Building a House From the Ground Up

by Risa Green

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My husband and I have been talking forever about building a house from scratch.  We bought the house we’re in now twelve years ago, before we had children.  It’s a great house, and it’s served us well, but we’ve outgrown it. 

Our backyard (or back strip, as I call it, with it’s tiny patch of grass) was great when I had toddlers, but when my kids play back there now they look like giants running around on an area designed for Stuart Little.  And we don’t have a guest room, so when my mother comes to visit she has to sleep on an air mattress in the playroom, which doesn’t have a door.  

Also, the kitchen is on the top floor, which means that every time I go to the market, I have to schlep all of my grocery bags up two flights of stairs.  Which was fine was I was twenty-eight and shopping for two.  Less fine now that I’m forty and shopping for an entire family. 

It is, simply put, less than ideal.  So when an opportunity arose over the summer to buy an empty piece of land in a neighborhood we liked, we jumped on it.     

In telling people that we’ve undertaken this endeavor, I’ve noticed that there are two schools of thought with regard to building a new house.  One is: How exciting, you get to have everything you want custom designed just for your family and they way you live.  The other is: Holy crap, why would you do this to yourselves?  Don’t you know that most people who build houses end up selling them a year later in the divorce?

Somehow, my husband I seem to be the only ones in the first camp.  We’ve done several remodels on our current house, and we got through those just fine (except for maybe the couple of nights where we slept in our bedroom even though one wall was open and covered with just a tarp).  But maybe we’re naïve.  Or, maybe everyone else just doesn’t understand my husband.

My husband takes anal retentive to entirely new levels.  In addition to thinking that he’s a contractor and an interior designer and an architect and a landscape architect, he also has the focus of a Russian ballerina.  He spends several hours each night - from approximately eleven p.m. until two in the morning - staring at the architectural plans for our house, a ruler in one hand, a tape measure in the other, searching out flaws and inefficiencies. 

After he types up a three page email to our architect with everything he’s found, he builds spreadsheets.  Spreadsheets for how many square feet of tile we’ll need, spreadsheets for how many windows and doors, spreadsheets for how many pounds of cement will be required.  I’ve said this before, but my husband can not be soothed until all of his anxieties are placed into little boxes in Excel.

And though all of this sounds exhausting, he loves it.  He will often look up from the plans and smile and tell me how much fun he’s having.  Which is fantastic for me.  Because all I have to do is give him little pats on the back when he presents me with his genius each morning, and tell him how smart he is for discovering how we can squeeze an extra foot into the pantry, or how we actually can fit a bigger closet in the guest room.  When he spends all night poring over kitchen faucets that all look exactly the same to me, all I have to do the next day is pick one of the three he’s narrowed it down to.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have opinions.  I certainly do.  But mostly, my opinions are bigger picture.  As in, I want the playroom downstairs and not upstairs.  Or, I want there to be a sink in the kitchen island.  I’m just not a detail person.  I don’t walk into a room the way my husband does and notice the crown moldings or the ogee bullnose edge of a counter.  I know when I think a room is pretty, I just can’t usually tell you why.  He knows why, and he’s got really good taste. 

But that means that it’s also my job to bring him down from his obsessive cloud, and to remind him that it doesn’t matter whether we have (the more expensive) Imperial Danby or (the cheaper) Carrera Gold marble on our kitchen counter, because they both look exactly the same (though he swears the veins in one are slightly greener than the other) and the only people who will ever notice the difference are him and the guy at the marble yard, who presumably will never be coming over for dinner.

And so it goes.  I can totally see why couples who are both like me would end up divorced by the time this process was finished.  And those people should definitely buy houses that are already built.  But my husband and I are one of those cases where opposites attracted.  I hate his taste in music, and he hates mine just as much.  I love to read, he likes to play sports.  I’m a word person, he’s a math guy.  I’m a big picture kind of girl, he’s a detail freak.  

Sometimes, it’s annoying.  Like when the cheesy Brian Adams theme song from Robin Hood comes on and he won’t let me change the station.  Or when he makes spreadsheets of weird things, like the different kinds of cries that our daughter made when she was an infant (wait! he’d shout, while she was mid-scream.  Let me write this one down!  Would you say her tongue is curled right now?). 

But every now and then, the benefits become apparent.  Like, we’re going to get a brand new house custom-designed just for us and the way that we live, and I don’t even have to stress about it, because my husband is doing all of that for both of us, and having fun, to boot.

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