Why Do This?
Why Build My Own Home?
There are many reasons.
I've always wanted to. I've dreamt of this since I was a boy. I've built a number of scale models of homes I'd designed for myself—one of them even won an award. Plus, I've been something of a renaissance man (closer to a jack of all trades, to be perfectly honest) for much of my life, and believed that building my own home was the ultimate means to exercise a diverse set of skills.
Satisfaction. Doing something yourself—particularly something as significant as this—is more satisfying than just about anything else. Even sex. Seriously. Consider: an orgasm lasts at most a minute; my home will last the rest of my life. I look at my surroundings and think: I did all of this. That's downright awesome. And I've frequently been complimented on the quality of my work, which is icing on the cake.
A way to realize a goal. For much of my adult life, my goal has been to live someplace where I could not see—or be seen by—anyone else. I'm an intensely private person; antisocial, loner, mountain man—I've been given many labels. But I actually enjoy living alone, and occasionally fantasize about being among the last people on Earth. My home allows me to imagine this scenario, but the fact that I can do this in a place as crowded as New Jersey is like winning the lottery.
I have a singular vision. My idea of a "perfect" home doesn't align with that of most others, and the chances of finding an existing home that met my requirements was exceedingly small, because—
I have particular preferences. Yes, there are plenty of asocial individuals who wish to live in a wilderness setting, isolated from humanity for the most part. But I also prefer a small home, semi-subterranean if possible, and built in my own peculiar style. Modifying an existing structure to my liking would almost certainly be more work than building new, not to mention significantly more costly.
Knowing what's what, where and why. I'll have an intimate familiarity with every board, pipe and wire in the structure, so maintenance and modification wouldn't be something of an archeological dig. I've lived in many homes spanning a broad range of ages and styles (my first home was a 100-year-old bungalow), and I've done a considerable amount of refurbishment, up to and including complete gutting and flipping. It's always been a frustrating process to try and understand things; too often I'd been left wondering, "Why the hell did they do that?"
It would be exactly the way I wanted it. For better or worse (remember the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for"). Just the process of getting the architectural drawings done to reach something acceptable was a struggle, and it was a very good thing indeed that I wasn't required to strictly adhere to the blueprints when it came time to build because, at the rate we were going, it might have otherwise taken years to get exactly what I wanted from my architect. We were down to pushing doors and walls around a few inches at a time, and it still wasn't working. It's not as though I was asking for the impossible; if that was the case, I wouldn't have been able to build it myself. Yet I have.
Emotional distraction. The last few years leading up to my move here had been especially bad and emotionally damaging, and building a house was a way to help clear my mind so I could heal. Unfortunately, that didn't work out as planned, because I wound up stuck in a whole new heap o' crap that very nearly doomed the project. But things have been slowly turning around—emphasis on slowly.
Why Build In Central New Jersey?
When I was four, my parents bought a summer home on a lake in New Hampshire (below), and I grew to love that state. Consequently I'd often imagined myself living in the middle of 120 acres of New Hampshire mountainside—which, as it happens, was perfectly feasible. Indeed, had I not been totally screwed over by my father, I might be living in the summer home right now, having rebuilt it for year-round use. But that's a very long, very ugly story best left for another time and venue.
Slides I took of our summer home, circa 1975. Above is the cabin; it sits on the shore of Bearcamp Pond, near the headwaters of the Bearcamp River. Below is the view from the porch; the peak in the distance is Mount Whiteface.
However, nearly all of my friends live in central New Jersey, and over time I've become increasingly inclined to remain closer them. Also, getting older imposes certain practical limitations, particularly with respect to health: living in a remote wilderness would restrict my access to healthcare, and put me at greater risk if I should suffer serious illness or injury. And then there were convenience issues, such as access to building supplies or even just groceries.
But aside from New Hampshire, there's no other place I'd rather live than New Jersey. Yes, really. I've endured endless, predictable jokes about the state, but in truth they're all based on grossly inaccurate perceptions derived mostly from The Sopranos and/or Jersey Shore. Visitors to my property often exclaim they can't believe they're in central New Jersey. Surprise! My property is hardly unique; people simply have the wrong idea about the state—they're usually expecting something along the lines of Elizabeth or Camden. Yes, there are a great many areas here that are highly undesirable places to live. Yes, it's the most densely-populated state in the U.S.—often quoted by those who have no idea it still contains vast areas devoid of people. The truth is, there are countless properties just as nice as mine—and many others that are far and away more stunning—here in the (aptly-named) Garden State.
That I was able to find such a place was simply a matter of fortunate circumstance. It was all down to timing—when which lots appear on the market—and affordability. I'd scoured the state for months when I found it, and I bought it literally within minutes of seeing it for the first time because:
Is it 100% perfect? Hardly. But I could never have afforded what I'd consider "perfect." That would have been some multi-million-dollar parcel located along the Delaware River somewhere between Stockton and Frenchtown, in a spectacular canyon carved out of solid rock; I'd have built my home within a verdant canyon wall—just like a cliff dwelling—overlooking a cascade of water. I know such properties exist, because I've seen some. But they'll forever remain a dream. Fortunately, what I've found is good enough that it's easy for me to imagine I'm in that perfect place.
And Why Build This Website?
Although I don't have a lot of friends, I have enough that this website helps everyone stay up-to-date with my progress. Also, writing helps me keep my head on straight; documenting what I do is a surprisingly useful exercise. Plus I get a strange kick out of thinking that visitors from around the world might enjoy watching me make a complete fool of myself. But most of all, it forces me into a routine that helps keep me from slipping into a really bad place—worse than the one I'm in most of the time, that is.
Incidentally, this website is all mine, too. In my long career I've been, among many other things, a web developer, photographer, and writer, as well as a graphic artist and visual designer. So creating and maintaining this site from the ground up has been a cakewalk. And a pleasure.
Copyright © 2017-2019 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.