Friday, October 03, 2008

The Site

We knew this going in, and it turned out to be true - the steeper the land you're working with, the more complicated the whole process will be. That meant more money spent on the driveway, less flexibility with respect to actually choosing a building site on the property, and importantly with respect to prefab, more difficulty in actually getting the module up to the site (with the attendant stress on the module: drywall cracking, flex on the windows, anxiety for me when the box actually got stuck on the tight turn). On the flip side, the steepness of the site means we get a view. So we've got that going for us.

Second, and this was hugely important, I think, the decision to go with unrestricted land as opposed to buying in a sub-division was the right one for us. It means we don't have to worry about aggravating a homeowners' association when build a modern home or rent it to weekenders. It meant some more money up front for the driveway and utility infrastructure, but we probably got a bit of break in $/acre in buying unimproved land in the first place.

West Virginia - I have to say I was a little nervous about picking a site in WV. Wasn't sure about the mix of people, or the proximity to services, or how receptive guests would be to the idea of a high-end cabin in WV. But all in all I think things have been great. The people have been wonderful, from all the guys working on the house to our neighbors and the businesses in the area, just very welcoming of new people. (Part of that, I think, is a function of being so close to a town that is so popular with DC's gay community.) The light regulation of development (and the absence of any building code or inspection process) meant that we could move the process along much more quickly than we could have in VA or MD, where just getting a building permit could take a year. On the down side, and speaking generally, the local contractors we used did not have a familiarity with a lot of the modern style materials that we spec'd. We did a lot ourselves, so it wasn't an issue, but I have to say I would be really nervous trying to build an affordable modern house with builders in a really rural area that haven't done it before.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Design

I'm going to blog while I watch this debate. I know I still haven't blogged a final post mortem for this whole project, and I haven't updated the final numbers of our budget page. So here are some of the things that I think went well, or I could have handled a bit better, or that would have improved the process. (This will probably span a few posts...)

First things first: WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS HOUSE. Experiencing the play of light and space, the sense of being up and in the trees, the efficiency of the design - it's perfect. And the reaction of the guests who've stayed has been exactly the same. The windows and sliding glass doors are spectacular, not only in the transparency they create but in the way they allow the air to circulate. The house doesn't just open up to the outside, it allows the outside to move through the house - sound, light, air. There's a dynamism to the space that you really can't appreciate unless you're in it.

As for the nuts and bolts of what went where, this is the first time I've had any experience with the process of designing a house. I didn't know a thing. I wanted to squeeze two bedrooms into a 1000 sf space, and I'm really glad that we didn't go that route and that Res4 found a reasonable way to get us some more space (with a cost-effective walkout basement). The deck is spectacular, and nearly doubles the space of the upstairs. (Each iteration of the design for the house had a bigger and bigger deck, and that impulse really paid off.) The pitched roof really opens up the space to the view, and was an aesthetic element that we really wanted (and that the weehouse and the lv don't have). The butterfly probably was not necessary, and maybe complicated more than helped the upstairs space (we have a 7' soffit that runs the length of the back of the house), and meant we had to incorporate scuppers that - while I love the idea and effect of them - were a difficult element for the metal workers to flash.

The windows that wrap around the corner in the upstairs bedroom, reaching almost from the ceiling to the floor, are genius. You can look down into the woods from the bed, as opposed to up - another effect that you really have to experience to appreciate.

We don't have a mud room or an alternate entrance for bad weather, which is something that would be really nice, seeing as how we're in the woods and it's messy all the time. We don't really even have a good place for shoes/coats. We never even talked about that at the design stage. The downstairs sliders desperately need a deck or something on the outside. And I'm not sure I love the car parking area/retaining wall; new visitors to the house don't recognize it as a functional parking spot. But we needed something to level the entry area, and this works well for that.

Looking back (and considering how little we knew about what questions to ask during the design process), Res4 really anticipated our needs pretty well as far as how best to utilize the space. The upstairs is completely functional, and you can be out at the house and never have to go downstairs for anything. The downstairs is a great overflow space that doesn't distract at all from the living space upstairs.

I think we probably have too much storage upstairs in terms of drawers in the bedroom and cabinets in the hallway for a house that will be used mostly by renters (nobody brings that much with them, as far as I can tell).

We have outlets on the floor in the upstairs - I realize now we will never use them. We didn't put any place in the upstairs living space for a tv, and I'm glad.

I really don't like the location of the mechanicals outside (below the retaining wall, where they're pretty visible). I wish they were on the far side of the house, but that wasn't really practical.