I’ll start with what is closest to me right now. Our house.
We have been building our home for over a year. Almost every day someone walks by and asks questions. Are you building it yourself? Did you design it yourself? It has been surprising to us how many people are seriously interested in building a home and finding out more about our experience, the design and green considerations.
A little background:
In 1994, we purchased one of the last homes in Seattle that were priced under $100,000. One of the familiar single story, “post-war boxes” that were built in the 1940s, it had two small bedroooms, no dining area and measured 700 square feet in living space. The yard was overgrown, waist high with grasses and blackberries and contained shopping carts, a collapsing shed and other miscellaneous trash. The previous owner had developed Alzheimer’s and eventually was not able to take care of the home or herself and had moved into a care facility. Prior to her move, however, she had taken in at least a dozen cats that eventually took over the house.
When we arrived at the realtor’s “open house”, with no real intention of buying a house for another year or two, the realtor came out of the house with a mask on. She offered two masks to Charlie and me. The house smelled terrible but was a simple, reasonably built little house on a corner across the street from a park and three blocks from everything you would ever need….grocery stores, buslines to downtown and the University, a Fred Meyer store, drug stores, coffee shops, a theatre and cheap ethnic food. After weeks and weeks of denial followed by deliberation and them dropping the price and begging for an offer, we purchased our “little crappy house”. We were just over a year out of college and both making $10 an hour.
It took us about six weeks to get it into livable condition which included sanding, bleaching and refinishing all the hardwood floors that were under the forty year old carpet and were damaged by cat urine. In the process of putting on a new roof ourselves, in November, we discovered we had stumbled upon a gem of a neighborhood. One by one, neighbors began to show up to offer us food or tools or stories. There were long time residents that had grown up there and raised their children there who were now grown up and living in the neighborhood. There were families living on the same block as grandma or across the street from an uncle. They had history with each other and with this neighborhood. This neighborhood that wasn’t pretty. But beneath the surface of the haphazard home styles, no sidewalks, some unkept lawns and the odd happenings of an urban park, this neighborhood had a beauty about it.
We fell in love with the neighborhood and all its quirkiness and we grew to know ALL of our neighbors. And after fourteen years and two children, we outgrew our 700 square feet home and began to design a new one to be built on the same lot. We had developed such a wonderful network of friends and neighbors, we couldn’t leave. You can’t buy that.
Background Flashback: So, Charlie and I met while we were both studying Architecture at the University of Colorado. Actually it was an “Environmental Design” program and we officially met in Phil Tabb’s Solar Technology class. And as you might have guessed, studying Architecture in Boulder at that time already had a strong environmental consideration…including geomantic design or blending design with nature and its rhythms and energy. At the same time, Willem Van Vliet was there and had a big impact on my view of housing affordability, sociology of housing and how design effects the behavior of its occupants and those around it.
Of course we had to design our own home. It took about eighteen months of brainstorming, discussion, debate, drawing, fighting, redrawing, starting over and finally multiple dinners and saki with uber talented architect Roger Gula, to break the deadlocks and counsel us through to agree on a final plan.
The plan boils down to the following “intentional design” basics:
It had to make everyday family life better, more efficient and allow for less cleaning.
It had to accommodate fun with our friends and our children’s friends and our neighbors.
It had to be healthy and utilize the natural environment, not work against it.
It had to be affordable to build and affordable to maintain and power.
The house is not complete yet, but we thought it might be fun to open it to others that are interested in a tour and may have questions.