Sea House Conservatory Water Feature

Bolinas, California

Although this photo was taken during high tide, this is the water feature look I want to emulate on the Sea House Conservatory low tide build.

Sea House Leadlights

After watching countless hours of video demonstrations from a variety of sources, I started my experiment with a small area at the front of the Leadlights landscaping that seemed natural for a water incursion. I glued a 2-inch tall length of acetate to the project board to form a dam, several inches longer than the intended 4-inch-wide pour, reinforced with masking tape below and tape holdfasts above.

First pour

Several deep breaths and I poured a scant quarter-inch of Realistic Water ™ from Woodland Scenics into the prepared area. Recommendation is an eighth-inch, but hey, it pours fast. So far so good.

Not any different 5 minutes later

I did the same prep on the Conservatory project board.

Constructing a dam around the Conservatory pier

One tricky situation encountered is when any element of the landscaping extends past the base, even a little. I had some time to consider ways I will do it differently next time, as I held the acetate to the base while the glue set adequately.

The indispensable Hand Clamp

When the glue seemed set, I boldly yet delicately poured the first course of water into the prepared base, altogether 5 or 6 separate individual glugs into each tide pool or basin.

The first pour

Unsurprisingly, as I looked and marveled at the swampy effect and the no-going-back-nowness, a few small, very slow leaks began to develop. I used wide painter’s tape to further seal — more on that later — the dam to the base. I checked again about two hours later, added more tape, and also noticed a few small areas where the glue I had used to attach the gravel and boulders seemed to be turning opaque white. Hmmm. The recommendation is to let each layer dry at least 24 hours. It was very late by this time, so I called it a night very early morning and went to bed.

Hmmmmm. Should I be concerned?

Next morning, not 24 hours later, I was encouraged to see the water was mostly turning clearer, but the small white areas were still present, noticeably in the transition areas of gravel I had applied a few days earlier.

What is causing those weird areas of white in the gravel?

I re-read the product label instructions.

What?!

Not for use with PVA glue. I’ll shorten my whole lengthy tirade — who doesn’t commonly use PVA glue? Why wasn’t this the very first caveat on the label, and why was this condition never mentioned in any of the company’s instructional videos on use of the product, etc. and lots of swears and unkind, even rude assumptions and declarations. And then there was the offhand “Cure above 70°F.” Thankfully I have a wise and patient bitch buddy to vent to with whom I can vent. You know who you are are.

Then I calmed down enough to decide that since there was nothing I could do about it, I’d wait and see what would continue to happen. After all, it had not been even 24 hours yet, and it is a rather larger area and blah, grumble, blah.

I wasted more time did more research on pouring water, this time with a variety of mediums and preparation techniques, and even grubbed around in some forums, which I detest, and learned yes/no there are some/not any problems with PVA glue that can be gotten around by sealing everything with — and here again suggestions vary — some sort of varnish, and, most valuably, some clever ways to build and seal dams for water feature success. One involved swamp water.

Time passed, and my water problems with this product mostly resolved themselves. I continue to steep myself in the experiences of others.

Leadlights water feature, with live edge!

I did a second pour on Leadlights, and a second and third pour on areas of the Conservatory. Above you can see the dam removed to reveal the fully cured water. (One of the plants bled a little color into the water, but I don’t mind.) I wanted a “live edge” to the water, and used an Xacto knife to carve away the lip. The project base itself will be edge-banded with thin basswood for a finished look :)

I have made a water effect!

All in all, I am happy with and consider the results a success. I’ll know so much more on the next one.

Check out the light shimmer on the right pier piling, a reflection from the late afternoon light. Magical realism, which validates my efforts :)

I’ll leave you with this image found in Bolinas, on the estuary marsh/riparian transition on a winter afternoon hike at low tide. (Very low and long ago for this guy.)

Old skiff, seen in Bolinas, California

Rocks, Cobble, Water Features, Sunset Light

Sea House Conservatory Pier, ready for her water feature!

In preparation for creating the tidal water surge under the Sea House Conservatory, I mixed up a nice ocean green base color and painted it generously on the project board. I made sure the whole 26 x 20-inch base — foam cliff landslide, boulders, cobble, gravel, old tiled patio — was well-sealed with glue or paint to prevent water leaks. Two-inch tall heavy acetate strips were cut, ready to glue to the base to form a (removable) perimeter dam.

I estimated an area about 18 by 18 inches would be covered an inch deep, then used the Woodland Scenics water estimator to see how much product I needed to buy. Two, maybe three bottles?

Um, no. No, no, no. Depending on whether I chose “Realistic ($24 for 16 ounces)” or “Deep Pour ($30 for 12 ounces)” the estimated 180 ounces required 12 or 15 product bottles, costing a total of $288 or $450. For a feature, however awesome, mostly obscured beneath the Conservatory deck, this makes no sense. Back to the proverbial literal project board to drastically reduce surface area.

More cowbell! I mean, more reefs and rocks!

After fashioning more florist foam into reefs and rocks, I glued them to the project board.

Black Model Magic rocks and cobble

Starting this time with black Model Magic, I forged another batch of accent rocks.

Rocks, mid-wash and spray process
The open water feature base is realistically and financially reduced.

The foam shoreline formations were generously sealed and detailed with a few shades of warm and cool gray acrylic and stabbing holes with a pointy thing. All base edges were given a transitional application of gravel, cobble and accent rocks. These were allowed to dry, excess gravel brushed out, and the process repeated.

Barnacles make everything better.

“What are those white cone things?” I can hear those of you looking at this photo on your phone exclaim. What, yes! Those white things are perfect barnacles, crafted by Keli of iseecerulean.com.

Rocks to Keli

(I am not ungrateful. We have a longtime water-influenced exchange going on.)

Sea House Conservatory, under the pier

I did a final brushing and shaking off loose gravel after the glue dried over my (1:1 life) front deck, just as the sun was setting.

Kansas remembers me now
The lunatic is on the grass

You know how it is when maybe you fall a little bit too much in love with your build? That’s how it is for me right now with these sunset light photos. I have about a dozen that made first, even second cut, and they are all epic. One more, please indulge me.

Will be largely unseen

I sighted through all the open viewpoints, and as I mentioned earlier, most all will be obscured once the Conservatory is in place. But I know, and now you do too, what lies beneath.

Now and Then: Chairs, Leadlights, Conservatory, Rocks

The first of two estate chairs for Sea House Leadlights. Probably.

I bought two of Kris Comapas’s Estate Chair kits because I wanted to use more of this thrift store dress fabric, which I love.

From a Pescadero thrift store strapless, bubble-hemmed dress
Happy little estate chair, work in progress

It’s a rather large scale print for miniature upholstery, as well as being a very fine and lightweight fabric, but did I mention how happy it makes me feel?

Though legless and unpiped, still a very welcoming estate chair

Kris includes good instructions and cord to make fabric-covered piping in her kits, but I generally prefer a twisted cord made from 3 strands of embroidery floss.

Yes, K-2’s eyes light up (when he sees me)

Here you can see my associate K-2SO inspecting the floss piping with his massively articulated fingers. (I love him, too.)

I find attaching tiny piping gracefully onto miniature upholstery to be a tedious task, so I’m putting it off until I feel more… um, articulated dextrous. And patient.

Sea House Leadlights design studio

The Leadlights design studio also has a new chair. Makes it look way more office-y, don’t you think? I’m really pleased with the level of quality and detail in this chair. (Ack! This photo also reminds me I want to finish tricking out the desk accessories, and to trim that orange bookmark on the last-minute-made sketchbook!)

That brick rubble is glued down Scarlett. (Yes, she checked.)

Work continues on the Sea House Conservatory build, with a sea level rise remediation support pier in place.

Model Magic air-dry clay rocks and boulders

Geologic rock and boulder construction is underway. My preferred material — think I’ve tried just about all of them — is Model Magic air dry clay, made by Crayola. It is lightweight, inexpensive, readily available, pleasant and responsive to sculpt, accepts all kinds of pigments well, and dries with virtually no shrinking.

Spatters and washes and sprays, oh my
Lots and lots of boulders and rocks
Granite-veined black rocks

With this last batch of rocks, I experimented with adding black acrylic paint or India ink to the white clay before sculpting. One batch had fine black gravel mixed in. The paint or ink initially made the compound stickier to work with, but it was nice to start with a pre-tinted base. These have green and gray washes spritzed on. When dry (takes a day or two depending on size and relative humidity) with a fine brush I painted the surf erosion holes and granite veins with white acrylic, diluted 1:1 with water.

As I was ordering new clay, I learned Model Magic also comes in black, gray, and “Earthtone, Bisque and Terra Cotta”. So stoked to use these colors on the next exploratory rock and boulder sets.

Closeup before the tide comes in

The finished rocks are slicked with a satin multi-purpose sealer, as they’re meant to look wet. The final Conservatory project base will have about an inch of water in tidal flow. (I’m excited about that, too, as I’ve never worked with a “water feature” before :)

Sea House Conservatory, in progress, February 2020

Deck planks are installed, and I’ve finally arrived at a stair design that makes sense and blends into the overall structure.

Yesterday I was at Chrissy Field in the Presidio, and took a bunch of pier photos for genuine detail ideas. It was a perfect winter’s day, cool, clear and sunny, with very little breeze.

Looking north to the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin
Chrissy Field, Presidio. See the fog horse galloping over the City?

Glorious.

Retrospective: Sea House Leadlights

Albie oversees receipt of Serendipity Shed base kits, 16 August 2019

I thought it might be interesting to review building highlights of the Sea House Leadlights studio office, from start through submission. (Can’t really say “completion” because things never stay done ‘round here.) There are links back to original posts — if any were made — with more details. I wasn’t very bloggy :)

First ideas

I spend a lot of pages thinking, sketching, dreaming, considering and working out dimensions and story.

The starry floor in process

The first floor idea, though fun to design, paint and assemble, did not work well in the space. So it goes.

Two base kits mashed together

Height was added to the starter kit with parts from a second. I like to retain recognizable elements of the kit, so the roof angle and footprint, as well as door and lower window placement remained unchanged.

Loft wall detail

I glued cold press 140 lb. watercolor paper to the walls for texture before painting, and added a whitewashed aged brick back wall in the loft.

Adding siding to the new front
Half-loft installed, supported by faux beams

I opted to make the front façade removable as well as the roof… this makes it so much easier to photograph the interior.

Bench tops and bottoms

I cut the built-in benches from 1/16-inch basswood on the Cricut Maker. These were glued together and supported with 1/8-inch dividers.

Interior space begins to come together
Tree Frog green was the only possible finish color, with black leather cushions

I thought and sketched about the window designs for some time. The Pavilion is bubble-themed; the Conservatory celestial… for the Leadlights design studio I went Egyptian Deco. Mostly sort of.

Sea House Leadlights front doors and front/side windows
Sea House Leadlights upper window

The upper window is a stylized scarab. Very.

The “leading” designs for the windows are cut from lead black cardstock, glued front and back to the plexi, then framed in black on the exterior (and tree frog on the interior). I like to see wood grain, so I use a 1:1 ratio of acrylic paint and staining medium.

The scarab window at night

If one looks straight on, the window frames the bricked loft wall and the old Sea House logo. With sacred scarab wings.

Side building signage

I — or rather the Cricut Maker — cut the signage from matte black vinyl. The stars in the design are meant to resemble anchor plates used to reinforce old buildings. I love them.

In this backlit photo, the vinyl letters appear to float off the side of the building. It’s not quite so unnatural-looking in person, but knocking back the synthetic smoothness is on my eternal learn-to-do list, to find ways to tone down the material. (Transferring wee letters and figures is a fiddly, fussy business, especially onto an uneven surface, and I am not eager.)

Side sign
View from above

Here’s a roof’s-eye look at the progressing build. The holes are drilled for the LED light fixtures that will illuminate the work space below. (The wiring to be concealed beneath a custom rug and other stuff stored in the loft.) A narrow shelf beneath the scarab window on the removable front might support batteries if I ever add lighting to the front. Floor tiles gleam softly with scuff-resistant utility. Leather window seats beckon.

To be continued…

Sea House Leadlights Interior, Roof; Scarlett

Hello Sea House Leadlights office

The entrance to the Sea House Leadlights office is up a few stairs and across the deck to the left of the fireplace. A set of leaded glass doors opens into a snug but functional design studio.

Details: Terra cotta pot by Braxton Payne. Basswood deck and siding stained with Minwax Classic Gray. Pumpkins made from tissue paper and thread. Boulders sculpted from air dry clay painted with acrylic washes and sealed with ultra matte varnish. All succulents, yucca and other plants hand colored with W&N Promarkers. Many are prototypes; some available as kits at Modern Miniature Succulents + Sundries.) 

Desk and bulletin board

Beneath the half-loft a large tabletop desk has plenty of room to roll out plans and inspiration. Low built-in cabinets with black leather cushions provide more seating, storage and level surfaces for tea trays.

Details: The ceiling lights are 12V modified for warm white LEDs. Bulletin board is made from cork sheet framed with basswood stained to match. Sketchbooks made from my kits at MMS+S. Various meaningful artifacts including original leaded glass designs for other Sea House buildings, and a drawing of a cat by my then 4-year old daughter. Fèves, prized vintage Monopoly shoe, and an anodized earring from the 1980s.

The white-washed brick loft stores window frames, tools, Sea House memorabilia and miscellaneous treasure — as well as the switch (lift the black basket) and battery pack (hidden in a custom box) for the LED lights.

Details: Oh yeah, the baskets and boxes are also available as kits at MMS+S.

A gazebo-style roof welcomes natural light. (I’ll detail more of that happy construction in another post.) I made the 1:144 scale basswood model of the source kit for the original Sea House Pavilion, built some years ago. The Egyptian cat is a porcelain fève. Best of all is the vibrant painting by Jim Tracey that commands the studio — also another post.

Finally, of course, Scarlett. Here she has somehow managed to fluidly infiltrate an impossibly small entrance to the Sea House Sea Rise Pavilion loft (my ongoing remodel of the original 2013 build.) I swear she does these things just to remind me she can.

Oh, how she makes me laugh.

Sea House Leadlights Back Wall; No

Part of the back wall of the Sea House Leadlights design studio

The back wall of the Sea House Leadlights design studio is about utility and remembrance. There’s a water spigot and old brick patio remnant for transplanting yucca and succulents. A faded advertising poster from nearby attractions survives on the wall, as does a longhorn cow skull from ranch days.

(Details: Brick wall grouted with tinted spackling paste and aged with muddy gray acrylic wash. Garden tools by Sir Thomas Thumb. Terra cotta pot by Braxton Payne. Basswood siding stained with Minwax Classic Gray. Foundation made from styrofoam, detailed here. Cow skull is resin, aged with Winsor & Newton Promarkers. Boulders sculpted from air dry clay painted in several acrylic washes and sealed with ultra matte varnish. All succulents, yucca and other plants hand colored with W&N Promarkers. Many are prototypes; some available as kits at Modern Miniature Succulents + Sundries.)

Who is this?

A vintage collection of gnomic being fèves populates the succulent understory. I tried to match their colors with the foliage, as they prefer to blend in. This guy is far more camouflaged in the final build, rest assured.

(Details: I find my fèves here.)

No

And, no. Never say never, and never ever compromise your instincts. This is my younger granddaughter Ruby, when somebody told her NO. She is two years old, approaching three. Know your truth.

Wheelie on Fire, Storm, Sea House Conservatory

I can’t compete with polar vortexes or 37 feet of snow — nor do I wish to — but it’s a bit chilly, so I made a fire. Wheelie came out to approve the primal nature of warmth and goodness, and flex her wings in the glow.

These are my <3 colors

There’s a storm blowing in.

Yes, the ocean loves me

Bolstered by a double cappuccino, I chanced a walk on the beach. Observe my chilly, stubborn fingers.

Of course I got rained on and walked super briskly back to my car. Driving home, I blasted the heater and the seat warmer.


Work on the Sea House Conservatory continues also briskly, yet slowly, thoughtfully. That’s a thing, right? This photo was mid-January, when I had just completed Kris Compas’s chaise lounge kit, in a fine cotton canvas trimmed in black and cream cording. And yes, that’s the Cynthia Howe Victorian birdcage and table, finished in multitudinous coats of flat black spray paint to round out the brusque laser cut edges. Almost everything has changed since then, and I could not be happier.

2019: Yet Another New Year

Sea House Conservatory leaded glass front doors, 2018

2019?! This is beginning to require a lot of mathematics. For this I am very glad, because consider the options?
Above are the new Sea House Conservatory leaded glass front doors. The conservatory has more of a celestial, sun and planets design, whereas the Sea House Sea Rise Pavilion, below, is all about surf froth.

Sea House Sea Rise Pavilion greenhouse addition and remodel, 2017

I cannae help that I’m the same designer, and that all my structures are connected in long time, in location, history and circumstance. And that they’ve all been built (and rebuilt) using salvaged parts of the now venerated Sea House Pleasure Pier and Estate. Oh, what a time and place to be actually alive and doing something than whenever that was!

Conservatory, Cycladic, Tomato, Cats, Rust

I finished gluing the painted paper tiles to the pattern for the Sea House Conservatory main floor.

Stoic Albie helped keep them flat, as Stoics do.

I then spent a lot of time considering how best to make the floor fit the base and carry over to outside the walls in a way that pleased me. 

If I was a cat, this is how I might look pondering the options. “Why yes, that might actually work …”

As part of the solution, from quarter-inch birch ply I built a two-inch riser for the base and painted it medium grout gray. And — not because I want to relive the 1980s and feature wall faux finishes — I sea-sponged on a lighter warm gray. Mostly because I didn’t want to stare at a flat gray box. (My building process involves a lot of staring.)

Eventually, the weather/temperature/humidity cooperated and I was able to spray two good coats of matte sealer on the floor tile assemblies, prior to their grouting.

Also got a few more coats of satin antique white on the fireplace. (Built from this Houseworks Deco fireplace.) Here it is curing in the late afternoon sun, admiring its reflection in a glazed ceramic vase.

gluing_down

Gluing down the sealed tiles to the base. It will might make more sense in a few days when you see the whole idea. Are you really, really weary of seeing pictures of these tiles?

polkadot_towel

Then here’s a pic of Scarlett sitting next to me on the front deck yesterday, watching the sun go down (and grooming). (Her, not me. I was sipping a glass of delicious Double Brut IPA.)

cycladic_spirals

This is my current design inspiration for conservatory decor. It is a Cycladic terra cotta vessel from 2000 BC — ! — found on Naxos. I’m smitten with everything about it: the spiral waters, fish, the sun, or maybe a full moon? (From Art of Crete, Mycenae and Greece by German Hafner, 1968, public library.) 

floor_dryfit_00

A last peek at the conservatory in the night studio, with the standing walls. For now.

tomato

In real life, I’m working on a landscaping project on the side of our hillside house under the sunroom add-on. The soil is compacted and full of rubble, and I’m putting down flattened cardboard to suppress what weeds do grow, and adding top soil, compost and worm castings. There’s next to no direct sun, so I’m transplanting hardier succulent cuttings to see what will survive. They get a little leggy reaching for the light, but they’re doing all right. In September I noticed what looked like a young tomato plant growing at the back of the area, evidently self-started from the compost. When it put out flowers I was charmed; what hope and vigor this plant has! And then the other day I noticed it had made a tomato! A single, multi-lobed heirloom. In December! It’s like a miracle :)

rust_plancha

And finally, here’s one for your reference files. Look at the beautiful rust pattern and colors on this cast iron plancha, sadly left out in the rain next to the BBQ. (Left behind when our neighbors moved, it was already warped, but was still serviceable for outdoor cooking.) We’ll see if I can bear to scour it clean, or if it joins the Things That Are Rusting collection.

Doesn’t everyone have one of those?

Sea House Conservatory: More Floor Tiles

I added more pattern sections to the tile floor template.


To facilitate a smooth transition between tile colors, when I began to run low on the first set I glued them randomly further out on the template to integrate with the as-yet-to-be-painted new batch of tiles.

Using the same paints as before, I splattered up a new sheet to cut into tiles.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a working idea for the back fireplace wall, so I can alternate experimenting on that with setting floor tiles.