Sunday, April 8, 2007


Tumbleweed Houses are pretty affordable, but their dimensions and amenities are pretty much like those of a trailer camper. Not what I want to be living in 10, much less 20, years from now.

My meetings with architects weren't a total waste of time, because the conversations did help me see more clearly and become more confident about what I wanted to build. And, I'll admit that I did pick up an idea or two that I'm incorporating into the design. I also stumbled across a book by A. J. Downing, an early American tastemaker. In the mid-1850's he published a book called, The Architecture of Country Houses. It's still available in paperback, and many of his ideas for how Americans should build country houses are still surprisingly relevant today.

One architect did have a glimpse of what I want to do. He's a classicist, and toward the end of our meeting he commented, "basically you want to build a folly." Ding! Ding! And his advice? "Make sure that the design of the house allows light to flood in from all four sides. You'll have the feeling of a wonderful pavilion in the field."

He nailed it on the head. I've always fantasized about garden follies. In my magazine tear sheets, I even have an example of an onion-domed folly in a field. I think it was something I had torn from The World of Interiors. When he made that comment, it suddenly became clear. I wanted to build an American farmhouse folly. A small house inspired by the rural, agrarian landscape. Small but big enough to call home.

My Tumbleweed Houses plans for a simple, small house evolved as I worked with Mark and Eric Misner, his architectural draftsman. Oak Tree Homes offers a design service. With my simple plans (and I mean simple) I needed something with more details specs for a builder to even start estimating costs. I paid an initial design fee, which would cover the costs of Eric developing new plans for a house. With the fee paid, I could have taken the plans and gone to another builder, but I chose to stay with Oak Tree. The design fee will be reimbursed when we sign a contract to build.

I started meeting with Mark and Eric back in January. It was quite a heady experience. Week after week, we'd meet late on Friday afternoons. As I explained, Eric started with the cross gable concept, and Mark walked me through lists of design features, building materials and utilities. I felt like a kid at Christmas. I want. I want. I want. And, a new house started taking shape on paper.

That was until bids started coming in and the estimate started escalating. I use the word escalating, because at one point a couple of months ago the costs for building the house were growing by $100,000 every week. When we pasted the half a million mark, I came to my senses and told Mark I didn't think I could build the house. In fact, I felt confident that I had to stop. To put this into some perspective, in the beginning I thought I was going to build a Tumbleweed House for about $80,000. Ha....

Fortunately, I was in good hands. Mark explained that there were aspects of the costs that we could revisit. So, we started looking at alternatives, and here we are today. The house plans are looking beautiful, and the price is coming down, and we're getting closer to a figure that I can manage to afford.

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