My House

Having your own house built is a substantial task, but also very rewarding. If you are considering it, I urge you to think very carefully about what you want - if you want the kinds of things everyone else wants, you will probably be better off buying a standard design. If you want things that are offbeat, be prepared for a barrage of (mostly correct) warnings that "that won't have good resale value".

My house has a very open design, even including an internal garage door between the garage and laundry room. The laundry room is also a dog kennel, the garage is also (mostly) a shop, and a great room substitutes for a kitchen, dining room, living room, and family room. It also has an oversized study (had to use a steel H-beam to come up to code), a reading nook, and only two bedrooms. The house doesn't have a lot of closet space, the garage is not near the kitchen, and it has other peculiarities that will certainly reduce its resale value, but it works for me.

I wanted the house to have some features that said something about me, so my bathroom floor in the master bedroom is a penrose tiling. Installed when the house was built in 1998, it was one of the first in the world - now it seems like everyone is doing it. The floor will almost certainly outlast me, and it amuses me to think about how future owners of the house will think of the floor that says "a mathematician lives here"

Many years ago I visited the Wharton Esherick house outside of Paoli PA, and when it came time to build this house, I decided that a reading nook would be nice, and a staircase like the famous one that Esherick had built (he designed the stuff, but other people worked the wood for him) would work well for it. After a half-hearted false start, I decided that I didn't have the skills to do this and acquiring them wasn't going to be worth the wait, so I hired Jack Christiansen (get a web page, Jack) to build this one.

The study is probably the signature room of the house. The master bedroom certainly isn't, it's one of the places that probably reduces the house's resale value, but why waste space and features on a place where almost all you do is sleep? The great room works for me, it is great for entertaining and is a very livable space. The garage and laundry room also get a fair bit of use, as I do a lot of woodworking in the garage, and relegate the dog to the laundry room when I am not at home. The guest room, second bathroom, and unfinished space are nothing to write to home about.

One more thing about building your own house - you can save money and improve the final product if you do some planning and set aside some time. Some things are very simple: stuff rags in the heating ducts as soon as they are installed so garbage doesn't land in them. Video tape the structure right before the drywall goes up. Other things take time: if you want low power wiring, it is much cheaper to do it yourself, and if you want it up-to-date, you almost have to do it yourself. Hit the web and everyone you know for ideas before you even find a builder or architect.