The world is crowded with thoughtless houses – ones that never work well for their inhabitants because they were built with a lack of careful thought and consideration for the needs of the people who would live there.
Inevitably, these bland, boring and ill designed offspring of urban sprawl are built in overpriced locations near major employment centers or on rural land that has been stripped of trees to make way for cul de sacs in subdivisions. Crammed so close to each other that their owners can practically touch their own and their neighbor’s outer wall at the same time, these houses are the next fatal step after a miserable trip home from work in rush hour traffic. They do nothing so much as inspire their inhabitants to hit the mall on Saturdays in an attempt to get Martha Stewart or another bedspread designer to help fix the flawed interior. Home Depot thrives on them because the first impulse any home owner feels upon moving into one is to head for a home improvement store to try to fix as many flawed design elements as possible, redo as many surfaces as possible and give the blankety-blank thing a bit of personality to replace the pure vanilla.
Living in such structures is like being Petunia and Vernon Dursley from the Harry Potter series. Anyone who values living in a beautiful, well functioning environment quickly turns into as big a crab as Vernon in one of these houses.
The mood doesn’t improve once the energy bills arrive. Residential buildings account for almost 54 percent of U.S. energy consumption and cost the average family thousands each year.
We lived for four years in one of these nightmare houses, after having made the mistake of listening to a realtor who pointed out all of the ways in which it would have resale value. We redid every surface in it and still found its design ill suited to our needs. When we sold it, we got a single low ball offer in six months on the market, and were so fed up with the house that we took it and moved on. Sadly, half of the houses in our area were similar badly constructed messes, created by builders who clear cut the lots and then threw up slapdash little houses made of sticks.
We next turned to a semi-custom builder who built charming little houses and we picked a much better house plan off the Internet for him to build. Upon moving into this house, the transformation in our lifestyle and quality of life was dramatic and immediate. We loved every minute of living in this beautiful little house, despite the fact that it had one irritating design flaw caused by the builder having refused to organize the kitchen the way we wanted it.
However, this quaint little teacup of a home had one show-stopping flaw. The builder had not insulated it well, and it cost a fortune to heat and air condition it.
After a decade, we decided to try again, more slowly and thoughtfully, to build an affordable house that was energy efficient, charming, located in a lovely and convenient place and made to function perfectly for a middle class lifestyle.
This blog is the story of what so far has been an arduous, sometimes disheartening and sometimes exciting four-year odyssey. We discovered that building a thoughtful house isn’t easy or inexpensive. We have had to sift though an appalling number of dishonest and manipulative realtors, builders who for one reason or another ended up not being a good fit for our house and stacks of regulations and rules. We have had to be creative and flexible far beyond the level we could have imagined and to be willing to pay well for professional expertise to pull it off.
Houses, we have found, are like other inanimate objects. Ever wonder why people affectionately personify favorite cars, pajamas, and other objects which seem to inexplicably have a warm, caring personality? Such items are almost always designed to meet the owner's needs in some way that is important to them. The feeling that an inanimate object is a good friend often stems from the kindness and thoughtfulness of the designers and creators of the objects, who cared enough to build something that works well for other people.
It is our hope that our house will be one of those objects. We have come to call it The Thoughtful House because of the enormous amount of thought that we and the professionals who are helping us create it have put into it.
Next: how we chose our site….
Architectural plan of The Thoughtful House by Greg Steffensen of Greg Steffensen Architect. Copyright 2014 by Greg Steffensen.
Photography by Forrest Anderson:
The Mapleton, Utah, lot on which The Thoughtful House is being built.
Aerial view of houses in San Diego, California.