This blog tells the story of how I succumbed to that most basic of architects’ urges: to get a house of my own and fix it up for myself with no need to transfer my ideas through a client and contractor in order to make them real.
Don’t get me wrong, I love designing for other people. And I love coming up for ideas for how to create or improve a space and then handing them off to an expert contractor to take care of. But just this once, the design brief will be my own. And it will be on me (and whatever help I can cajole out of my friends and family) to manifest my ideas on the world.
This project has been a long time coming, as I have moved from city to city, and apartment to apartment, during the beginning of my architectural career.
I’d already taken the classic project for a young architect compromise – designing a house for my parents. Underhill – the straw bale, timber frame, sod roofed, nearly-net-zero house I created for them – represented a fabulous fusion of their hopes and dreams, the design philosophy of my beloved then firm, Whole Trees, and my own ideas. It was a really great project that turned into a great house. That project is strikingly different from this one – rural vs urban, new built vs remodeled, timber and straw vs sturdy and conventional 50’s stick frame construction. However, they share some qualities. Both are snug, small (by modern American standards) and single family.
This new house of mine (how weird that sounds!) is a 1952 ranch house on the near west side of Madison Wisconsin that has survived 64 years and two families with almost no updating. The kitchen boasts a linoleum floor, mint green walls and a phone cabinet, the basement is “finished” in floral wallpaper and knotty pine, and the front window is rapidly being overgrown by the hedge of doom. But at the same time it is in great shape – well built and well maintained. Its ripe for updating and, with a little vision and a lot of elbow grease, it will be ready to make a home for more families over the next half century and more. I knew this was the one the minute I walked in the door.
So … Where do I go from here? Join me to find out.