Voices of the Clarion: It's logic versus looks

Building a house becomes a series of compromises

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005

The house I live in with my wife and daughter sits on the slope overlooking downtown Homer and Kachemak Bay. Folks around here say the neighborhood has "the million-dollar view."

And despite the now obvious inadequacies of this 20-year-old abode, simple mental inertia would keep me here gazing out these windows for years to come were it up to me. But, of course, it isn't.

My better half insists it's time for a new home, and in the interest of domestic tranquility, I've acquiesced.

The house clearly is beginning to show some age and the floor plan no longer meets our growing list of needs (or is that wants?). The layout of the three smallish bedrooms and two baths crammed into a daylight basement-style house were the result, largely, of modifying an off-the-shelf plan. For several years, it fit both our budget and childless lifestyle. That all changed in 1992, and things are clearly different now.

Though she's never really complained, the bedroom once big enough for a toddler now cramps my 12-year-old's style.

The small recreation room that serves to separate her bedroom from ours in the daylight basement is filled with musical gear and speakers. It's where we practice and sometimes jam, myself on piano or guitar, she on piano, saxophone or drums.

There are numerous other annoyances that ought to have been avoided when the house was built but weren't.

Had I to do it over, I'd build the bathrooms on an outer wall and give them windows to the fresh air beyond. Exhaust fans can leave a lot to be desired in evacuating the humidity of the bath or the fog of intestinal warfare.

I'd avoid building stairs immediately inside the front door, and next time I'm building an arctic entry. That oversight has meant a constant battle with sand and dirt.

A full deck sits off the southwestern corner of the house, but a walking deck also crosses the entire south side. It's a wonderful feature, except when we're seated in any normal piece of living room or deck furniture. At that level, the horizontal 2-by-4 that tops the deck railing blocks entirely one's view of the horizon.

OK, it's a minor annoyance I've gotten used to, but I wouldn't create that situation again.

Despite its drawbacks, it's been a comfortable place to live, and the fact that it sits on a long, sloping, rectangular-shaped lot means nothing was ever built below us to interfere with the 180-degree view. And, I have to admit that at my age, the prospect of paying off our existing mortgage in less than four years and essentially being debt-free is enormously appealing.

But you know, I love this woman. This woman who is willing — no, eager is a better word — to leave the view and plunge us once again into long-term debt. So last year we used some savings and purchased a lot in a new Homer subdivision that would still afford us a good view of the bay and mountains, though nothing like the one we enjoy today.

Over the past year, we've perused stacks of house-plan books and magazines mostly filled with designs we either don't like or can't afford. We've sketched and rejected variations on floor plans, spent more than a grand on some help from a local designer, even listened to advice from the in-laws.

Part of the difficulty, of course, is that we rarely agree on just what ought to go into a home or what it should look like. My wife finds simple and basic boxes ascetically appealing. I like breaking up the straight lines with additions such as bay windows, dormers and multiple roof lines.

Her approach would be less costly, while mine likely would stretch our budget to the breaking point.

I'd stick the music room over the garage and make it my office, too. She'd separate the two uses and put the music room closer to the kitchen and living room so as to keep an eye on our daughter's practices.

Given that my wife has a doctorate in practicality and a black belt in responsibility, while I am, at heart, a hedonist and a mere journeyman of the domestic arts, I tend to lose these little arguments.

So, we stumble forward in our own way toward some design that we hope can be built this summer.

This week we talk to a local builder who we hope will be able to help us coalesce our ideas into something workable. We'll also be chatting with the bank to see how far we can push this household's two-income budget.

Perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised. Quite possibly we may be disappointed. Still, we have this million-dollar view to market, and when we sell, we may just do better than we expect, and that might just take us a long way toward resolving our petty differences.

Hal Spence is a reporter for the Clarion.

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