Chapter 2: A Man and His Plan
From the (relative) comfort of my camper—which I'd modified extensively for full-time residence—I invested months in the design of my dream home. My kind of dream, however, isn't like that of most others. I'm not interested in spacious interiors with cathedral ceilings, vast "great rooms" or anything meant to impress others. I have no one to impress, and I do not wish to occupy any more space than I genuinely require. Curb appeal? That's a laugh! The house is a half-mile from the road; it will only be seen by me, the deer and the squirrels. The only thing that matters to me is the setting.
I entertained all sorts of design concepts, beginning with the notion of using old shipping containers, a very trendy thing to do these days. But as I researched the process of converting them to suit the northeast, I learned that I was probably better off building something more conventional, so I went back to work. I'd reached draft 21 when I felt as though the floor plan was done, and submitted it to my architect.
The plan was somewhat unusual, having two levels: the lower level was the main living space, an open area that combined kitchen, living room and bedroom, and surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows; the upper level comprised a studio, office and garage. One more twist: the entire structure would be poured concrete, partly because the house would be half-buried in the ravine, and partly because I like the material (especially after having visited Fonthill). My architect was relieved to be working on something other than an "ordinary McMansion." This was certainly anything but; at a mere eight hundred square feet, it nearly qualified as a mini-home.
But I was about to be surprised. When I finally staked out the foundation perimeter where the house would go, I discovered it wouldn't fit—even as small as it was, it sat within a few feet of two huge trees, one on either side. And I adamantly refused to cut either of them down. Indeed, I resisted cutting down any trees. Thankfully, most that stood where the house was going were either dead or dying; there was only one "good" tree that I had no choice but to drop. It was heartbreaking.
So, it was back to the drawing board. Three weeks and seventeen drafts later, I had a more slender, streamlined design that fit comfortably between the trees. As a bonus, it became even more dramatic, now having three levels that descended into the ravine. Plus, because the house grew in length, it stretched towards a stand of trees, and I designed a new three-level deck to wrap around them. I forwarded it to my architect, with apologies for changing gears.
My next surprise came from the architect. Actually, the surprise was that nothing came from the architect. Months dragged by. "It'll just be a few more weeks; I've been really swamped lately." Meanwhile, I sat staring at the floor plan, wondering when I might be able to stick a shovel in the ground.
As if I needed a distraction, my body began demanding attention in a major way. I required surgery to correct a hernia, and before I was even fully healed, I contracted Lyme Disease. And the Lyme triggered a debilitating round of Sarcoidosis. Consequently I spent most of the summer flat on my back, sick as a dog and in excruciating pain. Plus it was a blistering summer—the camper, its puny AC utterly overwhelmed, occasionally peaked in the 90s.
To keep my mind off of the heat and the pain, I decided to see how much I could get done without the all-important blueprint. After conferring with the Township, I learned that I could start work on the infrastructure, such as septic, well and electric service; I only had to submit a soil conservation application and perform a percolation test.
I promptly obtained estimates to design a septic system, then did battle with the engineers because they wanted to move my camper and cut down a bunch of trees, both of which I'd already mandated were not options. Ultimately I designed the septic system myself, and to my great surprise and relief, my plan was accepted. It wasn't a simple system, either: because there was only one tree-free space big enough for the disposal bed, it wound up higher than the main level of the house, requiring a pump.
Meanwhile, from my architect I received... nothing. My brewing frustration became anger, and I think the anger helped me break through the pain. I decided that I had to accomplish something tangible, something that gave me some sense of control.