Dream House

I am in the fortunate position of being able to afford to build myself a new house (well...perhaps myself and the bank). Having been to several 3rd world countries and knowing that there are lots of people in the world who don't even have housing, I felt a few pangs of guilt about this. I had a decision to make: rehab the old or build new. The cost to rehab my old house was going to be substantial. It was October of 2009. My husband had passed away in August from liver cancer. I was in the depths of grief and sorrow. I needed a project. I decided that if I had to plunk down a lot of money anyway, it was better to build new. I also decided that if I was going to build new, I was going to build green. My new house will be both beautiful and "green". I will share the journey and the adventure with you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Drawing the Plan

     Its Valentine's Day. A day for occasional pangs of sadness when everyone around you has received flowers from their sweethearts and husbands. No Valentine's Day roses for me this year. I stared at a picture of Rory, and softly said, "I miss you,". He had a talent for writing sweet, flowery words in cards expressing his love for me. He wasn't big on actual flowers. His usual response was, "They die so quickly...its a waste of money." To which I would respond, "They're so beautiful though!" He'd occasionally break down and get me flowers. The above picture were roses given to me by Rory on the last Valentine's Day we had together in 2009--I finally trained him! We would have had a million arguments over the house project, I am sure, since we were opposites in many ways. It certainly would have been completed by now if he was in charge. I must admit that although its been challenging to make all the decisions myself, there has been a freedom in it, too, which has been refreshing.
     All things have a way of growing. The house project just keeps on growing. In the beginning, the details and the decisions were maddening and driving me crazy. Now that I am getting closer to a finished product, it is feeling therapeutic. Or perhaps its me that is changing. Perhaps, I am just becoming more sane. Perhaps, being in the midst of grief, and feeling that life was full of havoc, it became so.
    Two things were really challenging at the start. Coming up with a final plan took major work for me. I looked at hundreds of plans. Then I talked with Jamey who would give my suggestions to a designer at the lumber company he worked with. After going back and forth on the design at least 10 or 15 times, and ending up with roof that seemed out of proportion with the house, I asked myself the question, "Why I am designing this house? I have never designed a house before!" It was January. I had been working on the plan for the house for about 3 months. About that time, I went out with one of my friends, Christine Arendt, who had built a house in Neenah a couple of years ago. She had used Befhoff homes as her builder, who is a premier green builder in the area http://www.berhoffhomes.com/). They also do solar panels which I was interested in. So I talked with them and they highly recommended a very experienced architect, Chas Reuter. He was great. He has an amazing amount of experience and skill. He added in design elements that I never would have considered, but look wonderful. He was very accomodating when I wanted to make changes. Chas had made up a couple of designs for me and I was having a hard time choosing between them. On a whim, I found a Feng Shui consultant while visiting my daughter in Madison one weekend. Her name was Jackie Patricia. (website: jackie@jackiepatricia.com ). She had a lovely fragrant and peaceful home. Instead of helping me choose between my 2  plans, she said I needed a major redesign. I was missing several corners or areas that she felt were important, such as the wealth and relationship corners.  I was like, "Oh, my God! Chas is going to think I am stark raving mad! How do I begin to tell him this?"  I neglected to realize that he has "heard it all" in his many years of experience, and he hardly batted an eye. (Instead there were some dollar signs there!) Really, he was completely understanding. I was so grateful for that. I thought he might have a lot of ego involved in his own design and might be offended when I wanted to change it. He didn't. It did cost  money to make those changes, though! So here's the rub. Designing with the builder would have been no more than $1000 to $1500. If I had gone with the first plans of the architect, it probably would have cost about $2500-$3000 total. Instead, because I made numerous changes, it cost $5930 (I checked with Chas on the amount!). I felt I had a lot of input though, and I would do it again.  Every time I show my plans, I get a compliment on them. Architects have a great sense of design. If you are going to build a home that you plan to live in for a long time, go with an architect. I finally finished the house plans in November, so it took about a year before they were done.
     The other challenging thing in the beginning, was that there was a sort of bidding war between Berhoff homes and Gallery homes. I learned alot about how to read a bid and what to expect in the bid itself, as a result. It was so hard to choose between them!  Berhoff is really known for their green building expertise; and Jamey is an excellent craftsman. Ultimately, I chose Jamey because he was from Oshkosh, and I had dealt with him the longest. He had done a lot of work for free, including all the design work early on, getting the house torn down, and getting the large trough out of the old house. I wanted to give him a chance to build a green home. Plus, he wanted to use the house as a parade home which is helping me to get better prices on things.   Chas, the architect,  is old school: he hand draws his plans). His webiste is http://www.chasreuter.com/ Below are some photos of the plans.
                                         You can see why my family calls it Neilsen Manor!


  1. I love the part about the Feng Shui consultant! This first part also made me a bit teary-eyed as well.

  2. Umm - we've already spent about $10,000 on the plan, so I think you're good! (Like Caroline, I also enjoyed and was melancholy also about how you expressed yourself on this one, Kris.