Yikes! The new house plan came in $40K over budget. Our builder, Tom Fort---who carpentered our beautiful barnwood-clad shed---delivered the bad news. I'd like to say my reaction was a peaceful and shrugging "all will work out". Instead, the next morning, I woke before the first robin sang, typed all of Tom's numbers into spreadsheet rows (Concrete: $41K, Root River Hardwoods: $21K, ...) then postulated line by anxious line cost-cuts. I managed to wait until dawn before calling Tom. He was great, engaging in my potential solutions. "It'll work out. This happens every project." But in the end it felt like a bunch of compromises. Sheet rock where we wanted wood. No in-floor heat.
And somehow Linda and I still had to agree on all this. We'd danced so wonderfully together thus far, she and I in our own ways. The house design waltz. The magic of our marriage: always forward yet always together. One day perhaps, as our aging bodies surrender themselves to the creation, we'll defuse into luminous beings, dancing and swirling like morning mist above the pond. But now we'd bumped into a boulder, a mountain it seemed, on the dance floor. The thought of finding our way around, over or through exhausted us amidst the flotsam and jetsam of refinishing hardwood floors in our current house (we were entering our upstairs bedroom via a ladder through a window like burglars in our own home). And the mountain of cost-cutting compromise threatened to crush the spiritual core of our new home.
Because ours is The House the Land Built. Two years ago, at our first meeting with Paul Neseth of Locus Architecture, we didn’t hint at our new home’s style (no mention of ranch, rambler, log...). Nor did we say green or sustainable or net zero. Not even a budget. We essentially said the house had to do one thing: engage us in The Connection. The connection to the Land. The connection to you, our neighbors and the great community. The connection to the divine. Fired and focused by our values-driven vision, Paul unleashed his architectural wisdom and revealed to us the blueprint for our new home.
So inspired were we by this process (and outcome!) that twice now we’ve delivered a House the Land Built presentation, first to our loving Judson Church community and then before an engaged hundred at a Locus Architecture sponsored 2x2. Now Heather Bye-Kollbaum, a dear and determined friend, asked us to present at her next Food, Fellowship and Guitars gathering. Each time I do one, I know that this is exactly what I was called to do. So, if you’re so moved. Call. We’ll find a way to come and share our journey.
And an amazing part of that journey is the budget. That $number cascaded down from the high mountain lake---that is our need for Connection---one amongst a dozen lower falls and pooled mirror-like before us. Oh! I see. We need to cost the new house to keep us debt free, unleashing us to engage in our new life. If not, we’ll spend our days commuting to work rather than splitting wood, chasing Tiger Swallowtails over the buzzing prairie’s burst of color and clinking mugs with you at the harvest table. The budget became sacred. Like our new home’s corridor, the wood-lined hallway pulling you from the west porch right through the house onto the east porch, the budget enables The Connection.
So at 9PM Wednesday, after yet another day of painting, we met Paul at Locus Architecture’s new and move-disheveled office only block away. Brushing aside the dust of construction, we settled into a round table, poured wine into huge plastic glasses and began. “We need your magic,” we told Paul. “One last time. We don’t want to talk gypsum, spreadsheets and compromises. We want a design solution that meets our budget. The first hour felt bleak. We’d been through this once before, cutting each room down to their smallest (and best!) sizes. Then inspiration came. Perhaps it was the beer Linda found in the Locus refrigerator for Paul: Magic Hat.
“How about downsizing from a two car garage to a one car?” he suggested.
My eyes widened as I gasped out. “Of course!” And as we explored what that would mean, we loved it more and more. Car storage does little to enable The Connection, other than ensure that anyone with physical challenges could easily enter our home, and a one car garage can do that as well as a ten car. My Prius will gladly rest under the stars and come to know the touch of my ice-scraping hands. Linda’s CRV will snuggle in the garage, always ready to carry her weekly to and from her Grove Psychotherapy office on the Minneapolis riverfront.
Then the change revealed its full and thrillingly unexpected benefits. An entire side of the house, the two bedrooms and bath north of the corridor, keeping all interior spaces the same size which shrinking both the east porch and west. Now all important porches became cozy rooms rather than wide frontages. While they’d always looked wonderfully big and beautiful on the drawing, we’d always struggled to imagine ourselves out there. Not now! And one porch faces south and east toward the wide expanse of the Land, and the other north and west up the road waiting for you to come driving over the ridge.
Sometimes I’m so slow, so reluctant, to trust my heart and soul. Under stress, I easily fall back upon the spreadsheets of my little mind. My heart needs the Connection. My heart needs the Land. My heart needs you. Then she flourishes. Granting me courage to downsize, to prune all that is between me and the divine and then experience…
… the glory of what remains.