I’ve always had a fascination with building homes. Sims was my jam. Unfortunately, the more sophisticated features on the PC versions of the game were barred to me, as our home computer was too old and cantankerous to run many programs without issue. But I played hours and hours (and hours) of Sims, Sims Bustin Out, and Sims II on the GameCube. Most of those hours were spent in the home design process, and the fire meter was my nemesis. But the cheat codes and systematic determination saw me through, until I had the design down to a perfected science.
Well folks…I discovered, far too late in life, that there are amateur architecture programs dedicated to the whole purpose of designing and building custom homes. And I have fallen down the rabbit hole.
It all began when my partner and I spent an evening looking at ridiculously expensive houses on Zillow for fun. We discovered that we liked many of the same features, and we started discussing layouts and home styles, reminiscing over old sketches and floorplans that we’d made, and eventually finding floorplans online to see if any struck our fancy.
The problem we found was that all the floorplans had something wrong with them – there was space that we didn’t need or the orientation wasn’t exactly what we wanted. So we started drawing out the floorplans, tweaking and sketching together, reading architecture books, and ironing out an amalgamation of our combined dream home.
Eventually, sketching things to scale without graph paper got old (but why didn’t we just buy graph paper…?) and we wanted to visualize the space. On a whim, my partner searched for home design programs online. He found a French program called SpaceDesigner3D that offers a “demo version” where you can save and work on one project for only $10.
Hours and hours and hours since, we have gone through about seven or eight iterations of the house, adding and tweaking here, modifying there, as we watch more design shows (we’ve been steadily chewing through HGTV shows like Good Bones and House Hunters Renovations) and broaden our knowledge of what’s possible. It’s been a fun evolution to test our aesthetic preferences against the little architecture knowledge we’ve scraped together. Though some features are a bit grandiose (spiral staircase with a glass cap/skylight and a spa room with an inset soaking tub to mimic an onsen), we’ve also incorporated more mundane priorities into our design (a garage for the partner, an office for me, a spacious porch, and a small master bedroom paired with a sitting room).
Many of our iterations evolved out of trial and error with the program. We built the first house and realized afterward that the scale of the in-person view was way too big, so our square footage was insanely disproportionate to what we’d originally envisioned. But we’ve also been trying to distill elements of the dream into attainable goals. We’ve focused on winnowing down the square footage of the original design into a reasonable space for two people with no plans for children (but an expanding library) and on figuring out what aspects and features are priorities and which are just nice to imagine. We’ve even been able to add furniture and outdoor features, including a VW Golf in the same color as my old Hedwig (prior to the sale to Carvana a few months ago–may Hedwig live on under responsible hands).
We’re still experimenting with program features, including the roof design, but the house represents a near-complete project. If we wanted to, we could even submit the design to have professional floorplans drawn up. In the process, I’m sure we would have to modify the plans again in deference to architectural limitations. But it’s exciting to think about this “dream home” actually coming to life, having a physical presence in the world.
As a natural progression from this venture, we started looking at materials and internal decor styles we would like to incorporate, like solar panels, ultra-efficiency air conditioning systems called mini-splits, bamboo floors, and accordion doors. We’ve started exploring real-world options through Pinterest as well and the boards are expanding rapidly.
With our specific interest in sustainable technology and building processes, my partner has made another discovery: prefabricated housing as an alternative to the traditional, onsite building process. The frame of the house is built in a factory or warehouse and then, much like modular furniture, assembled at the location, which cuts down on material waste and construction time. These homes are advertised as incredibly efficient and durable. They even have unique floorplans for circular houses that can withstand hurricanes.
We’ve been having a lot of fun with this ongoing design adventure, and I’m sure with time, we’ll learn more about this process, the new technologies available to us, and optimal ways to bring about our vision. It’s also been a lovely distraction from the current day strife. Fingers crossed things will change soon for the better, though the pandemic’s effects will not so easily fade. At least we have found this bright point of focus, evidence of our hope for the future.