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!)


  1. Your place looks lovely! Yes, life can change quickly. My hubby, Mark, broke his hip two years ago training for a triathlon and traveling to Austria in November, I torn the cartilage in my knees on cobblestone sidewalks/streets (and we're only 55!). Great location by the way; I finally got to see Mt. Sinai Hospital. Mark returned from Cuenca with just 70 pictures (I can take 70 pics in seven seconds!). Ha! Take care you two and we look forward to meeting you in June 2010!

  2. Your place looks fabulous! You really put a lot of thought into it. We've been trying to do the same with our place. Looking forward to meeting you in May.

    Tom & George

  3. This is very impressive! I love the arches and the wrap around balconies!

  4. Hi Nance...You did a great job describing the Frigata apartments. After you showed us around yesterday, this article was a perfect way to cement the details into our aging brains. As all of us "coots" age, we will be experiencing more disabling events...hopefully not too soon!!! You are great examples of planning ahead...

    Bob & Roxanne

  5. Holy sh*t!
    In an effort not come off as an ignorant Kansan redneck, I enlisted the aid of my handy little thesaurus and came up with some multisyllabic words.
    Fabulous, magnificent, superb, breathtaking, fantastic, marvelous, awesome and my personal favorite .... bitchin'!
    Well done!

  6. Hi, purusing through a gamut of Cuenca blogs and am enjoying each and every one.

    Any chance you do want to rent the studio, I am working on making my move to Cuenca & am in a wheelchair & single. I will be 54 soon & needing an accessible location.

    You put a lot of thought into the Universal Design aspect of your plans & I commend you.


  7. Hola Traci!

    Thanks for the nice words.

    We are just beginning to get the Studio up and running for rent. We'll be offering it as a short-term rental, a good alternative to a hotel stay. Depending upon when you plan to arrive in Cuenca, you might consider beginning your visit/stay at the Studio. We'd love to get your comments and input!

    Here's the website (draft 2, still working on it)

    Right now, we're awaiting some parts for a Murphy-type bed, to allow more space in the living area. And, we're awaiting a fireplace insert from the US, as well as furniture and window treatments. Always seems to take longer here in Ecuador.

    Let us know when you plan to arrive and how long your visit will be. We can check the calendar for availability...and we'd really enjoy meeting you, too.

    Thanks for your interest!

    Nancy (and Rich)

    PS -- Drop us a note at with your email address so we can stay in touch.