Last week, we moved into the bedroom. (Pics below!)
In order to really understand this MONUMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE of this, please step into the Way Back Machine for a brief retrospective.
My wonderful husband/builder broke ground for the yurt in spring 2005. (A post with some pictures from ground breaking day, so cute.) I was pregnant with Luc and Sophie was this tiny thing. Ten months later, we moved into the yurt and its attached bathhouse and I had a baby. Life was full. A year passed.
In 2007, he built a Goat House and a Chicken Coop (made out of the box the yurt came in) because I had the idea that the toddler kids and I ought to keep goats and chickens (which turned out to be awesome). He also installed our waterstove system. In 2008, he built a gorgeous tool shed for his Building Stuff, because this was a construction site we were living in, make no mistake. Where to put all the tools? Then, surprise, in early 2009 my cousin, Noah, gave us his tiny house and we had it disassembled, transported, and reassembled here, adding to our little compound. The Noah House needed all new interiors, so my dear husband got to it, hanging sheet rock, laying floors, trimming it out, until we moved into it in August.
(Here is a post I had forgotten about, about building with recycled stuff, which is what all these structures were, except for the yurt itself, kind of cool.)
That was our first five years here. Don’t forget, my builder also had a full time job, an hour commute, and two babies. When I look back at all he did, it’s pretty impressive.
But, when we first moved in, we said, “we’re on the five year plan.” Meaning, yes, we knew this yurt/bathhouse combo we started with wasn’t going to work forever for the four of us, and yes, we knew the difficulties of moving into a house, that is, living in a house, that you are currently building… But within five years, for sure, we’d be done. We’d be in The House that we had always envisioned. The yurt was temporary, like a trailer, only prettier. Five years. That was The Plan.
But, sheesh, by 2010, after those first five years, we had precious little energy left for house building. Supercoolhusband was tired. And he hadn’t even started a “house” yet. Actually, that idea had eroded away completely.
Lesson learned—and this is important! pay attention future self-builders!—people who want to build their own house themselves have a crap-ton of enthusiasm for the task when we start. There are Dreams and it’s so Creative and there are so many choices to make and building methods to try. I know this because that was me. It’s fun! But listen: with time, that enthusiasm wanes. At some point, a year, ten years down the way, you won’t care any more. You’ll say, “let’s bail on this and buy a condo.” And it will sound like a really good idea.
When I came up with the Goat House idea in that second year, I didn’t know I was burning a limited resource (his energy) and that that energy probably should have been going into primary structures for us. Building the animal houses withdrew Building Energy from the building-energy bank account that once spent, was gone. I didn’t realize that.
You must pace yourself on a project as monumental as hand-building a house. And if it’s primarily one guy doing it, he WILL run out of steam. Plan accordingly.
Anyway, 2010 rolled along, we were at the five year mark, and we had accrued this strange compound of tiny buildings, but still no house, no finished structure, no done. And we desperately needed more space. The kids weren’t babies anymore, they had their own stuff, their own needs for privacy, the piles were threatening to take us over, not to mention our own privacy, and just where the heck does all this stuff come from anyway?
But it was clear, at that point, that building a HOUSE was not going to happen.
So instead, we got to work building a bedroom.
A room away for the adults would make room for the kids to have their own space, it would double the closets, it would solve tons of problems while still having us live in the yurt as our central structure. One room, 12×12, totally doable, right? It would be done in a year. New plan!
Here is a post I did about the groundbreaking for the bedroom in January 2011. Working on weekends, progress was slow, but it was coming along. Here was a post one year later featuring some nice pics of the timberframe bones he had built. That was when we figured out what the heating system would be. Six months later, in the summer of 2012, he put on the roof. Okay, maybe it would be two years….?
Next comes what I like to call the Three Little Pigs method of building a house. Fist is the slipSTRAW north wall going in and getting stuccoed in 2013. Here is a nice view of that in April when it was completed. Then the STICK-built west wall went in, a traditional studs, sheetrock, cedar shingle siding, because he was sick to death of straw at that point. And here is some STONE work on the east wall very pretty. After that we captured the wolf in the soup pot as he came down the chimney and we ate him.
I swear we did plan to do the Three Little Pigs, it just happened.
We also did not plan grad school, which is what my builder went and did for the next two years. Because life goes on, no matter that you haven’t finished building your house yet. Your kids grow up. Your housing needs change. What sounded like a good idea when you started fails to meet the current needs by the time it is finished. It’s hard to factor that in when your time table is so slippery.
So, while he was getting his grad degree (and still working full time), building downshifted to dribs and drabs, quite understandably.
In 2015, Sophie moved out of the yurt and into the Noah House, now Sophie’s house. It was starting to be ridiculous, this Mythical Bedroom, an unfinished hulk over on the side of the yurt. The kids were going to move out entirely before the damn thing was finished. I’m sure it felt like an albatross around his neck. We even talked about taking a loan out to pay someone to finish it. But he had a break at school in 2015 and got the south wall up (glass) with some help from my cousin Noah of the Noah House, which gave us all some hope. I posted this with the very-nearly-finished bedroom. It was so close!
We held our breaths at the precipice of nearly-done all winter last year while he finished school and….
If you haven’t lived in a partially finished house, which we have been doing since 2005, let me tell you, it’s…weird. For years we said “when the house is done” and later “when the bedroom is done” we would do all these cool things…like move Luc into his own room in the back of the yurt, or have enough closets so there wouldn’t be piles everywhere, or move stuff out of Sophie’s House so she could have her own space, plus a half-dozen other important things…so that it began to feel like So Many Problems were going to be solved by the Mythical Bedroom whenever it finally arrived.
As a result, life felt on hold.
Like when you’re camping. You make do. You solve a problem (like where to put your dishes, or where to sleep) for now, because you know it’s only temporary. You’re camping! It’s all going to change when you pack up anyway, right? You put up with less-than-great solutions, or even fairly shitty solutions, because it’s fine, it’s just for now.
That was us, camping in the yurt. But when For Now goes on for years, you forget that you’re on hold, you forget what it feels like to NOT to be on hold. The builder feels the pressure the most.
Moral: Don’t let your building projects go on too long!
But sometimes you can’t help it. It just happens. You can’t know what building a house yourself is, until you do it. You think sure, I can do this while working a full time job, raising children, living a life. So you just have to stick with it, plod along, break tasks down into manageable chunks, but keep at it! Self-building is a slow process, a marathon not a sprint. It can be hard on relationships so you have to cut each other a ton of slack. I know too many couples broken up by the shiny-eyed plan of “building our own house together.” Be kind.
And then….last week…he finished.
My other cousin, Tracie, happened to be here when suddenly in he comes into the yurt saying, “We’re moving the bed. Here, take a corner.” We were like, what? What? Today? We’re moving the bed today???? Holy shit—it’s really happening?
Here’s a shot of the inside after we got the bed set up.
So pretty! Exposed beams, recycled casement windows, found (i.e. free!) glass doors for windows, stucco and lime plaster, jute rugs. Look at the cool light fixture—he traded something for it at a junk shop, he doesn’t remember what now. It’s, like, two feet across, huge:
We slept in it that night even though there were still some tools, the new closets empty. Here’s the view when I woke up in the morning:
It smells like raw cedar. The light is lovely. The thick walls make it cool and quiet. A gorgeous space. I love it!
But, see, this isn’t just finishing the bedroom, this is finishing the House. Our weird, atypical, house/compound made of rooms-that-don’t-touch-each-other, sure, but whatever, it’s DONE. No more building project hanging over us. Let me say that again.
He’s been building a house FOR A DECADE.
And HE’S DONE.
It’s….well, it’s a miracle.
So, I’ve said some things about the downsides of self-building, but what about the upsides?
What we get with a handmade house:
A gorgeous, one of a kind, Art Structure. Details tailor-made to fit us, our bodies (like cabinets that are at the right height for us shorties), our preferences (like a closet/clothes-washing combo, because why carry baskets when you can have it all in one place?), our tastes (unpainted wood, tall ceilings, funny details). We also get a tiny mortgage (ours is mostly from the initial purchase of the land itself) that will be paid off in a couple of years. And there’s the creative expression, a family project that everyone has worked on, a place like no other. Memories.
Like this. First I’ll show you the finished rocket mass stove:
The small fire is built on the right, then the heat/smoke goes up into that iron barrel and down through channels inside the cob bench, warming everything as it goes. The bench radiates warmth long after the fire is done. Also, there’s that weird gourd on the barrel for the moment, just for fun, because it looks cool.
And for the memory: here are our kitty, MoMo’s footprints in the cob:
She came by to check it out while he was doing the final plaster. So cute! We’ll have those prints long after she’s gone. You don’t get that sort of thing in a contractor built house. There are dozens of little things like that, all over the place.
Anyway, for the last two weeks, we’ve been in the process of moving all our stuff. Like one of those puzzle games where you slide this tile over, making room for that tile, making room for that other tile—Luc got a loft bed ($50 on craigslist WOOT), that is, a room of his own in the space that had held the big bed in the yurt. It’s like a pirate fort, full of his things, arranged the way he likes it. So cool! The cedar chest in the yurt got moved, opening up space for a leather chair in Sophie’s house that had been in the closet, which means now she has a closet, which means her Table Of Stuff in the yurt is out in her place now, freeing up that table…you get the idea. The futon that had been at the foot of the bed has moved, making room for the lego boxes that were under the piano stool, making the piano playable again. Etc etc. It’s crazy!
What’s funny, things that don’t have even anything to do with the bedroom, like storing dishes, say, or laundry piles, suddenly are Getting Solved. As if the whole house had been under a spell of Waiting, like the kitchens and stable-hands and courtiers when Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger and everyone fell asleep. Suddenly they are all awake and yawning and thinking about lunch and getting back to LIFE.
I didn’t even realize we have been waiting.
The place is a MESS while we do all of this, of course. It really is like we’re moving, although we’re only moving ten feet away, and mostly it’s in the same house, but all shuffled around as each space is retasked. But seriously, this is it, this is our House. Not For Now, this is IT. (Until we decide to sell (would anyone buy? but that’s another post) and go for that condo after all). It’s an amazing feeling.
Have some champagne with me and let’s raise a toast to my wonderful husband who stuck it out all the way to the end, even though it turned out to be a much, much longer project than any of us ever thought. There is a still a bunch to do, mostly outside, turning a work site into a Yard. But forget that, because it’s done, the house is done. We are no longer building a house.
I just go over and sit in the quite, beautiful bedroom and feel amazed that its finally here. Leaving things on hold for years until you forget that’s what you’re doing—and then being NOT on hold anymore…it feels like arriving, I’m here, this is it.
It’s so weird.
Bonus: Here’s the walkway from the yurt to the bedroom. Because if you have to go outside to get to another room, you ought to at least have a lovely path to walk on while you get there. (Cut glass circles by Sophie. So is the mosaic on the front of the bedroom in the top pic. Granite and bricks are all free scrap.)