We bought a house: next steps to build our dream home

I know that I’m lucky; I can walk-through a space and envision EXACTLY how it will look when we’re all done. I spied our little bungalow and knew that site could become the perfect modern farmhouse- all white board and batten, black divided light windows and doors, light oak floors, a touch of ship lap… the list goes on…

Just because I can visualize it, doesn’t mean that my husband can. Before we put an offer in on the house, I created a preliminary floor plan and a Pinterest board so he could get a picture of exactly what I was thinking. I always want my husband to “buy into” the look, feel and energy in our future house. His list of needs is short, but I want to make sure that I embrace them and elegantly work them into the overall design plan.

Through an arm of my design business I offer a service called . I go into a client’s home before they have purchased, and tell them exactly what we can do to  turn their new property into their dream home. It is so rewarding to help people develop their vision and to do it before they’ve committed their life savings to something they’re not sure will work. This time I got to offer the service to my own family, so we can go into this big purchase knowing it will be successful.

So how do I go about designing a house?

First, I like to create a wish/need list. Everyone has them; those things that are required for your daily family functioning and those “wish list” items that would be killer to include. And let’s be real, a lot of these “needs” are still wants, but when you’re designing your house from scratch you have to set priorities. Here are ours:

Need:

  1. Mudroom – as my kids get older they seem to have different bags for each activity and right now they all sit in my hallway
  2. One car attached garage- it rains a lot here
  3. Three bedrooms on a single floor with two baths- right now our kids wake up in the morning and come into our room and snuggle. This buys us at least another 10 of sleep, which is worth any amount of money.
  4. Separate, dedicated office for me- I have lots of drawings, samples, etc. that I need to have at the ready and walking all over my house to look for them (as I do now) just isn’t working.
  5. Flat yard space for play- obvi with two young kiddos.
  6. Fireplace in the family room – ok, not a need, but I really miss the one we had in California, so it feels like one.
  7. Island in the kitchen- I recently did a guest blog post for YLighting, all about entertaining in your kitchen, and our island is the center of that.
  8. Gym location for my husband with taller ceiling for lifting weights- gotta support the husband working on his fitness
  9. Hardwood floors on main level- we have two dogs and the hair from them on a carpeted surface is not my jam.

Want:

  1. Pretty front door facing street- check out my Pinterest board to see why
  2. Two car attached garage- would be nice to have room for our stroller, bikes (their population seems to be growing), extra paint, ski gear, or oh yeah, my husband’s car.
  3. Separate dining room- I have dreams of gracefully entertaining my closest friends with exquisite food and fine wine, ha!
  4. Prep sink in the kitchen- again something I had in California and it was great.
  5. Large folding doors to backyard- I’ve put these in other houses and they’re so wonderful. They offer a huge amount of light in, great for those dreary winters, and lots of air flow for those hot Seattle summers.
  6. Laundry room on bedroom level- between the sheets and clothes, this is where the most laundry is generated.
  7. Fireplace in the living room- amazing for those cozy Christmas mornings.
  8. Walk-in pantry- oh, a girl can dream
  9. Big enough kid’s bedroom that my boys can share-  we went to Disneyland last spring, the boys loved being in the same room, so on our return home they staged a coup and refused to sleep in separate rooms. It’s super cute now, but in the beginning we had some late nights of them keeping each other awake.

Obviously, there are other things we’d like, but these are the ones that were most important and helped inform the design decisions that I made while starting the process.

It’s super important to investigate the requirements of the local building code. We had to explore exactly what our building envelop would be based on required setbacks. In our case, we have 5’ side setbacks and 20’ setbacks on the front. The Seattle building website is actually really helpful (a small miracle). They offer “tips” that help clearly explain what requirements your project will have and the appropriate steps to take.

housing envvelope.jpg

Once I had my building envelope I could start designing the dream. But first I needed the right tools. I can’t live without these products for my drafting:

First, I like to do preliminary drafting very loose, nothing is overly perfect and Pentel pen allows me to draw lines that are approximately the thickness of the interior walls when drawing at ¼” = 1’ scale.

For tighter drawing or to show windows, I like to use Stylist pen. It gets a really nice, smooth line that looks super clean.

What is a drawing without some trace paper. I buy it in rolls because I like to easily tear it off and start a new sheet. It’s not uncommon for me to stack 4-5 sheets on top of each other as I’m exploring different layout options and this feels un-restrained.

Lastly, I use a triangular architects scale. I like to have multiple scale options. Sometimes drawings I received from engineers or architects will have drawings done in different scales so this is a simple tool I can use for everything.

The beginning of the design process is one of the most creative, particularly when building from scratch, so I want to leave myself free to imagine anything I’ve dreamed within the framework of our needs. I block out the plans very loosely, then slowly add in more and more detail. As you can see below it’s all loose and messy, I don’t want to get overly tied to one idea before I’ve explored all the options.

trace-image

I take into account past houses I’ve designed, where the sunlight will be, flow of traffic and the way we (or the clients) live our lives. With each iteration the designs become tighter and tighter.

This is where hiring a professional designer can be so important. You may be able to pull the perfect Pinterest board together, but how do you know how much space you want between the island and the backline counters, how big should your bedrooms should be, how people are currently designing homes so you can get the best return on your investment should you choose to sell? I think it’s really important to have a “design ally” in the process, someone who is an effective sounding board for your ideas. Or perhaps, you want someone who synthesizes your dreams and contributes to make them a reality.

I’m happy to say that we were able to get all our need and want items and so many other things that I was able to dream up: a walk-in closet at the entry to serve as a second mudroom with space for a bench; a wall of cabinets in the family room where we can store rolling bins of toys and shelves for books that can easily be closed up; an indoor/outdoor fireplace in our family room that allows us to enjoy the fire year round; a bath for the boys that’s large enough that we can door off the shower/toilet area so as they get older they can each have privacy during the chaos of getting ready in the morning.

With the end of this phase of the process I was ready to hire an architect and get submittal drawings ready. We’re that much closer to having a building permit and breaking ground!

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The one that got away…

I’ll admit it, I’m a house junky. I love shopping for them, enjoying beautiful ones my friends own, designing them, really anything having to do with hearth and home. I’m obsessed.

My husband and I were lucky enough to be able to take this super funky little house in a dream neighborhood and make it our own, including built-in coffee maker for him and heated bathroom carrara floors for me. It just felt like “us” and we regularly pinched ourselves that we got to come home to that everyday.

Then came the time for my husband to look for a permanent position after being in school and training forever! My husband studies metastatic breast cancer and has worked his butt off to be able to run his own lab. He was offered a perfect opportunity in Seattle to work for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and we had to jump at the chance.

By jump, I mean I had to question, cry, get excited, feel sad, look forward to, and generally get used to idea of moving to an entirely new part of the country (while 8 months pregnant with our 2nd) after living in California all of my life!

One weekend in October 2013 we flew up to Seattle with a long list of houses to look at, with the goal of finding our dream one. Well… it didn’t quite go as planned. By the time we met with our realtor 3 of my favorite houses were already in escrow, and many of the others were just too much work to take on given how far i was in my pregnancy. The Seattle market is out of control and at the end of the weekend, we had one house left on the list. It had a good floor plan, an attached garage (a rarity even in rainy Seattle), and while everything was “done,” I didn’t really like it.

When you’re moving to a new state, are about to have a baby, and have two large dogs that make finding a rental nearly impossible, you take what you can get.

So we got our new house, had our beautiful baby, and started to settle into this new life of ours, which now also involved me expanding my design business to Seattle and growing my office in California as well.

As I’m typing, all of this sounds like a lot, but really we’ve created this beautiful little life, our children are happy, we’ve made lots of wonderful friends, my husband is doing important work and my business is thriving!

Just one thing continued to nag on me and that was our new home. I believe that 99% of people would be thrilled to live here, but doing what I do means that I want my home to feel like an extension of myself and my family. It’s really, really important to me and feeds my happiness and contentment.

About three months ago my husband and I decided to start “passively” looking for a new home. Which meant that I began obsessively scouring Redfin, asking our real estate agents if they knew of anything coming on the market, and driving to the neighborhoods we had decided we wanted to live in to check commute times, see how many people waved as I drove down the street, etc.

Then one day, we found it…

It was in the perfect neighborhood, had a flat large lot (virtually impossible to find in Seattle), needed a ton of work so I didn’t have to feel guilty about ripping it apart, and was going to have a lot of interest.

We’re from California, we know about a competitive market, but this even took us by surprise. We put our best foot forward, made an offer well above ask, with very few contingencies… and still didn’t get it! It ended up selling for 40% over asking with 12 offers!

We were heartbroken. But for me, heartbreak has always been a call to action. The next day (a Thursday), at the suggestion of our realtor, I was back on the same street driving up and down to see if there were any houses that looked interesting. We were going to cold call owners to see if anyone was interested in selling. And then I saw it, a tiny for rent sign, on a tiny bungalow, on the same street (two blocks down) as the one that got away.

I immediately called the number and asked if they’d be interested in selling, and they said they would be “for the right price”. Thankfully, that price was well below what we’d just lost out on, and we were in escrow by Monday!

And now, here we are, about to embark on a new project: building our dream home where we hope to create special new memories with our children, friends and family. Again we feel lucky and are pinching ourselves that we get to create something that feels like “us,” this time in Seattle.

This blog will be a chronicle of our story, my designs, the building process and anything else that comes along.

Follow me on this journey!