I suppose it’s about time I let you in on my little construction project. That project is, after all, taking me away from this desk more than I’d like it to. It’s also a project that has caused me more stress over the last 7 months than all of my real estate stresses combined, with the exception of one particularly unfortunate customer who is proof that many times it is indeed best to not return phone calls. There have been moments over the last year that I’ve doubted this project. Those moments were many at first, then fewer, and lately, they are often. I have doubted one or two of the sub contractors that I’ve used. Doubted their ability to measure and saw and properly use a plumb stick. I’ve also doubted myself, and my goal with this build. I’ve doubted the process, doubted the weather, doubted the timing. I’m a doubter, no doubt.
After a stressful week I found myself at the house late yesterday afternoon. It was Easter, sure, and I had celebrated it with family and church and ham, but when I went home to my rental last night around 5 pm I didn’t feel as though the day was indeed over. I drove to the new house, to this great new project, to park in the mud and walk up to the house and do a little work. Walking into a construction site of your own making creates a strange emotion. When a construction site is bustling, with tradesmen walking about and sawing and nailing while others twist a wrench and yet others snip wires, this activity doesn’t allow for the sort of introspection that occurs when walking that same project long after the last worker has gone home. Walking a house in the middle of construction isn’t something for the faint of heart. It can be overwhelming, and wander too long through a dusty hallway and that well intentioned introspection turns to doubt.
I didn’t want this house to be a regular sort of house. I didn’t want it to be a drywalled box, with the sorts of fixtures shared by every home built over the past decade. I didn’t want things to look the same. I didn’t want to make the mistakes that I see made in houses on a daily basis. I wouldn’t build great big bedrooms, because they are a waste of space. I wouldn’t built huge bathrooms, because they are the same as big bedrooms. I wouldn’t build a formal dining room this time, because formal dining rooms are wonderful in great big homes, or in very small condominiums, but they are wasted in normal homes. I wanted to build a home that, when completed, would look as though it had been there for quite some length of time. I wanted to build a home that when passersby passed by they would slow their cars and debate the age the house and the original purpose of it without thinking that it was somehow strange, or obtuse. Was it a stable originally? Was there a one room school house up on that hill that had been added on to? Was it the remnant of an old barn that someone restored and repurposed? I wanted people to wonder these things without thinking that the structure was strange or otherwise too unique to appear normal. I wanted to find a balance.
In continuing this theme, I didn’t want the interior to be the same as other homes, either. If the outside was awash in white cedar, the inside shouldn’t be caked in drywall. So I didn’t drywall much of this house, instead choosing to install, one board, one nail, at a time, over 12,000 lineal feet of ship lap and tongue and groove pine boards. It seem easy at first, just one board up and another on top of it until the ceiling was reached. Some 60 days after that first board was nailed up the last board has yet to receive its nails, and yesterday all that wood seemed like a bit too much. I had large fireplaces built, two of them, and they are nice and covered in drystacked stone. My mason is an amazing fella, and his skill is apparent. The question for me remains, would an old farmhouse have a stone fireplace? Generally, the answer would be no. It would have a brick fireplace, and maybe this is one more area of the house that I should doubt. I wanted to mix rustic elements with highly polished ones. I didn’t want the house to feel rough, but I wanted it to have dimension, to have character, to have texture. I wanted the house to be different without being odd.
So as I walked yesterday, through the hallway that spans 130′ or so, I wondered what I had done. I wondered while I nailed up a few more pieces of trim, and then I wondered when I realized that the pieces that I nailed up are many things, but they are not all straight. When walking through the dust of a home that somehow, someway, must be finished and ready to sleep my family in the next 34 days, the only way to categorize the stress is to turn all that doubt away and instead embrace a vision. The vision that I had when I first started this project is playing out. When I sketched the first floor plan on a piece of paper one night two years ago, I envisioned the hallways looking just as these now look. When I chose to spread out the kitchen over a huge area, because of the way the kitchen would host many cooks at the same time, I saw yesterday how that plan is going to work. In walking and wondering yesterday, I found a way to move past the daunting task that has swallowed me hole and dream.
I stood by the fireplace in the great room- a great room indeed- and imagined I was lying on a couch on a cold spring evening, a fire cracking near my feat and the sunlight bouncing down the hall, hitting the grooves in that laborious pine car siding until it spilled out onto the soon-to-be dark stained floors of the great room. I looked back to the front door- an oversized single door that I felt would look period appropriate for a home that belongs to whatever period this home also belongs to. I liked the way I could see out of that door and the windows around it, down across the front lawn and to the driveway that snakes around a giant Silver Maple and past the skeleton of an old shed that I’ll reside to match the house some day. I imagined my wife in the kitchen, my children unceremoniously spilling whatever they’re eating onto the wooden countertop that some fine craftsman in Effingham, Illinois will be making for me next week. I thought about these things.
Home ownership is many things, but chief among those is a vehicle for carrying our dreams. I am in a rental now. I can dream about things in that rental, but that rental will never be the subject to one of those dreams. All those unfortunate sorts that were caught on the wrong side of this real estate downturn are going to feel the pain that real estate can cause, but they will only feel that sting for a short time. Home ownership is less about the mortgage deduction and so much more about the one thing that owning a home provides: The ability to dream a big dream.