In my mid-forties, I decided to build a house. Sometimes people seemed surprised that I’d even consider building a house on my own. I told them that I’d heard home-building is hard on a marriage, and since I had no marriage that would suffer, it seemed like the best time to do it. Besides, I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to meet the expectations of my parents, teachers, employers, spouse, partners, therapists, the clergy, and others. Building our house is the first time I have pleased only myself. It is the most self-indulgent thing I have ever done, and certainly one of the most empowering, creative, and fulfilling.
There are thousands of decisions that have to be made when you’re building a house. Sometimes I wished I had someone to talk things over with, but as I made each decision alone, I learned more about myself. It was like turning myself inside out for the whole world to see–everything about it was an expression of who I am.
Building a home is relatively easy when you build from the heart. You just close your eyes and imagine how you want to feel when you’re in a room. Then, you let that feeling inform every decision you make.
I wasn’t born knowing this. My parents were big do-it-yourselfers, and frankensteined their house together from pieces of other buildings. They recycled long before it was hip. Dad was proud of the solid-core doors he got from an insane asylum. He salvaged hardwood floors from a navy ship, sink fixtures from a hospital, and paneling from an old box car.
I admire my parents’ resourcefulness and am proud the fact that my 78-year-old mother is still adept with a Skil saw. But spending the night in what was once my bedroom drives me insane. My parents did not observe conventions. For example, molding should go on the wall, but in my former room it sometimes meanders up to the ceiling. The door doesn’t swing into the room as it should—it swings out—and I skin my knuckles on the door jamb almost every time I close it. There is no source of heat whatsoever, but then, there’s no source of heat in any of the bedrooms.
Elsewhere in the house, light switches were installed upside down. Mom writes “on” and “off” on the switch plate covers with a Sharpie to remind her which way to flip the switch. In the living room, Dad mounted light fixtures on wooden panels that he made out of green wood, which later cracked and split terribly. The button for the doorbell is so small that no one ever finds it, so mom wrote “Bell” above it in calligraphy. And when it rings, it isn’t a pleasant “ding dong” but a “BRRRRIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGG” that’s as loud as a phone ringing at a lumber yard.
Everywhere I look in my parents’ house, I stub my eye, and I don’t feel comfortable in any of the rooms. I didn’t want that kind of house. I wanted a house built from the heart, and I got exactly what I wanted. Oh, I could go on and on about the process of building it–from having the plans feng shui-ed to milling our own lumber. Here are a few picturesof it going up.
While building our house, I felt excited, fulfilled, creative, and empowered. Those feelings assured me that, as far as my life’s journey was concerned, I was headed in the right direction.
Kris Wiltse’s illustrations for the “Excited,” “Fulfilled,” “Creative,” and “Empowered” cards from the Mixed Emotions card deck.