This is how I tend to make big decisions, as Christy seems to as well; with a healthy dose of whim and chance. That's how I got to Seattle, why I've stayed in Seattle and how I met Christy and embarked on this adventure with her. If coincidence is a good sign of following that cosmic current, things are looking great for us.
We spent several months looking for land, a task which became my full-time job for the last few of those months. (If you're curious, I've got a pretty good handle on any piece of property in the state west of the Cascades. Just ask.) We liked the Newellhurst property, now know as Mellish Fields West, right off the bat. Our trusty real estate agent and de facto life coach Brigetta Johnson even wrote up an offer... which never got signed. On our way to meet with her, we went back after having looked at some plat maps to try and better determine the property lines. We found corner stakes which excluded a lot of the more private, wooded land that had initially attracted us and, we decided, the land was not desirable without. It was back to searching and the offer was shredded.
While driving around with my lists of addresses, I kept thinking of the Newellhurst land and cursing whoever cut it into it's useless shape. On a particularly depressing day: three properties I didn't even get out of the truck for, it was that lingering feeling that drove me and my Toyota pickup back down that dirt road in Kingston. I wasn't expecting the corner posts to have gotten up and walked back a few hundred feet, I was really just planning to smoke a cigarette in the field and whisper angry words at Jerkos, the Greek God of Real Estate.
As I pulled up, passing the house which hides the land from the road, someone came running after my truck excitedly. He introduced himself as Dane, the owner and neighbor of the lot. He had seem my truck there before, he said, and was anxious to answer any questions I had. He had just fired his real estate agent and was now representing it himself. "I don't think the shape of it is going to be useful for us" I told him.
(On a side not, there is an epidemic of lazy real estate agents at the moment. When we found Brigetta, whom we gelled with, we didn't let go... like a bull dog. She stuck it out with us and our crazy dreams for months and months, and three different offers!)
The agent who was previously representing Dane's land had made only vague, dismissive references to the land's "strange shape", and sent small scale, low resolution plat maps which read like hieroglyphics, one of the leading causes for Dane's new DIY approach. On hearing my disappointment he ran inside and came back with a thick folder of maps, utility quotes, easement records... the works. We had, in fact, assumed the shape incorrectly. When Dane took me to all the corners, pointing them out on the map, and down the path through the woods to a half of the property we had never even seen, my smoldering affection for the land burst back into flame. It was a pretty short period of time before Christy came back out, papers were signed, hands shaken and Mellish Fields West christened.
None of this would have happened were it not for an inexplicable desire to see a piece of land which had already disappointed us. An absent minded float with the clandestine currents of the universe....
Recently, while searching for local architects with interests in sustainable design, I came across O'Connor Architects, on Bainbridge Island. Their website touched on some of those topics, and portrayed the firm, correctly it turns out, as a small, independent, down-to-earth and friendly group of people. I sent their head architect, Peter O'Connor a message explaining our plans and asking some general questions, making it a point to say that we might not want, need or be able to afford their services, which he responded to very helpfully. Over a couple of back and forth e-mails, he wondered if Christy, working in the theatre world, might know his son, Peter Dylan. Christy had, in fact, just worked on a show outside of her regular house gigs with him! Days before my first e-mail to Peter, Christy, Peter Dylan and I were hanging out on a roof top after opening night, apparently not talking about building.
There go those currents again!
Peter and Brandon Hogg, another architect at the firm, have been working with us to start putting together a site map and floor plan. While we'll be building ourselves, the aid of experienced professionals has already been invaluable, and will make the getting of permits about 10,000x easier. The money we pay them will more than make up for itself in stupid mistakes avoided.
Speaking of money, I want to take a moment to address an elephant in the corner of this website. We're making it a point to be open about how much this project is costing us, in hopes that the information will be helpful to anyone thinking about heading down the same road. (We'll be updating the Costs page of the website soon, by the way.) The natural question, heretofore unaddressed, is where this money came from and how two people like us expect to build a house full time with no income.
Three years ago my father died. It was unexpected and untimely and more than a little disorienting. He had made a life for himself as the singer in the band Boston, at least a couple songs from which you would certainly know even if you can't place them immediately. Look it up. Buy CD while you're at it.... While traveling on the road, he would check into hotels under the pseudonym Fielding Mellish (extra points if you can name the reference!), a joke which made it onto the brass door knocker of his house. After his passing, his fiance Pamela named the house Mellish Fields. Mellish Fields East is now implied...
Despite his success, he made a point, in his own quiet way, of living a simpler, humble life in a modest home in rural New Hampshire, an esthetic which certainly has made an impression on me. The money used to buy our land outright came from his estate. We have no mortgage, and with the money we each have saved up separately, and some VERY careful budgeting and creative building, we hope to build this house without debt. That's a luxury that can't be overstated, but will always be bittersweet, having come from an exchange that I wish could be undone. The most I can do now is use it in a way I think he would have approved of, and keep his memory in mind.
There is still some money left after the purchase of the land, and if people keep buying Rock Band video games, I'll still have a bit of income while I'm not cooking. So... we have the benefit of a reasonable budget and no mortgage, which should be factored in the cost of the project. No mortgage means cheap labor, as we'll be working for ourselves instead of "the man". Something to keep in mind if you plan on heading down this particular road. In the meantime, you can start making bets as to whether we'll actually get a roof over our heads while they're still above water!