On the first day after I bought my house in San Francisco, I put a sledgehammer through a wall, on purpose. Walking up the enclosed stairwell was like being sent down a tunnel, not coming home. So, goodbye walls!
After I'd smashed down the old and reframed the new, and after the drywall, flooring, and electrical contractors did their things, I was left with a nice open entryway into which you could plunge to your death. Not great for housewarming parties.
Luckily, I had a BIG pipe bender at work. I tried it first with aluminum pipe but found out the hard way that the bender was much stronger than the pipe. After that, I stuck with steel, and after some trial and error, and lugging pipe up and down the stairs (and back and forth to work), I came up with a stairwell railing and a doom-preventing upstairs railing.
It's made from regular 1" steel pipe, joined with fittings from Kee Klamp. The in-fill pieces are laser-cut steel frames with perforated metal inserts that I cut and welded in place. I drew the frames in Solidworks and had them cut at the same time as the letters for the urban screen door--the letters nested inside the frames, to save metal. The vintage draftsman's lamp clamped to the top rail was an eBay find--it's in great shape, is easy to re-position for task lighting, and the brown paint matches the brown I was already using for the rails.
Best of all, the railing passed city code inspection at the end of the renovation, and I haven't fallen down the stairs yet.
Window Seat Storage
I live in a really small house--about 500 square feet of living space located over my garage/workshop. For reference, that is 1/10th the size of Paula Abdul's clothes closet. So, every little corner of storage and living space counts. I try to think in terms of volume, not area, when it comes to organizing. You don't store three-dimensional stuff in two-dimensional square footage.
Enter the window seat storage shelves. The bay window had an unused volume under the narrow window seat/shelf, and my bookshelves are always overloaded. After some crude exploration with a drill bit, and then some fancy exploration with fiber optic camera I borrowed, I started making a mess. Cutting drywall in your bedroom is always a mess.
I discovered: two layers of drywall, some funky wallpaper, and tongue-and-groove redwood paneling. All of which met a combination of sabersaw, sawzall, and chisel.
With the space opened up, I had six cavities between the window framing, and the end ones were pinched off by the tapering ends of the window "bump." I used those end cavities to hold in-wall speakers, with drywall forming the face and sides of the speaker "box." I built shelves in the other four cavities. The bottom row is sized for DVD's and medium-sized paperbacks, and the top row can hold pocket-sized paperbacks two-deep (volume again!), a trick my grandfather used when building shelves in his house in Waterville, Maine. Clever guy.
The sliding doors are 12mm maple plywood, and they slide on shower door guides. The pulls are Ives brass finger pulls, in a satin nickel finish. After obsessive re-measuring, I cut the pockets for them with a spade bit, and glued them in place with a dab of painter's caulk. With all the weird dimensions and out-of plumb that comes with a 110+ year old house, I had to make most of the trim and baseboard parts from scratch, but found a pretty piece of pre-carved trim for the top border.
With the speakers on the ends, it made sense to move my receiver/amplifier into one of the shelves, so I wired two outlets on the right side, including one with a USB transformer, so I can charge my iPhone while it's also plugged into the stereo. There's no good access to wiring in that corner of the house, so I used a 10 amp, panel-mount C-13 electrical plug with a fuse and filter (just like the one on the back of a desktop computer). It's a small detail, but it lets me close the doors without unplugging anything--a much cleaner look than running an extension cord through a partially-open door.
In total, I moved about twelve feet of books into the new shelves, in addition to tucking away my stereo and speakers. Total materials cost was around $400, with about half of that used for the speakers and the transformer outlet.
Urban Screen Door
There's a neighborhood legend about the security door that was on my house. It involves a BB gun, a broken window, and an angry grandson. I've heard it told a couple different ways, but all the versions end with one really big guy trying to get at somebody through that door. And so the door wasn't really straight when it became mine. The ten or so coats of latex paint might have been weighing it down a little too. Worst of all, the bars kept the angry grandson out, but they let flies in.
I wanted to make the urban equivalent of the New England summer screen door--a way to keep out the unwanted, while letting the fresh air in. So, I started with cheap-ish security door from Lowe's, and then modified from there to add a little style. I chose the simplest door I could find, and cut away the additional decorations, leaving simple bars behind. The new "screen" is perforated steel sheet. The holes are large enough to see through, but small enough to keep flies out. I used Solidworks to draw the letters and had them laser cut from steel. To get the kerning/leading right, I made a 1:1 printout of the CAD as a layout guide, then glued the letters in place with metal-reinforced epoxy. Unfortunately, the build-up pictures were lost in The Great iPhone Crash of 2014, but here's the final result.
FWIW, I'm on good terms with that particular grandson. He gave the new door his approval. There's some neighborhood pride here on Alabama Street.
A good friend purchased a house in San Francisco's Excelsior District, and asked me to rework its neglected backyard. The Excelsior sees more of Karl the Fog than other neighborhoods, and the damp conditions had taken their toll on the wood and concrete. The homeowner provided me with a wish list that included a raised bed garden, improved support for the out-of-control grape vines, and a space for outdoor entertaining. I designed a layout that minimized cost and required no major changes to the stonework. We set a budget and I dove in.
I cleaned, sanded, and refinished the redwood fence, strengthened and raised the grape arbor, and built a raised bed garden with an automatic drip irrigation system. The redwood bar is my favorite part, though. With the grapes now out of the way, the raised patio could become an entertaining area, so I framed a simple structure and covered it with heartwood redwood. The stainless steel dry sink can hold cold beverages, and is easily lifted out for cleaning.
The lower level is finished with pavers installed by a hardscape subcontractor, and I built new redwood steps for the house entrance and up to the patio.
Total working time was about two weeks, not including the hardscape work. When it was done, an unusable space had been converted into a food-producing, cocktail-having, sun-worshipping urban oasis!