We’re building a house

We had it pretty good in Westford, with views, gardens, sweat equity, and the like.
Yet we decided to move.

We’d talked many times about where we wanted to be ‘eventually,’ and when I quit my job, it seemed like a good time to get serious about answering the question. I’d been in Westford for almost 25 years and, for the last several, had felt oppressed by the constant maintenance all the gardens require. Mary hates the road noise and the long commute to Hyde Park. I won’t be driving to IBM every day, and I want a bigger shop and new roads to bike on. Mary has deep roots in Vermont, and so we started looking at real estate.

You would think that, in this glutted market, it would be easy to find the perfect place at the right price, but it’s not. Most houses on the market have ‘issues.’ I have that deep from-scratch DIY streak, and Mary has her own agenda. Land is even worse, beginning with the fact that there’s not a lot of it for sale. Two of my lots are right on the road and the 3rd has access problems. Mary’s Green house is the fixer-upper from Hell. We’re drowning in real-estate, but none we love.

Mary was the one who first suggested that we build in Morrisville and then burn down the Green house. I argued that it’s crazy to start with 2 houses, spend a ton of money, and end up with one. We could start by building a big shop and live in the green house, she said, dangling the bait. The views, the quiet road, the commute and, yes, her sentimental attachment, were all compelling, and we decided to invest in a septic design before winter set in.

Over the winter, we spruced up the Westford house and worked on a design for a new one. I struggled endlessly with TurboCAD, determined to get past my graph paper mentality. We see things differently: When Mary visualizes, she sees surfaces with texture and light and color. When I close my eyes, I see structure and causality. We butted heads over and over about details big and small. We’re still married.

As guiding principles, we wanted:

  • To take advantage of the view.
  • An open-floor plan with a bedroom, 2 ‘offices’ and radiant heat.
  • A 1-story house, mostly handicap-accessible.
  • A big shop I can get to in my stocking feet in the dead of winter.
  • An attached garage.

It’s harder than it sounds, and the easy solution to every problem is to add more square feet. The roof and foundation are costing us extra. What we’re building is not much bigger than we’d hoped, but when you spread it out on one level and add a basement, it looks huge.

Here are some snapshots of the design:

I wanted to be deeply involved: pounding nails, pulling wires, sweating pipes like I’ve always done. In the end, I came to realize that a builder will get it done faster, better, and probably cheaper than I could. I’ve been there and done that, and I’ve got nothing to prove. We need to get this done by heating season and move in. There will be plenty of opportunity for DIY with the woodwork and ‘aftermarket’ improvements, and those are what meet the eye.

Bernie is our builder. He is Ashton’s father, and quite the codger. There is no bank and no contract and the deal is that when he gives us a bill, we pay it. He doesn’t know his own email address, rarely returns your calls, and talks like a woodchuck, but he’s highly regarded and he does fabulous work. We trust him.

I’ve done a lousy job of keeping family and friends posted about this project, and this thread is meant to fill in the gaps. Watch this thread to watch our progress.

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