Friday, November 28, 2008

A couple of days later, after that not-so-dark day....

A couple of days later, after that not-so-dark day on Main Street (turned bright with challenges, said Michael's mom Betty)......theworkshop 308 called to say, "We hope you were serious about your comments on building a shipping container house, because we've been doing some drawing and think we've got a pretty neat house put together....but wanted to check before we went any further...." There you go.

They asked me to come by in a couple of days to see what they had come up with and, once again, they nailed it. A perfect design. Everything I wanted and a whole lot more. One 20' shipping container for storage/shelter with a canopy to make a carport.....four 40' x 8' x 8'6" containers for the main house: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, fireplace, dining area, utility closet and kitchen....a screened porch with a deck overlooking the river, off the living room, and a screened porch, off my bedroom, cantilevered over the slope, and as close to the river as I could possibly get without putting on my wading shoes. I will be able to count the scales on a smallmouth bass....see the spots on the back of a frog.....hear a turtle plop off a log.....and live happily ever after. YEE HAW! The 8747 house is on its way.

What I'd really like to know, is what transpired from the day the words "shipping container house" were uttered until the day(today)when Nathan from Memphis brought the fourth and final container and dropped it (and I mean that both literally and figuratively) on the lot behind theworkshop 308. In other words, how did Michael Mardis and Jason Mitchell manage to sell this idea to a bank and two builders and their friends and family in one of the more conservative areas in the state of Missouri? (see '08 election results for Greene County) Where else in the world could you find an unqualified enthusiasm about such a project during the most dismal economic times many of us have ever known? And who do you know these days who would embrace this innovative-yet-utilitarian, uncertain-yet-verifiable endeavor with a menial budget, by today's standards, of $150,000?

I think the best answer to those questions and the reason this house is going to be built is that each person who has been involved in this experience, from the very beginning, is a person first, and a professional second; and as people, you couldn't find a better selection anywhere. They are hard-working, ethical, funny, kind, polite, multi-talented, intelligent, visionary, creative, and most of That open-mindedness has to be one of the most important elements, whether you are surveying the land, drawing the plans, loaning the money, engineering the stucture, building the house, or driving the components from Memphis to Springfield.....and there's not a closed mind in sight from where I'm standing....and never has been. I just wonder what they said and what they did from then until now.

So.....the money has been loaned, the shipping containers are lined up in a row, a plasma cutter has been purchased and tested, structural engineer Tom Netzer will check the drawings one last time, Garrett will come smooth out the house site on Monday, Todd will have an augur and skid steer making the holes for the piers on Tuesday, and if he fits some hunting in today, may even have venison meatloaf samples for everyone involved. Life is really good. I am very happy.

[The 308 back yard with various parts of my house]

[Nathan from Memphis, he's really good at backing up]

[And then there were 4]

[Making sure Chris doesn't screw up]

[Showing the boys how to use the plasma cutter. I hope you're taking notes Mardis]

And this is what i'm getting...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It was a dark day on Main Street.....

It was a dark day on Main Street when we gathered around the table with Chris Kinnard (Keyway Construction), Michael and Jason (theworkshop 308) and me. No Cheeto and Hot Tamale combo this Stella in a coffee from the Coffee Great Lake Swimmers playing in the background. Just us. Just the facts. And, unfortunately, just too much of an incredible house design for too little money to spend to get it built. The storefront glass, the large amount of concrete and the two separate structures were the vital elements of the project that couldn't be compromised, yet couldn't be afforded.

The lower Chris got on the list of what each component would cost, the lower my hopes got. It was pretty quiet for a moment or two when he finished and when all of the questions and all of the "what if we cut these...." were uttered.

My first thoughts during the moments that followed were...."Everything I had always wanted and much, much more." (gone) "They nailed it." (gone) Not only had I been "living" in that house over the past few weeks, myself, but I had garnered support and envy and unanimous appreciation for the gifts and talents of the designers for every facet of the plan, from family and friends who knew what this house meant to me.

My next thoughts were....Remember that day I walked into theworkshop 308 with my plastic shoebox full of ideas? Remember the enthusiasm....the confidence....the acceptance....and the commitment with which I was received? Not to mention the sheer admiration I had for their design talents and abilities which attracted me to them in the first place. And did I say "commitment"? I knew when I left their building that first day, that they were committed to my project and they were committed to my budget for the project and that I trusted them to honor those commitments beyond any doubts, and that I would have a house that I would love and live in for the rest of my days when everything was said and done. That kind of trust doesn't come along too many times in a lifetime......and it sure takes precedence over the me-me-me thoughts I had in that first moment.

And then, I think I remember saying, "Well, I could always just live in a shipping container"....thinking back to several years ago when I was so intrigued by Adam Kalken's "Architecture and Hygiene" website that I ordered his book and seriously thought about the shipping container houses he had designed. Chris had an extremely polite but non-committal look on his face, but Jason and Michael took that comment and ran with it. The more they talked and the more Chris got the picture, the more "The Montgomery Residence" began not to be the ending of my life-long plan, but more the beginning of a new one. A few minutes later, we were all walking up the street to visit a shipping container that had just been used as part of a First Friday Art Walk exhibition space.....and I guess you might say, that was the beginning of Phase II: the 8747 house.

And did I say commitment?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Unveiling "The Montgomery Residence".....

The night Jason and Michael came over, plugged in their computer and unveiled "The Montgomery Residence", I had tears in my eyes. They had designed two separate with my bedroom and bath, kitchen-living-dining room, pantry and utility room and desk space in one structure......corrugated metal siding with a wooden "rain screen", concrete floors, a deck over-looking the river with an outdoor fireplace, storefront windows, high ceilings, fireplace, bedroom deck.....and the other structure for Morgan a few steps away had a bedroom and bath, desk space connected to a storage/shelter area and carport. It was an absolutely perfect design. Everything I had always wanted and much, much more. They nailed it.

I started "living" in that house the minute I had it on paper. Sitting on that deck, stocking that pantry, eating supper in front of the fireplace, taking showers, reading on the couch, building fires outside and watching the moon.

The difficulty came when I couldn't IMMEDIATELY transpose that house on paper to the ground where it was supposed to be. There was plenty of action, but there was also plenty of inaction. I had to keep remembering that I was closer to what-I-had-wanted-all-of-my-life than I had ever been. And getting even closer.

I got an email from Ian and Courtney from Chicago, before they moved to Springfield with thoughts they had about the approach to the house and how the space in the house could be compatible with my use and needs.......MODOT came out and selected the best place for the driveway according to visibility.....Jason and I staked out the driveway (keeping Ian's ideas in mind)......the soil scientist came and found the best place for the septic system....we had a meeting to hire Keyway Construction to be the builders of the house....two days later, Nathan and Todd came out and supervised the beginning of the driveway with Garrett moving the earth and me standing beside the road with tears in my eyes (again) at the thought that this was REALLY happening.....I started reading Natalie's blog (still the only blog I've ever read) about the process of adopting Stella......transferred ownership of a pink kayak to theworkshop 308.......had Webster Electric come out and talk about where to put the power......listed the remaining 40 acres on the river with Bob and Katy McCroskey to be sold in three tracts for potential "green" building sites.....Brian Viele came and staked out the house site for the excavation......had a combination site visit and grapevine swing when Courtney and Ian came to town......was invited to a celebration picnic when Stella finally arrived......had an amazing trip to the land and the river during The Flood of '08.....and waited and waited for the builders to get the pricing compiled so we could take the figures to the bank and get the construction loan.

Things could have turned ugly right then and there.........I would suggest reading an essay by Dan Maginn that appeared in DWELL magazine in February 2007 entitled "Your House, Your Sandwich: an architectural drama in five parts". That says it all.

CLICK HERE for Dan Maginn's article.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back to the Phase I planning period:

Back to the Phase I planning period. Subtitle: the Springboard to Intimacy. I had no idea that the process of designing a house and getting it built was so intimate...but once you have bared your closets, basement, garage and kitchen drawers to a person, the mystery is pretty much gone.

And then there is this feeling of gluttony: people asking you what you want, and how many, and how much, and what do you like, and what do you all-you-can-eat-mentality of options and choices offered by people who can really make it happen.

So we had more meetings, during which Jason and Michael were beginning, working on and then finishing the Coffee Ethic...which then became another great place to have a design session or also involving the friend/engineer Tom Netzer.....and being surrounded by the living testimonial to theworkshop 308's most interesting, endurable and ethical craftsmanship and design....not to mention, Jim Hamilton and Tom Billionis and Blue Batok coffee to die for.

Jim and Tom and their families have to be some of the best people to move to Springfield in a very long time. They have brought so much with them and have accomplished more since they arrived than some people do in a lifetime. And they certainly picked the right designers to work their plan....and a whole lot more.

The bits and pieces of the Coffee Ethic project I was able to absorb, as an outsider, were both inspirational and encouraging to my own developing plans. For instance, Jason and Michael brought Jim and his wife out to see my land when they mentioned that some day they would like to design and build a place in the country....they found and used resources for the shop that ran the gamut from historical ice storm wood to Bourbon, Missouri flea market bargain chairs....and rather than staying perched atop their stools at drafting tables, they put the hammer to the nails until wee hours of the morning and used every facet of experience they may not have known they had.

It just occurred to me what makes them so unique....or at least one thing: their work has no boundaries. And I mean both out-going and in-coming. They allow people and objects and places and ideas to enter into their so many ways...and, as a result, their projects have a truly endless impact.

Phew. I am WAY off the subject here. WAY off. theworkshop without boundaries. Huh. I'm sure that's already been used....but it's the truth.

Yes, this segment was supposed to be about the Phase I planning period...I just got a little side tracked.

I'll never forget the night Jason and Michael came over and unveiled the design of my house on their computer. (I believe refreshments for that evening included a Hot Tamale and Cheeto combo and beer.) Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm naming names......

I'm naming names, for just a moment......instead of continuing to recount the historic past year......because for an instant today we were all in the same place at the same time. Yesterday, I referred to the big fat meeting with the banker, the builders, the designers and me. The banker, Michael Garner of UMB, and friend of theworkshop 308, is the sort of banker who, with his wife Jess, tromped with us all over the 48 acres.....up hills and down.....along narrow trails with bluffs straight down to the river.....watching for eagles and heron from the rookery......nearly stepping on a snake.....listening to plans for the house we were building as we walked..... ever congenial and careful....and a very smart man to put his trust (and money) into such an endeavor as this. Since that first meeting, I've seen him both on and off a mountain bike, saw him do a cartwheel in Phelps Grove Park, and met with him dressed-fit-to-kill in his suit and tie behind his desk with the same combination of acceptance, caution and adventure it takes to be a banker you love to do business with. The builders at the meeting were Chris Kinnard and Todd Slack who, with their staff and crew, are Keyway Construction Company. The two of them also spent a huge chunk of an afternoon looking first at the house site, then walking down to see the best gravel bar on the river, talking about wives and children, hunting and fishing, jobs they had done, places they had lived, and seemed genuinely interested in doing this project.....and confident that I would be thrilled with the outcome. (I doubt that they said "thrilled", but I was sold on them and on their approach to the house, to the land, and to me. And still am.)
And then Jason, Michael, Natalie, Ian and Courtney were all there today, as well. And I'll have a whole lot more to say about them, as time goes on. The meeting went well....I laughed a lot.....had a little Hot Damn cinnamon schnaaps in Dixie cups to launch this deal.....I'll go sign a deed of trust tomorrow.....I'll get some project insurance....try to keep up my day job......attempt to learn another blllllloging grateful for the way things have happened......and the people involved.....and off we go.

[That meeting I was talking about]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bear with me for a while.......

Bear with me for a while until I fill you in on that first year of this over-the-road-shipping-container-house saga. It may take several more bllllllog sessions before we reach tomorrow: the day the money gets released to start construction. Big meeting with the banker, the builder, the designers, and the frau. I won't name names until I know it's safe.

So......after the artistic and fiduciary requirements were delivered to Jason and Michael, I supposed I would have a pretty long wait, with very little communication, and then a meeting to look at some drawings. And I was already ecstatic just thinking about it.

What I got in the months that followed was a whole lot more. It began with a trip in the pouring rain to see the building site with Jason.....who was not the least bit hesitant to get wet and muddy and cold (with a few ticks) and to explore not only the site, but the 40 acres that adjoin it, as well. A week or so later, Michael and Jason came over to the house where I am living to examine that space, and everything in it, and to talk about my daily living habits.....where I spend the most time and why....what do I have in the garage and the basement that I can do without or not.....what kind of space my daughter Morgan needs and actually uses.

Dang. I forgot another important element I laid on the designers that first time around: My thirty-two-year-old daughter Morgan was born with Down Syndrome and lives with me one week and with her dad (we are divorced) the next week. Nobody likes isolation better than I do, and Morgan seems to like her own space with everything in its own place in her own space. Separation under the same roof is essential to both of us. Add that to the previous list of nine requirements and the $150,000.00 budget and you can see how valuable this relationship with Jason and Michael is becoming, eh? (And what must they be thinking at this point?)

Back to Jason and Michael's visit.......I was very impressed with the fact that they came to my present house and were so thorough with their questions and their tour.......even taking pictures of belongings they thought I might want in the NEW house. That certainly makes sense. What if they had planned that house tour and found me living in a French Country Villa with flocked wall-paper and turquoise vanities.........then what?

There were more planning sessions.....sometimes at their building on Commercial Street.....sometimes at my dining table......sometimes at the site with curious friends or potential participants.....sometimes with beer....sometimes not......but every moment was better than the last and every day was closer to the fulfillment of a life-long hope.

I'll talk about the unveiling of the first design and snakes and ticks and a monster truck moment in the mud.......later.

[a few additional 'people' to accomodate for in my NEW house by artist Ken Richardson]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I forgot one tiny detail yesterday.....

I forgot one tiny detail yesterday when I was laying some of the groundwork for telling what messiahs theworkshop 308 really are. I laid out my nine-item "must have" list and my agri-industrial chic concept and all of the blathering about how long this journey had been and how "no one understands me".......and then I told them that my budget for this project was $150,000.00. And they didn't blink an eye. That is not an arbitrary figure. That is all of the money I can ethically and practically and realistically spend and still afford to live in it. And they nodded and smiled and agreed that they could design a great house for me at that figure. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't happen any place else around here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

To back up a little.....

When I first started this search for the perfect houseplan, DWELL magazine didn't exist. To find modern design houseplans, a person had to go to the library and look in fat, slick books by architects whose names were unpronounceable, or find the one and only modern house in a collection of "500,000 Budget Plans You Can Build" in the grocery store magazine aisle, or hope that the "Plan of the Week" in the News Leader had fewer than five bedrooms and three porches with a four car garage and a boat stall. DWELL brought hope and possibilities and websites other than the over-stuffed collection sites that had a different understanding of what "contemporary" was than I did. For the next few years, I looked at a billion houseplans on the internet, read DWELL, communicated with a few people who had some real promising plans they offered as "stock" plans, and started stashing pictures and articles from people like Gregory La Vardera, Atkison Studio, Dan Rockhill, Adam Kalkin, El Dorado Architects, and Rocio Romero. I had a list of 9 things I thought I needed in my house: kitchen, laundry/pantry area, bathroom, 2 bedrooms with closets, living room, fireplace, dining area, screened porch, storage. I wanted an agri-industrial-modern-galvanized metal siding house with concrete floors and high ceilings that looked like it belonged on a ridge in Webster County over-looking the James River.

During that same time, I used to give my old New Yorker magazines to Tom Netzer to read. In exchange, Sally Netzer would give me her old Springfield Business Journals. Who's to say who got the best deal, but that's where I first read about theworkshop 308 in the year-long series they did called "Evolution of an Enterprise" and that's what got me in their front door during that Summer of 2007. I could tell by looking at them, they would understand. And they did.