Friday, March 19, 2010

Edificio La Fragata (2 rental units) -- Keys!

Some of our readers have asked about status and details on our duplex apartment project at Edificio La Fragata started about a year ago in a six story building under construction.  The two units will likely be rentals and also be an insurance policy for us in the event we ever become immobile and need a wheelchair accessable place to live.

Status:  We got the keys from the Builder/Engineer this last week!  This is a significant milestone because it means all the heavy construction is complete - walls, ceiling, floors and electrical and plumbing systems.  Additionally, the kitchen, the laundry and the bath fixtures and equipment are also installed.  What remains is the completion of the in-home elevator, wall bed in the lower studio and furnishings.  Our estimate for completion of these tasks is June.

Location:  Fragata is located right next to the Ital-Deli, on Av. Mora, y Solano.  About 200 yards from the Mount Sinai Hospital.  About a 15 minute walk to Old Town, down Solano.  We love the name of the building!  'Fragata' is the name of a frigate bird found in the Galapagos Islands.

A little history...

There were 3 items that were important to us as we looked for property to buy:

(1) We wanted a 'porch' for outside living space off the livingroom/kitchen level.
(2) We wanted a well-located unit with a short walk to the central (old town) district that could produce rental income.
(3) We wanted a place that could accommodate us if our health failed and/or we were disabled.  Therefore, no dependancy on stairs for access to any part of the apartment.

When we arrived about a year ago we were seriously looking for something that fit this criteria.  An early purchase was required as both of us were qualifying separately for permanent residency as "investors".  We looked at about 40 places.  Late in the looking process, we were shown the top duplex apartment at the La Fragata Building.   Although a two story apartment, we thought we could make it work for us.  It could satisfy all 3 of our concerns with some design changes.

What we liked the best about this particular apartment was the extensive wrap-around terrace with stunning views over the City. We're porch folks.  Outside living space is very important and as we found,  hard to come by.   So many of the apts we first previewed didn't have any outside living space.  Some of the porches we did find were either very small, perhaps room for a few plants, or the deck area was located off the bedrooms only.   We prefer the outside space to be located off the common living areas (kitchen, living/dining areas).  We added tile coverings over the upper deck windows for sun and storm protection.

Right now we are mobile and fairly healthy...but you never know what will happen in the future.  So a "no stairs only" criteria was important. It was early in the construction when we contracted to purchase, which allowed us to keep ADA requirements in mind and consider a home elevator to the sixth floor as the commercial elevators provided stopped on the fifth floor.

As an example of how fast your mobility could change,  just the other day I (Nancy) slipped and fell in the "old town" streets.  I was broken bones or serious injuries.  The same thing happened to Richard a week earlier.  In "old town" the sidewalks can be very narrow at times with many cutouts for car entry.  They can be overlooked even in daylite hours.  If we ever ended up not able to climb stairs, for instance, we'd have to consider moving to a one-level place quickly.  Where we live today, there are stairs to the bedrooms and office.  Hence, the in-home elevator as a necessity in our planning.

The original unit design was living room/kitchen/laundry/half bath on the first floor, with 4 bedrooms/3 baths on the 2nd.  But!  The deck that got our attention was upstairs off the bedrooms, and we wanted the kitchen/living space on the same level as the, we flipped the floor plan, making another kitchen/living area upstairs.  A couple of the original bedrooms were converted to that purpose.  We moved and removed walls... added wider hall/doorways (at least 32 inches)...  Some of the walls were bearing walls, so we just had to work around that.

We removed all the bathtubs for the additional space for larger, level-in showers.  We gave up one of the baths for a closet.  Built-in closets are hard to find here so we redid some walls for two additional built-in closets.

For possible rental income, we decided to make each floor a separate unit... a studio on the 1st floor and a larger unit (2 bedroom, 1.5 bath) on the 2nd.  Both are self-contained, with separate kitchens and laundry areas and living space.  Both have access to the upper terrace, too.

There are no ADA-like laws in Ecuador.  In fact, the Country is just beginning to be aware of such designs.  Ecuador's VP is in a wheelchair, and folks are just now beginning to see the benefit of special accommodations.  We did some homework on the internet. 

We learned about acceptable height and width of countertops, doorways, closets, bathroom fixtures,  and clearances under stoves, cabinets, sinks and beds for wheelchair foot rests.  The builder, architect and workers all learned right along with us.  We bought a simple wheelchair so we could 'test' the design as these items were being built.  The internet information stressed that a "Universal design" shound accommodate everyone.

After we agreed an elevator between floors was a necessity, the question was where to put it.  We thought we could use the light well by the current stairs for an elevator shaft.

Richard remembered reading about the use of "stacker' equipment in Europe for use in short lift applications such as home elevators.  This equipment is traditionally employed mostly at Costco and Sam's type stores where pallets of goods are stored overhead in steel racks, being raised and lowed by an electric, one man mobile forklift.  The large DC batteries power a small hydraulic ram for the lift.  The batteries are recharged by 110v house current.

Rich, working with the engineer on the Fragata project, found a small Ecuadorian, start-up engineering company looking into such technology.  We took a chance.  We thought it would likely take longer than projected, due to the lack of a proven track record coupled with the fact that the equipment was coming from Germany.  Our minimum goal was to get a one floor lift for about a 3 foot x 4 foot net enclosure which could make the run in about 30 seconds.  The interior size could not be bigger because of space limitations.  The opening to the enclosure is approximately 34 inches wide. 

The basic cost of the unit was projected at about $12,000 with controls, plus the cost of destruct/construct of walls and the building of the elevator shaft all for about $4500.  The large elevator companies bid about $35,000, plus construct of the elevator shaft.
So, as Richard says:  " We will likely get a box on a forklift which is not moving fast enough to get out of Earth's gravity well."  We think it will be working in about a month.
We will see.

You can see we used the light well next to the curved stairs for the elevator shaft and mechanics.  The door on the right is the laundry area for the lower unit.

First ride up.

Some of our readers are in the midst of construction or remodeling here.  We thought you'd enjoy some pictures of what's possible, in terms of building materials, craftsmanship and design.................

These next pictures are taken from inside the studio.
Arched door is the front door to the studio.  There will be a wood-framed slider on the left to go out to an enclosed porch.  You can see a window off the porch that faces the staircase going up stairs.  There is also a window that faces the street.

In process shot last July...

The fireplace and partition wall in the lower, studio unit,
(The fireplace is plumbed for gas and electric..)

The panels which will make up the slider in the arched opening between the lower unit
interior, enclosed porch and the studio living area.

The finished arch for the top of the slider opening (on the floor).  In the background is our lead carpenter on the job.  He works for Juan Carlos, the cabinet maker by separate contract.

Getting the keys from Gustavo, the builder/engineer.

No pictures yet of the Studio's bath, kitchen or laundry area (soon).

Pictures of the upstairs unit:
Two views of kitchen-

Looking into the new kitchen from livingroom, both rooms are converted from
bedrooms.  We cut a 4' by 6' window in the exterior wall in the kitchen
and arched cut between kitchen and new livingroom area for light to move around.

Looking from Kitchen into Livingroom.

Cabinet work and granite counter tops progressing in the kitchen prior to the install of appliances.

Note the oven and dishwasher, both are not common here.
(Both are in the studio, too.)

This shot shows the arched, 'pass-through' we added to the living/dining area (bar on living room side.)
(Off-camera, on the right, on the other side of the island (right in picture) is the cooktop and fridg).

This picture is taken from the living/dining area of the laundry and half-bath.  Washer and dryer are GE...  lots of choices for appliances, but for these, we wanted front loaders (easier for those in wheelchairs).  Controls are in English.  The machines also sit on 9 inch platforms to allow access for wheelchair foot rests and to raise the appliances to the preferred height.  (Platform design throughout both units, including kitchens.)

You can see we added sky-lites for more light.  The cabinet on the left can be used as a pantry off the kitchen.
We also added  more/larger windows in some of the rooms.  We like lots of light!

Master bath with 2 sinks.  The high, gooseneck spouts are more practical, in case you want to wash your hair in the sink.  Faucet style is easy, too.  No plumbing or cabinetry under the sink for easier wheelchair access. 

Shower is level-in, no steps.  Hand-held fixtures, as well as a fixed shower head.  Several safety bars.  (Same in all baths.)

Upstairs shower.

One of the bedroom closets which was a bathroom.
We decided on ceramic tile flooring throughout.  Many builders will have a wood floor option, too.  (Some builders may offer other materials as well, such as carpet and marble.)

 Terrace and neighborhood views...

The terrace wraps around 3 sides of the building on the top floor.
We added the awnings.

We added the outside sink (potting area!) off the kitchen, with both hot and cold water.  Always nice to be able to squirt the outside of windows and the porch with hot water (we learned that trick when we had a place at the beach years ago.)  Those windows are the laundry/half bath area.  We also plumbed the deck for gas (for BBQ and heaters later.)  We brought up water stand-pipes for watering plants on the terrace.
This is the view from the kitchen slider, toward downtown.

View from bedroom sliders upstairs.  Also the view from the studio downstairs.

Here's the Mount Sinai Hospital on Av. Solano taken from the deck, outside the kitchen.

This is a picture from the terrace toward the mountains, to the southeast.
In the foreground is the high school and in the background is a good-sized outdoor market with good produce and meats.

More pictures later.

When this project is totally finished, we hope the units will be both functional and a happy experience for renters.  (Maybe even for us!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Orchid Tour with Lourdes

We are absolutely delighted that our friend, Lourdes, has returned to Cuenca! 
Welcome Home, Lourdes! 

Some of our readers will remember we first met Lourdes at our very first expat evening  a year ago.  Lourdes, then from New York City, is thinking of moving here permanently and we're so happy with this news!  Her story/blog is on the sidebar, Looloo in Ecuador.

Lourdes recently joined us to a trip to the countryside...we all were eager to visit the orchid farm.

Our first stop in the countryside on the way to the orchids, was a small IKAT business.  (IKAT is like tie-dye, but more complicated...using plant and commercial dyes for the threads, then woven into cloth using a back-strap loom.) 

This picture shows the 'ties'...almost ready for the dye pots.

The Senora also has a guinea pig business, as well as many chickens in the back of the studio.  She sells eggs/chickens, guinea pigs and vegetables from her garden  for extra income.  Her 'barn' was a delight to tour!  We really enjoyed this little glimpse of 'country', including a little kitty that reminded us of Mr. Boots.   He was busy keeping all the animals company (wish we'd gotten a picture of the kitty to share, he was a cutie!)

Then, we were on the road to the orchid place.  Our driver drove us out to the Ecuagenera location outside of Gualaceo.  The orchids are to die for!  Ecuagenera participates in orchid shows all over the world.  Be sure to check the show schedule on their site.

Did you know that Ecuador is orchid-central?  There are over 4000 species of orchids in this Country.  We remember Nancy's Dad grew orchids...He would have loved this tour.

We toured the greenhouses with a guide...first,to see the 'starts' (in sealed bottles, so many of them!),

then to see the plants in 'dirt',

then to see the plants in bloom.........The beauty of the blooms is breathtaking.
We took about a zillion pictures!  Here's a few to share. 

Spiral leaves.

This last picture is a little blurry, but it shows a 'monkey face'!
We're looking forward to seeing Lourdes' pictures, too...she's a much better picture-taker than we are!

We toured the lovely grounds...We fed fresh, just-picked, orange slices to the parrots.


We stopped for a lunch of roasted chicken at a street-side cafe on the way home.  'Sides' included cheese potatoes and beans (and a soup with chicken feet), a little different menu, but good!

Another fun day!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cuenca Tour with Panama Hats

Our friend, Nancy, invited us to check out a new city tour with her.  Always fun to see what is being offered for tourists and newcomers to the City.  We always learn something new on these tours, so we were eager to join her. The route is different from the double-decker bus tour, and we visited some new (to us) neighborhoods, as well as a Panana Hat factory.

This tour offers a comfortable ride in a new trolley, along with some walking, and lasts about 4 hours.  $12/each is a bargain. (For more info and pictures see Nancy/Chuck's blog, link on the sidebar.)

We began with the English-speaking guide at San Sebastian Square, bright and early,  at 8:30 am.  San Sebastian is where the first jail was built and the church there is one of the oldest churches of the City.  The Square itself was a bull fighting ring at one time. It marks one of the original boundaries of Cuenca. 

Since we were the only customers, we all got to sit in the front with perfect views. 

We visited the 10th Aug market area on foot (one of our already-favorites).  We never tire of the market and the goats! 

"Broken Bridge".  This bridge used to cross the river, until it was damaged in a major flood in the 1950's.
Details on the outside of the Church near the flower market.

We ended up at a Panama Hat Factory! 
This was a first, the only hats we'd seen in Cuenca are in the retail shops and the markets.  This time we saw a factory where they are made. 
(For more info, see the link on the sidebar.)

Bleached hats drying in the sun...

Sample of the bleach and dye vats, the molds and steam presses:

Just out of the dye vats...

The finish work (tucking in all the ends and trimming), is done by women at home.

Sewing area, where bands, decorations, labels are added:

Our guide showed us the different qualities of weaving.  The one on the right ('fino') is more expensive as it takes more time to make.

We were so impressed with the various hat styles (including multi-colored weavings).
More variety here than in the smaller shops.  Of course, we had to try them on!

Check out this beautiful wedding dress and bouquet (all made by hand, using the same materials as the hats, with crocheted top.)

We ended the tour with this gorgeous view of Cuenca:

We ended up at Akalarre for lunch, and then home for a nap.  Fun day!