Many of the things I know how to do were learned from "how to" books or through trial and error. It seems each time I attempt to do something I learn from the experience. The hope is that I will have remembered and will be able to improve if I do it again.
And then there are those cases of "beginner's luck", where the first time seems like it turned out just right. Naturally, those occurrences are few and far between.
This story has a little of both elements.
When my son was about 12 I thought it would be fun to build him a playhouse, or more accurately, a fort. I spent a few days drawing up my ideas and making the plans. It would be a cool place for him and his friends to play and maybe even spend a night or two. The perfect location was found in the area behind the big garage.
I discussed my intentions with my ever tolerant husband. He kind of looked at me with a dumbfounded stare, but he knows, once my mind is made up, that's it. Unless it's dangerous or unaffordable it's going to happen. Notice I didn't say illegal.
Actually, though, I did look at the ordinances and found to my understanding that unless the structure was larger than 240 square feet it was not required to have a building permit. According to my calculations my structure would have less than 200 square feet. Of course, I didn't see anything about multiple stories...
I decided to build a castle tower, complete with a crenelated balcony. I thought making it round might be too difficult, so I made it six-sided. My husband helped me with the footing. Then I started on the bottom walls. I had found some really neat old windows at a place that sold reclaimed building materials and drew the plans to match the dimensions.
The first floor walls went up easily. They didn't go in perfectly hexagonically, so somewhere the angles were off. But the walls were solidly together so I carried on.
first floor walls go up
Next came the second floor. I wanted to make sure everything was really solid so I used 4X4 timbers for the floor support. Building the second floor walls was easy, it was lifting them into position that was a bit more difficult. But they went into place, were anchored down, and joined together. So far so good.
I followed the same procedure for the second floor ceiling/balcony floor, but made it about a foot larger so it stuck out a bit. The balcony walls were not too difficult to figure out. Their only difficulty was lifting them that much higher into place. The top of the balcony wall came to 17 feet.
ready for stucco
The main structure was completed and it was time to put on the finishing touches. Originally I had thought of making it a rock wall, but even the cultured stone products proved cost prohibitive. I even found a pvc faux stone siding product, but that was too costly also. I was just going to have to learn how to apply stucco.
First came the paper and the chicken wire. I was ready for the scratch coat. Since I wasn't too sure how it would turn out I started in the back. I got one segment of the first floor done and decided to call the pros for an estimate.
I found a listing in the yellow pages that advertised "no job too big or too small, we do them all". I took that as a sign and called. Javier, the owner, came out and gave me an estimate that I could live with. He didn't even laugh at my attempts to do the stucco myself. I think he was impressed that I had done everything else. Soon his workers came and did what they do. It looked good.
I was very pleased with the outcome, but found I had to redo the floor surface on the second floor. I had already put a laminate parquet tile down, and from the guys climbing in and out of the window with all the stucco stuff, the floor was ruined. No matter. I simply replaced it with indoor/outdoor carpeting. It stuck better anyway.
For the floor of the bottom story I got some cabinet quality wood boards (I don't remember the species) and varnished them. My husband used his welder to make a metal ladder to go to the second floor. I made a ladder using dowels against the wall to go from the second floor to the balcony. At work one day one of the maintenance guys was discarding a 1/4" piece of plastic that had been used on top of a desk. He let me have it and I used it to manufacture a clear hatch cover to go over the hole leading to the balcony.
I had some experience with tiling (I tiled both the kids' bedroom floors) so I put some tile on the balcony floor. To fancy it up a bit I bought those little strips you use as a decorative edging. Those were outrageously expensive, but it was tumbled marble and I liked the effect.
dirty balcony floor
On the second floor walls I used some leftover Behr paint called Belgian Waffle. Yummy. I hid the ceiling seams with some wooden strips I stained so it had a kind of Tudor syle look. On the first floor I found some wallpaper that looked like stone (perfect!) and put it up except for one wall by the door. That I covered with the bazillion corks from wine bottles I'd been saving for just such an occasion!
cork and "stone" wall
Wow! Was I really done? The only problem now was, it was two and a half years later and my son was 15! He and his friends did play in it for a short while, usually for hide and seek or air soft wars (which broke a window pane). Oh well.
Now the poor tower kind of just sits there, gathering spider webs and mold. I go in there myself every so often and sweep down the webs and clean off the balcony of the eucalyptus debris. I'm proud of the fact that I did everything myself with the exception of the footing, metal ladder, and stucco.
I didn't keep track of the cost, but I'm guessing it was +/- $5,000. There was the cement, all the lumber, nails, carpet, tile, wallpaper, windows, chicken wire, stucco, paint, and the new tools required: 14' ladder, new drill, drill bits, tool belt, etc.
I've learned a few things too. I've learned to put bigger or more drain holes on the balcony. I've learned I should think a bit longer before starting an ambitious project. (I still have trouble with that one.) I've learned that accomplishing what I set out to do is extremely satisfying.