How not to design a home

>> Friday, May 18, 2007

As documented before, we've moved to the high country of Western North Carolina to successively take over both the publishing and crafting industries. To do that, we'll need a new Gratz Industries World Headquarters, and the mobile home in which we're temporarily stationed is not the answer.

After the chaos of moving in, we quickly assembled our New Headquarters Planning Committee, which is essentially the same as our Samurai Shortstop Marketing Committee, Website Redesign Committee, and Child-Rearing Committee. (What can we say? We're a small non-profit. We have to multi-task.) The New Headquarters Planning Committee put together a fabulous proposal with a building that featured large, two-story, screened-in patios, twenty-foot ceilings, a second-story catwalk library, double staircases, a fancy hanging fireplace, and separate space for guests and board game playing. But for all the unique things we planned in the house, we also designed it to be simply built. It was, essentially, a large rectangle, with a smallish second level (with that awesome library/catwalk) and a large, open floor plan. That was, we assumed, how we were going to be able to afford such a tricked-out place.

Excited about the prospects of a new corporate flagship building, we took our designs to a local builder and anxiously awaited the call that would tell us how close we were to being able to afford our new digs.

Wendi got the call while I was away.

"Guess how much the house would cost us to build?" she asked me.

I took what I thought was a liberal stab at it. "One hundred thousand dollars."


"One hundred and fifty thousand?" I asked - seeing our dreams of having this home built within the year evaporating before my eyes.

"More," said Wendi.

I frowned. "Two hundred thousand dollars?" That meant we weren't close to affording it.

"More," said Wendi.

I gave up the game, and Wendi laid the hammer down.

Three hundred and seventy thousand dollars. That's what our dream home would cost us to build. Now, that was with all the bells and whistles - the bathrooms installed, the kitchen cabinets and appliances installed, the drywall hung, the floors finished - everything. We had told the builder that we could do much of the finish work ourselves, but he just wanted to give us the pie-in-the-sky, all-told final cost of the project if we had him do everything. Take everything out but the floors and the walls, he told us - with no coverings on either one, just studs and supports - and the basic structure would still cost us $160,000. Worse, that price was about $50 per square foot - which, for those familiar with home-building prices, is extraordinarily reasonable.

But we don't have $370,000. And we don't have $160,000. Hell, we don't even have $100,000.

We felt very ill for a few days.

Then we called up the New Headquarters Planning Committee and told them to go back to the drawing board, and this time to use a smaller drawing board. So back to work they went, and we're happy to present the new version of the Gratz Industries World Headquarters today to our shareholders. Please note, the builder has yet to come back with numbers on this plan, so a similar crushing blow may yet be dealt. But we hope that we've been able to address some of the issues that led to the wacked out price above:

Here we see the new and improved first floor. One of the things that adds to a home's cost is the size of its "footprint," or the actual square-footage of the entire ground floor. The smaller the footprint, the lower the cost. It is always cheaper to go up than out, they say in the home-building trade. (Or at least I think they do.) So here now, rather than the somewhat insane 3,248 square foot original effort (not counting the significant patios on either end), this home has a footprint of 1,024 square feet - and that includes the first floor patio. (Total square footage, including the patios and all floors, is now just 2,560.)

As you can see (or we hope you can see - click the image above to see a larger view) the first floor is home to the kitchen, living room, and library. After getting outside and laying down stakes and trying to orient the house toward our view, we're rethinking the locations of the living room and library, with the thought of switching them around. We had originally placed the living room right next to the kitchen, as we like to have the TV on while cooking/eating is happening, but the back, northerly corner is more appropriate for the library, as that wall will have very few windows - accounting of course for the cold winds and lack of sunlight we'll get from that direction in the winter. Swapping the living room for the library in the plan will also put the view out the windows of the living room, which, admittedly, is where we spend most of our leisure time. (And it turns out that the living room isn't that far away from the kitchen after all now, considering how small the actual first floor will be.)

You can also see that we have a substantial chunk of the ground floor plotted out as a patio. Imagine each floor as four 16' x 16' quadrants. The idea here is to have one entire quadrant on the ground floor be a screened-in porch with attachable windows, so that space can be used year-round, in warm weather or cold. Both connecting walls to the house will have large glass garage doors, much like the big back door we loved so much on our Atlanta loft. Opening these two doors up will give us the full use of the "footprint" as living space almost year 'round.

Heading up the stairs to the second level . . .

We find the level that belongs mostly to Wendi's design studio and to Jo. The two bottom quadrants - the large space at the bottom of the image - are half crafting area for Wendi, half play area for Jo. Those two quadrants connect to a third, which is Jo's bedroom. Putting her bedroom on a different level from ours will give us all the privacy that we need now and that she will want later - like when Jo is a teenager. (Oh holy crap.) By then, her "play area" can become an extended area for teen pursuits like laying around on bean bags and watching Monty Python movies. (And that will of course be separate from the TV room downstairs where her totally uncool parents will be laying around on couches watching Monty Python movies.) The top left quadrant is open - creating a two-story ceiling for one quadrant of the first floor - what we think will now be the library/dining room. That means we get double-tall bookshelves with a ladder! Yay! Almost as good as the catwalk library. (But not quite.)

Okay, now we move on to our latest innovation - the THIRD floor . . .

Yes - a third floor. Genius! We have a good view, and getting one more story up on it will be delightful. (And, we hope, save the money the larger footprint of a two-story house would require.) The third floor houses Alan's office, the master bedroom, and a second porch - this one to be eventually outfitted with a hot tub. Oh yeah. (Hot tub in picture not shown to scale, by the way.) Both this porch and the lower porch will aim at our view, and we hope create a nice panorama from either the porches or inside the house - in this case, our bedroom. And there is no permanent wall between our bedroom and my office, but we plan on lining that with bookshelves/wardrobes to create a non-permanent walled space. I may even convince Wendi to let me build one of the moving walls I've been pitching to her - a wall with lockable wheels. The walls hold art on them, and can be moved to create new room spaces within the house as needed. My office won't take nearly that whole quadrant, allowing us room for bureaus and wardrobes in the master bedroom. (We detest the wasted space of built-in closets.)

One of the four quadrants - the one in the lower right - is empty, again creating another two-story ceiling - this one in Wendi's design studio. We're hoping that with a windowed patio upstairs and multiple windows throughout the house that we get both trickle-down ambient light, and can create a nice tunnel of breeze during the summer. Because no - we're NOT going to install air conditioning. Both for environmental/financial reasons, and because we think we can achieve a cool house using passive cooling strategies like channeling the wind and having strategically-planted trees outside. (Plus it's cooler up here in the high country - which is part of the reason we chose to move here.)

So there it is, all capped off with a "shed roof," which we understand is the term for a slanted roof that does not reach a peak, but instead runs from a higher wall to a lower wall. (Like half of a traditional peaked roof.) We've asked that this be pointed toward our most southerly exposure, with the dream of one day covering it with the new thin-film solar panel laminate we've read about.

I'm excited just writing about this. Now we just have to wait for the builder to burst our bubble . . .


Kitt May 19, 2007 at 2:22 PM  

Wow! Looks great! I'm wondering if pre-fab would save you some of those costs. There have been a ton of advances in that industry resulting in some pretty nifty-looking spaces that are not tacky at all, and many are geared toward sustainable, green living.

I can empathize on the frightening costs, after getting a contractor to bid on redoing my minuscule kitchen. $48,000! Like hell. (But he also did things like double the cost of the cabinets I'd already gotten a bid on. Clearly this was not a job he wanted to do.)

Instead, I'm just moving to a place with a bigger kitchen.

Good luck!

Alan May 22, 2007 at 9:16 AM  

We thought about pre-fab, but in the long run, it will actually cost us less to do a lot of the work ourselves. Some of the pre-fab units we looked at were awesome though. We especially liked some that had a shipping container or industrial feel to them.

And yeah, they can really get you with the kitchen stuff. We're planning on doing much of that work ourselves!

Anonymous,  May 26, 2007 at 5:02 PM  

You need apocket door on that 2nd floor bathroom me!

New Launch Condo February 17, 2013 at 7:52 PM  

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