Custom home design. Every project is extremely different, not only because the site is different and the client is different, but also; different economies, building codes, a myriad of different circumstances. I relish these differences. It makes what I do for a living very interesting, and never boring. I’ve been designing custom homes and remodels since ’86 and have seen my fair share of these differences.
However, I was not prepared for what happened on this project.
Absolutely wonderful couple, late mid-life, had been holding onto this 8 acres of gorgeous southern California back country since purchasing it in the 70s. There was a little house on the property that they’d been renting out, all this time. Now it was time to build their dream house. Obviously lots of thought had been put into this idea for many years, and I was extremely honored to be selected as their architect.
The planning process was delightfully fun, and went on for awhile. We would meet late in the afternoon in their current home, go over the sketches and plans, have some wine, and discuss the matters of the day. A really wonderful relationship was developed between the three of us. The house plan seemed continually to grow in size despite my constant efforts to tame it. Finally we had a design – 7,000 sf. of modern design using as many sustainable products and systems as possible at the time; Entire house framed with recyclable steel, 100% solar electricity, solar water heating, 100% rain water collection and storage, gray water collection and storage, building insulation made from recycled blue jeans, cabinets made from sustainably grown woods…. you name it.
Jurisdictional processing of construction drawings and engineering, and now we start the minimal grading, and oh yeah, the building of the street and city fire hydrant system extension required by the jurisdiction for approval of the project ($100k extra for the budget – don’t get me started). Now we start the foundation, fly ash in the concrete, we’re in business. Steel framing starts, moves along well. Selections are made, decisions made – it’s all coming together. By the time the drywall is up and cabinets are being made in the carpenter’s shop, we’re about 80-85% of the way through construction of this new dream home for this great couple.
The husband catches a cold, shakes it but is left with this cough he can’t get rid of. In a matter of weeks he dies from some fast moving cancer.
The dream home dream, and everything else has just come crashing down around this most wonderful woman. The whole team is devastated. Several strange weeks on the job site later, I still can’t get my head around this, but the work has to continue, the project needs to be finished, if only for resale value so she has some level of security. As…. the dream is gone now.
Courageously, she picks up the control again, and through her grief successfully completes the project as designed. I will forever be in awe of her ability to be steadfast in clearly a very bad situation. A strong person for sure, one of the strongest I’ve met. L – we miss you.
We remain good friends, I don’t call or visit as much as I probably should – and now, after writing this, I think I’d like to come by for another late afternoon wine visit…
This photo is of her favorite spot in the house, it was my favorite spot on the site. After learning about them and their habits and lifestyle, I knew that this spot had to be their kitchen table.