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Genovese dismounts from his soapbox. One of the first areas to be poured is an octagonal pad near the rear of the property. This space will become an eating nook situated off one corner of the 350-square-foot kitchen. The kitchen, in turn, will adjoin the 650-square-foot family room. Genovese has thought a lot about the flow of this house. He thinks architects often churn out designs without sufficient reflection. You walk through their creations, and one thing after another makes you wonder why they were built they way they were. Genovese has an answer: "They did it that way because nobody paid attention. They could have done it differently, but they didn't."

Overhead, dark clouds to the north are drawing closer. Cool, moist weather is great for pouring concrete. It keeps the material from drying out too fast and cracking. The onset of heavy showers would be a problem, but Genovese doesn't look worried. "I mean, it doesn't rain in San Diego."

He shifts his gaze earthward again. One of the oddities of building a house is how one's perception of its size shifts as the work progresses. "They start chalking it out, and it looks so damn big, and you go, 'Oh my God. That's big!' Then after they get done pouring all the concrete, and you pull all this wood off, and you backfill, all of a sudden it looks small again. Then you put the sticks up, and you say, 'Oh my God. It looks big again!' Then you start putting the little walls inside and you say, 'Oh my God, this looks small again.' "

Framing's underway

October 11, 2002

In just three days, a forest of sticks, as Genovese calls them, has sprouted at site 151. In the sudden change from two-dimensional concrete footprint to three-dimensional wooden matrix, the mansion-to-be feels enormous.

Although the concrete will take 28 days to reach full strength, the framers started their work just 3 days after the big pour, on a breezy Monday morning. They're not employees of Castillero Design and Construction. They work for a subcontractor. This same crew will be framing all three of Genovese's projects. A couple of lead framers will be on the site from the start of framing to the finish, and at times other specialists will be brought in. Some will bang nails into sections of wall that have already been laid out for them. "And then you bring in people to build trusses and sheet floors and nail roofs. They come in. They set up for it. They knock it out," says Jeff Garner.

Garner is a Castillero employee, a crucial one: the superintendent overseeing all three of Genovese's projects. For the next couple of years, his office will be located in a trailer parked up the hill and across the street from site 151, on the property where Genovese and his wife will live. Tall and broad-shouldered, Garner has a boyish face but a manner that's all business. In college, he majored in finance, and he worked in retail for a while. But "I decided I wanted my weekends off," he recalls. So more than 20 years ago, he decided to try to break into construction.

"I started out as a laborer on a construction site." He worked his way up to being a framer, then a construction supervisor. "We were building hotels and stuff like that. Then the lead person who was running those jobs went out and started his own construction company and took me with him. If you meet the right people, and they can see that you're driven and you really want to learn, people will teach you." In September 1993, Garner went to work for Castillero, a move he says has worked out well. "You have to enjoy what you're doing, and I just love what I'm doing."

Garner explains that the first thing the framers at site 151 did was to prepare the junction between the concrete foundation and the wooden skeleton-to-be. The concrete contractor had laid the groundwork for this by placing upright threaded steel rods (known as anchor bolts) into the footings that form the perimeter of almost every room. After the concrete was poured around them, these anchor bolts protruded several inches above the surface of the floor. When the lead framer, a compact, aristocratic-looking man named Marco, arrived on the scene, he and an assistant began making the "base plates," the bottommost pieces of wood that would sit directly on top of the concrete. Holes had to be drilled into them so that they could be slipped over the anchor bolts. Once all the base plates were prepared, the framers, working with the materials laid out on the ground before them, could start nailing the base plates to the tall vertical studs and short horizontal wooden blocks. Each completed section of wall would then be tilted up, lifted, placed over the anchor bolts, and secured with nuts and wooden braces.

"You start at one side and you work your way through," Garner says. "It's like doing an Erector Set." Indeed, after just three days, the progress seems amazing. Almost all the first floor is standing, and there's a beauty in the complex geometry of the framers' handiwork: all rectangles and squares and right angles. It's a warm, pastel peach- and salmon-colored beauty, and the freshly cut pine and Douglas fir smell good too. Hammers pound, a confident noise that mixes with the slithering of measuring tapes and soft music from a Tijuana radio station.

Piles of wood -- planks and two-by-fours and floor joists and more -- have been stacked all over the lot. The lumber going into this house is worth about $100,000, so much wood that it's being delivered in batches; otherwise there wouldn't be room to store it all. Increased structural-engineering requirements have meant "there's a lot more lumber in these houses now than there was even five years ago," Garner says. "We have 20-foot ceilings in some of the rooms. If you do a normal house, that would have eight- or ten-foot ceilings." To enhance the impression of solidity, Castillero and Genovese have designed the house with walls that are up to 12 inches thick in some areas.

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