Design Build Part 1
Updated: May 13, 2021
Warning: Architects in Tractors are Closer Than They Appear.
I am often asked about my experience designing and physically building my own house with my own bare hands from the ground up. I've decided that the story is worth telling and that this blog on my website is the perfect venue to catalog the story. So this post will be the first of many over the coming weeks. It's a unique story but it's spirit is universal and I feel that sharing it might inspire others to make the leap and build their dream, whatever that dream is, and enjoy their dream now. Later never comes, and as Louis Prima said "...it's later than you think!" So here's our story on how to design and build a custom home. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did living it.
In 2007 my soon to be wife and I bought property in Placitas, New Mexico with the intention to build our own custom home. At that point I had been out of the Architecture Graduate Program for two years. During that two years I had been working for Bart Prince during the day and continuing to work at the tattoo shop at night. I had been tattooing for years, previous to and all through Graduate school. It was a lot of long hours working for Bart and the tattoo shop, but I like to keep busy and I had a new family and ambitions that needed the funds. I like to joke that tattooing paid for my early and insatiable architecture habit. Doing this project meant that I was going to have to give up working at Bart's studio once I began construction on my own house. I was going to have to build during the day and tattoo at night to pay for this endeavor. Leaving my position at Bart Prince's studio was not easy but he assured me I was going to get far more valuable and experiential knowledge doing my own construction project than I ever would have received working at his studio. As usual, he was right.
My wife and I found the property on a snow day. Everything was shut down for the storm, but we knew the property we found would not last long on the market and we had to act fast. The owner of the property had lowered the price for a quick sale the day we found it. The site was perfect for us; a great south facing slope facing a deep arroyo with seasonal water flow and a great view of the Sandia Mountains. Surprisingly the property was right next door to the property for which I had done the design for my Master's Thesis Project. Serendipity! We needed to get a broker and make an offer immediately before some developer scoffed up the land. As I mentioned, nobody wanted to answer the phone that day as it was a snow day. After dozens of calls I was finally able to reach one of my tattoo clients who had been a real estate broker for years and, subsequently, a recently transitioned transvestite. She was a great help and we were able to secure the property just hours before another interested party. This was just before the financial crash of 2008 and properties were selling fast and furiously in those days. We were thrilled. I had done plenty of construction in the days before tattooing and graduate school, so I knew there was a lot of hard work to come, but I had never been more excited to work so hard.
In the coming months I would work harder than I had ever worked in my life. Looking back, those were to be the most physically taxing days I had ever been through but I can say without any reservations whatsoever that it was entirely worth every effort. To this day we still marvel at what we were able to accomplish with such limited funds and limited help. Really? We were going to build a custom home on a teacher and tattoo artist's salaries using almost exclusively my labor efforts?!?..... Yes! Yes we were! What we lacked in financial means, I knew I could make up for with style and an unwavering determination. I wanted a home for my new family and I wanted to be able to tell clients, yes, I design creative architecture AND I know how to build it. It was not easy, but looking back I loved every minute of it. The effort required a steadfast spirit that is best represented by the attached picture to this post. There was a heavy equipment rental place just seven miles from our property. We had rented a small casita nearby to the property and I would ride my bike to the equipment rental place. It was cheaper in gas than the delivery charge for me to drive tractors to the job site so I would ride my bike to the equipment rental place, throw my bike in the bucket of the tractor and drive to start carving the earth to build our new home.And that's what you see in the picture. It was day one of tractor work. It was winter and so it was snowy. It was cold in the cab but I couldn't have been happier or more excited. As a project may sometimes require, I will still do construction. However, these days I mostly stick to design. However, that spirit, that thrill, that unadulterated joy I experienced building our home has remained with me as I begin every new design to this day.