Reality is slowly setting in. We've been talking about this project for a while now. Talking and mocking up plans and saving bits of scrap wood from the shop just in case we can use it. Finally, we're able to actually get to work. Our tenants' lease on the house and garage is finally up, so we have access as needed. We built them an extra storage space out back to put some of the stuff they were storing in the garage, and started taking stock of what needs to be done.
We got to work doing some demo and tearing out the climbing/bouldering wall we had built a few years ago and started putting all unneeded items on craigslist. Nothing free in portland sits for long.
Since getting our building permits approved we've been meeting with contractors daily, and trying to admit to ourselves exactly how much this is all going to cost. Hint: we were WAY off in our estimates, and our savings may not survive this process. We simply keep trying to remind ourselves that if we pull this off we will be living on the cheap- essentially living without paying rent or mortgage...
In past projects things were easy- we simply did everything ourselves. That of course, also meant everything took a lot longer (probably why we've spent most of our last 15 years living in different construction zones). But it also meant all projects were affordable and we could do them as we had the money. I still remember the days of finish work on our first house taking months because i could only afford a few pieces of trim at a time. One room gets trim this month, the next gets trim (hopefully) next month.
In this case, we need to move in as soon as possible and the city wants licensed contractors doing almost all jobs...which means we have to fork over large amounts of cash to get anything done. We've spent the last few weeks in a constant state of sticker shock. Construction and remodels (and their cost) aren't new to us in the least, but it appears we'll be lucky to pull this project off in less than two times what we first penciled in. that hurts.
Every night we go through the same process of discussing the bids we got that day, lining up more bids (which sadly aren't much cheaper than the first) and trying to find ways to cut the cost by cutting things off the list. Discussions like this must be why they say home projects are the largest cause of divorce. Giving up the things that you have already convinced yourself will make your house (or garage) a home are difficult matters of the heart. In the bus we required a fridge and the ability to have ice in our cocktails...this seems a bit more complex. Luckily, Jen and I see pretty eye to eye on our final goal and how to get there. The difficult parts for us come in the decisions that involve our own transient nature.
If we knew that we would live in the garage forever it would be easy. If we even knew which months of the year we will live there it would be quite simple. But for us, there is always this unknown nature of where we will be and for how long. That makes logic based decisions a difficult thing to pin down for us.
We are comfortable without much in the way of home now. An empty box bigger than the van, with lots of daylight/outdoor connection (and maybe with the luxuries of a shower and a toilet) seems dreamy. That empty space even provides us a reason to make and fill it with cool furniture and art...
But what if this is the home we live in 15years from now; what might be important to us then or what might we wish we did differently? What if we end up traveling half of each year and need to rent out our space? Then, suddenly the items of mass appeal become more important as well. Is a sink really necessary in the bathroom when the kitchen is less than 10' away? Do we need a dining room table when we eat most of our meals outdoors or on the couch?
We do love entertaining and want to be comfortable at home whether its just the two of us, or whether we've invited everyone we know. We want to be able to allow fellow travelers to stop in and have a place to sleep, but a second bedroom isn't even an option in this space. Can we actually create a comfortable space for entertaining in a house that's the size of most peoples' living rooms?
As designer/creator i also want to live in a space that i can be proud of. One that feeds the creative spirit and sparks both creativity and tranquility and passion. Ive never started designing a space from scratch before, and i often find myself wanting to do everything at once. Giving up some of those things is difficult, but a good reminder that we got where we are by making the difficult choices. Not by doing without entirely, but by making good choices and by making do with less. Now the goal is to find the balancing point in the design. That place where form meets function and affordable meets livable.
All these questions come with price tags attached and most of them aren't small tags. We're trying our best to design this home the same as we did the bus. To make sure everything has maximum flexibility and that everything has more than one use...but its proving to be a big challenge already. These design challenges would actually be a fun if someone else was footing the bill, or if we had done this when the incomes were still flowing in- but when each dollar has a huge impact on our savings, they become ever more difficult to deal with.
Daily i have to remind myself to a step back. To slow down and realize that in a few weeks we will have a home and will have completed a major hurdle for our long term goals. I have to take a deep breath and let it go. Remember that its just money and its just time. We imposed both the budget and the timeline, and if we don't make either it will be just fine.
In reality, when this project is over i wont remember if it was difficult or not and i wont remember how much each contractor cost. And in 2-3 years when the rent/mortgage savings alone has already "paid off" the investment, it will have all been a great decision...i hope.
Line up the next contractor, i'm ready for more sticker shock. mostly.