finish.
I didn’t plan on the birth of Jesus playing its part though. I mean Christmas. I really thought we’d be finished well before then. I was wrong. The timing for handover would crossover with Christmas, which is a problem because the entire construction industry closes down over Christmas, meaning that everybody else who wants to be moved into their house by Christmas has to compete for the attention of the trades. There was a fair amount of stress associated with this. The team from MCD put in some seriously long hours to get the job done, under pressure from me. I was nervous as hell. Everyone, including the architect was pushing the trades to do their job, do it quickly and do it well. It was an unfriendly atmosphere, although courteous.
We made it in without a day to spare. We moved in on Christmas Eve, with piano, with minimal possessions, with dog.
The stress of those final days was unexpectedly intense. So much so that now, three months later, I’m still getting over it and have only now found the head space to report on that time.
It’s hard still to think about what living in the space really feels like. I still can’t be 100% sure that I’m 100% happy because I’m still distracted by the little things that I still need to deal with. There are still minor details to rectify and until the boots of the tradies and the cameras of the architects have truly left the building, I won’t truly feel it’s mine to live in and experience.
Except for one space, which I feel I am now able to appreciate, mainly because I’ve spent most of my time there: at the desk from which I’m writing this post. This is my space and the first space that I can really begin to appreciate.
The outlook is good (although the morning sun is brutal and will have to be dealt with via an “after market” blind). Mainly though, it’s the connection I feel with the entire house from this seat that really works for me. I see now what Shimada san has done, and why he fought to have this desk here. I guess this is how I’ll go about acknowledging the design and the build, piece by piece, over time. It’s the start of a long process that could, I guess, take years as I discover new things about this house.
I promise to show you some more by my next posting.