Our family had a vacation home in the San Jacinto mountains of California for years.

My wife and I, our daughter, and our two pups packed up and headed up for a planned weekend of mountain fun.  Before the age of The-Weather-Channel-in-your-pocket, we got caught by a change in the weather when we were about 75% of the way.  Snow chains for the last hour of the three hour drive from San Diego (normally two).

Our vacation home was on a gravel road off the main road.  We could see the snow plows were out (unsung heroes), and I knew our gravel road was not on their agenda.  The plow people had left a pretty hefty snow berm in the way of accessing our gravel road that was covered with a couple feet of snow.

Driving my wife’s big V8 Thunderbird, I decided to go for it and gunned it, broke through/over the berm and made it about halfway to our vacation home, stuck.  “We’re here!”  Unpacked and trudged up the rest of the way with our stuff, while the pups were having a hay-day jumping around in the white stuff.

The following morning, the storm gone, we hike down to start digging.  While digging, a young couple with two small children come bounding up the snow-covered road with the greatest of ease in their big 4×4 SUV.  Turns out we’d gotten stuck right in front of their family cabin.  Nice people, offered to help, and we continued to talk while digging.  Conversation turned to “what do you do for a living” – when I said I was an architect, the wife instantly turned to her husband with eyebrows raised, then said; “we just happen to be interviewing architects now for a new home we want to build, would you like to throw your hat in the ring?”.

After proposal etc. I was commissioned to design their new home.  During the usual programmatic interviews, the husband informed me that he doesn’t want to be that guy that lives in that big house on the hill.  Their site was on the top of a hill.

A design was presented.  Met them at their current home, the husband arrived a little late.  I was just finishing taping up the drawing and rendering sketches when he walked in.  Went thru my dog n pony, all seemed to go well.  They walked me to my car, and while leaving, in my rear view mirror I saw her jump onto his back piggy-back style with glee.  Figured that was a good sign.  (He later informed me that when he walked in and saw my sketches taped up, he thought to himself; “Oh no, it’s round.  We’ll have to re-design).

While finalizing the construction drawings, just about ready to submit for a building permit, I find out she’s pregnant.  After a sleepless night, without them knowing, I figure out a way to squeeze in another kid’s bedroom without changing the footprint or architectural design of the structure.  Very happy people.

Construction drawings, engineering, processing etc. – fast forward… They decide not to hire a general contractor, she was going to build this house herself, with my help.  She had no experience at this.  Turned out she was very good at it, and we had a blast building this house together.

Design-wise:  The husband was the owner of a concrete block manufacturing company, so naturally concrete block was the preferred main construction material to be used.  But I wanted to do more, made every effort to make the home a celebration of concrete block.  Example – used raw concrete blocks on edge to form the fireplace mantle.  Apparently the kids love the holes, and use them at Christmas for hiding gifts.

Big house on the hill – given my design is non-traditional, maybe even unorthodox – feeling like I achieved the stated goal – even though the house is over 5,000 sq. ft. and on a hill.

The house won a design award, but more importantly I made lifelong friends with every family member.  Over the years, we’ve kept an eye on each other’s mountain cabins, and stayed in touch.

You never know what chance encounters can turn into.

Life truly is what happens to you, while you’re busy making plans.

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