Ever since I was a young girl, one of my dreams has been to build my own home.
In my mind, I could see myself out on this beautiful piece of land with sweat on my brow, dirt on my nose and a hammer in my hand as I pounded nails, laid block, sawed, painted and performed other acts of manual labor to physically create, foot-by-foot and wall-by-wall, my very own self-made home. At one time, back in my really idealistic days, I not only wanted to create my own house, but I wanted to create everything in it—all the furniture, the rugs, the curtains, a stained glass window here and there. I figured if I was going to dream, I might as well dream big.
Since I’m the kind of woman that has had my own workbench and power tools since I was 18, I didn’t really think this was an out-of-reach plan for me. I’ve been known to go into my garage and create a new piece of furniture just because I’m bored on a weekend.
I always kept the dream-home idea in the back of my mind, but I never did much to pursue the dream for the first 40 years of my life.
And then one day, I realized that the time to build my dream home had finally arrived.
When I was a teen-ager (or probably actually in my twenties, but I hate to admit I was that old), I had this incredible crush on Mark Harmon back when he used to do the Coors beer commercials. I had read an article about him and he had said that he wanted to meet a woman that could live happily in the woods. A woman who was comfortable with sawdust in her hair and sweat dripping off of her nose. All my life I had wanted to meet a man that thought like that, and I never did. Instead, I met men that wanted me to wear high heels and makeup and thought they should be the ones who owned the tools in the family. Until I met the right man, I had no desire to build the house.
Well, fate finally brought me the dream man that I wanted to spend my life with, right at the same time that fate brought me a pretty good sum of money. That is when Tom and I started on our adventure to build our own home.
Little did I know what an overwhelming and complicated process it was going to be. Little did I know that the process of building a home is not only sweating and swinging a hammer, but making hundreds of decisions to take all the ideas you have been carrying around for forty some years and suddenly making them fit together and fall into place to become a house.
We took months to find our perfect piece of land. It is so perfect that I almost hated to clear any of it to make room for the house, but at the same time I was itching to actually live here.
And then came another really challenging part, drawing up our plans. It’s easy, when you are a kid, to draw a house that you would like to live in. But the process of trying to draw up your own plans as an adult is very complicated. Will the rooms be big enough? Or are they too big? Are there enough closets? Are the hallways big enough? Are the windows in the right places? Where should the electrical outlets go? Tom and I complimented each other well in this process. I have always been frugal and have simple tastes. My tendency would probably have been to spend as little as possible and end up with a house that was too small and was built out of shoddy materials. My better half thinks more logically about these things. He knows that you get what you pay for and that it is better to build too big than to build too small. He made sure that we got the quality of house that we wanted. And I made sure that we did it as cheaply as possible.
I spent a LOT of my free time looking at building magazines, visiting building web-sites, shopping for doors and windows and flooring and even switch plates and doorknobs. I couldn’t drive down the street without looking at the details of all of the houses I passed. And I found out very quickly that most of the things that I had pictured in my dream home were way out of our budget. Unless you have an endless supply of money, building a house is a lot about compromises.
As for the actual construction process, we sub-contracted a lot of it. But there was also a lot of the work that we did ourselves. We spent weeks doing a lot of hand-clearing and deciding where we wanted the house. And Tom was out there every day supervising what everyone else did. I stained all of the wood trim and doors myself, and we have a LOT of wood trim. Tom and one of his best friends, Dale, did most of the interior framing, while I toted lumber for them as needed. We also built and installed the window frames and closet doors and our huge sliding glass door. And Tom and I put cedar siding on the front and back porches.
During the whole process, I learned a lot about house construction but I also learned something even more exciting. What I learned is, that the dream is not the house of wood and block and glass and tile we built. The dream is my better half, my significant other, the person who accepts me with the sawdust in my hair and the sweat dripping off my nose and the dirt on my chin. It is not the house we built together that has made my life so exciting and fulfilling; it is finally finding the right person that I wanted to build that house with. And it is not so much the building of the house as it is the life and the future we are building. I think that was probably the real dream all along. I just never really thought I’d ever find it.
**Author’s note: This essay was first written in 1999, while we were still building our home. I changed it after we were done with construction and finally sent it in to Chicken Soup for the Soul sometime in 2012. It has been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Book, Home Sweet Home©2014 . This particular version isn’t exactly the same as the one that appears in the book.