New House and Studio
In June my wife Karen and I finished what turned out to be a three year project—the designing and building of a house. We did not set out to do that. We intended to find an existing home that would cut Karen’s commute in half and give me more space for my office, studio, and storage.
After a year of looking without finding anything that met our idiosyncratic needs, and egged on by our realtor whose father is a builder in Colorado (“It’s not that hard, just build one”) we did find a property in exactly the right spot and we did just that, we built one.
The lot backs up to a narrow wildland preserve, an extension of one of our longtime favorite state parks. The existing building was the small, ramshackle cottage you see in the “before” picture here. It was reduced to the foundation and two walls and ended up buried inside the new structure.
We worked with an architect for over a year. In the process I became addicted to SketchUp, Google’s 3-D modeling software. It is a powerful, intuitive program that allows you to easily create and modify a design, visualizing the final product in surprisingly accurate detail at every step. So vivid was the mental picture that for the first few mornings in the new bedroom we had the surreal feeling that we were waking up inside the familiar SketchUp model.
Living up to the common perception, the house-building experience is inherently nerve wracking. The decisions that come at you in a near-daily torrent have such enduring consequences that you are never quite sure you have done the right thing. Nevertheless, it is a tremendously engaging process, and, in the end, quite rewarding. Aesthetically, it is not unlike the making of pictures writ large. Balance, color, composition, light, texture, the interaction of competing elements, all of these figure into the design. In a sense, architecture is, or at least can be, functional art on a grand scale. But, unlike most artistic enterprises, it is constrained at every turn by the discipline of real world limitations and requirements.
One of the most satisfying elements of the new house is my studio. Since we were starting from scratch, I had a chance to put together a space that incorporated lessons learned over the last thirteen years in two previous houses—garages, actually. Mundane tasks like cutting mats and putting frames together now seem a lot more acceptable. And for the first time I have enough (well, nearly enough) flat surfaces to hold work in various stages of completion. Although in a pinch I still resort to the dining table and the top of the piano.