The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

One of my favorite series of books is ‘Not So Big House’ by Sarah Susanka. I’ve spent endless hours pouring over the many pictures, concepts and ideas outlined in the two editions we have. I’d mentally and literally file away the ideas I’d want to apply to our dream house someday.  I even stole an idea for the fireplace surround in our current house from one of the books.  When it comes to house design and decorating I steal early and often.  Wait ’til you see the new house, I’ll show you what I stole.

Our current house is about 2,700 square feet and it’s perfectly comfortable.  We decided to build a new house for various reasons including making better space for doing art and storing the various art related crap that makes up a life doing art.  One of the things we wanted to do was make a “not so big” (NSB) house.  Now the premises of NSB are pretty simple, in fact they’re pretty much the premise of anything you do in life when resources are involved.  You’ve got three variables and you can load up on one or two but usually at the expense of one or two of the others.  When it comes to building a house your variables are size, cost and detail.  Here’s how we fared so far at halftime:

Size.  Our intent when it comes to size was to break even but eliminate rooms we don’t need like the office and the dining room and one of the bedrooms in exchange for two art studio spaces.  A big house, physically and visually just goes against everything we’re trying to achieve.  The hope was to slip a small quaint house onto our land. We caved right off the bat and added a craft room and a loft so, number of rooms wise I think we added two rooms.  Square footage wise we were shooting for 2,700 square feet.  I haven’t tallied the amount lately but it’s somewhere around 2,800+ last time I checked, though I contend if you don’t count the studios, we’re around 2,200 square feet.  Incidentally, the county counts everything and our footprint on Mother Earth is something ridiculous like 5,000 feet plus with the garage.  Where it gets really interesting is when you see the house in the real world.  It’s visually enormous from certain angles.  Like it’s about 12.5% out of scale.  Between the design and construction the end result is fairly intimidating to see in person.   We’ll make lemonade out of lemons, by embracing the scale of our house.  Expect to see an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ bottle at the front door if you visit to hopefully make you large.  We’re going to amp up the size of our furniture, decor, food and pets to overcompensate.  They installed the “breezeway” today.  Christine says it’s more of a “hurricane” way based on the size of it.  You could store 97 illegal immigrants in our breezeway roof alone. It’s so big it makes the garage look small.  My mother commented on how small our house looked before she left on vacation.  It was just the foundation at the time.  Now we no longer have to hang our head in shame. Our house eats small houses for breakfast.   “Honey, is that a bungalow in the eaves?  Good house.” We always thought our neighbors had a big house;  thing looks like a beach house compared to ours now. Our house is huge, but it’s our house so we love it.  Building a ‘Not So Big House’ is a cool concept and I encourage you to try it.  As for us, well I’ll never look at another house in the same way.  They all seem so small. Size Triangle Grade: C-

Cost: It’s tough to judge at this point.  I know for a fact we ran 50% over on excavation because of the blue clay.  We went over on appliances, fireplace and plumbing fixtures, but saved on insulation, steel, cement and windows.  The increased size of the floor joists caused the overhangs to get larger which will cause the metal roof (already 50% over budget) to get more expensive.  All of which will eliminate any savings of switching from engineered rafters to dimensional lumber, which I’m not convinced saved us any money in the first place.  It’s too early to tell but we’re well on our way to blowing the cost leg of the triangle too.  Best case scenario, we home school the boys.  Worst case scenario we sell the house before stepping foot in it (email me and make an offer just in case). Cost Triangle Grade: D+

Details: It’s a bunch of wood now so tough to tell.  We have grand plans. The kitchen, whose design I stole from Dwell magazine, will be awesome.  The general floor plan is manageable and having the studios will be out of this world great.  No more walking up and down stairs to load up the trailer with art.  10″ window sills, interior transoms, a variety of materials, and nice decorating should save the day….while bankrupting us.  The spaces and window layouts are great visually.  The loft is a nice added bonus.  Details Triangle Grade: B


Kitchen coffee center in our cabinet maker's shop.


So we’re going to have to back off on at least two or three of the areas if it’s going to happen at all in the end.  Size is set but we can hold off on finishing several of the rooms and landscaping until we have the money.  Same with details, we can hold off or go with the “Less is more”, “Keep it simple stupid” school of design from here on out.  Cost if impossible to improve unless it’s savings based.  There just isn’t any time to bring in more money into the equation.  It will be a miracle if we’re ready for next year’s art shows.  And the day job in corporate America is like living with a rabid ferret….”Hmm did I remember to lock the cage before I went to bed?”…..”Did something just dart through the doorway”…..any minute you can all be over just like that.

An unsaid fourth part of the triangle (ha ha, I actually got an “A” in high school geometry) is a slurry of principles, ideals, ideas and intentions.  I think these are just as easily eroded during the building process as the other three.  And as dependent on the other three as well.

One of our intentions was to build a “Not So Big House”.  Well, things don’t always turn out like they’re intended.  I’m sure it’ll be fine once it gets the final grading, some landscaping and finish trim.  If not, it’ll still be our place one way or another….well there is that “cost” part of the triangle……ugh. 

Breezeway is easily 12' in the air at present.


House looks big. It scales down on subsequent visits. note different color 2x8's, short ones are white, long ones are redish brown.


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