A visit to the steel fabricator

The La Loma project in Los Altos Hills has a custom steel and wood staircase. We recently met at the fabricator's shop, Brian's Welding, to look at the layout.

I was fascinated by the leftover pieces scattered around the shop.

I was fascinated by the leftover pieces scattered around the shop.

The detail drawings we produce for the project.

The detail drawings we produce for the project.

Brian's full size layout on the shop floor. 

Brian's full size layout on the shop floor. 

Checking the details and relationships with Glenn Denis, the contractor.

Checking the details and relationships with Glenn Denis, the contractor.


A recent house fire in my neighborhood prompted the writing of this post. 


Over the years, I've had several projects that were the result of or were needed due to the client's houses burning to various degrees. No matter how the fires started, the extent of damage to the home and disruption to the lives of the families can not be overstated. 

One house caught on fire due to painters' rags selfcombusting. Although only one end of the house burned, the smoke and heat damaged the rest to the point where nothing was salvageable and house was torn down. With the insurance funds, our client had us redesign a new house.  

Another project similarly was due to painters. While the clients were on their honeymoon, the painters they had hired had left drop clothes on top of a floor furnace which came on in the middle of the night. Fortunately, the fire department was on patrol that night, smelled smoke, and finally found the house when the fire was just breaking through the roof. The firemen said the inside of the house had reached over 1000 degrees. The refrigerator was a puddle of plastic on the floor.  All solder joints in pipes had melted loose and the wiring insulation had all burned off. Anything that hadn't been heat or smoke damaged was water damaged from fighting the fire. For this project we were able to strip all finishes to studs which were painted to seal in the smell. The clients chose to go beyond a simple rehab and had us design a much more extensive remodel and addition.  

Walking through a house after a fire is humbling.  The smell is just awful and everything is black.  


Here's my take away:

  • Smoke detectors: Of course, with fresh batteries. 
  • Insurance: Be realistic with your stated value for the replacement converage due to the higher cost of rebuilding in our area. A current code rider is critical as upgrading will most likely be required and can be costly. 
  • Permits: This can be a biggy. Insurance adjusters will check permit history on houses.  Un-permited work may result in denied coverage.

From the Archives

This house was finished several years ago. It was completely rebuilt from the subfloor up and with a new second story addition. Style is traditional East Coast Shingle.

Construction pictures - New house in Los Altos Hills

The views and the experience of being in this house relative to those views are amazing. The house was located on the site very carefully, with much consideration to those views, solar orientation, and maximizing the flat area of the site for the yard & pool. The most difficult aspect, however, was maintaining compliance with the Town's stringent height and development area restrictions. In order to maximize the buildable floor area, we pushed the house down into the top of the hill rather than building a two story house on top of the hill.

As a result, the house has simple low slung appearance with multiple elements of surprise and delight as you transition from outside the Entry, into the house, and through to the lower level. There are two completely different connections and experiences with the outside. On the main level of the house, there is a deck with a full view over the trees of the Bay beyond. This view is experienced even from the pool side of the house through the large multi-slide doors.

Going down to the lower level, this hillside view is completely different. You are in and under the trees looking out across the native hillside into a conservation easement that can never be developed. The bedrooms here are place of serenity.

More about this house here

A kitchen remodel

On any job, there are always unanticipated surprises. Lately contractors are discovering what used to be relatively simple and fairly fast to have handled is turning into a bureaucratic mess with PG&E. For this project with a small addition, we had to have PG&E move a gas meter about 7 ft closer to the street. Didn't happen in the normal timely manner.

Once the meter was moved, they were allowed to sheet rock. Here's the new opened up space, waiting for Kitchen & Family Room cabinetry.