Selecting the Land
After searching for many months, we found an 8 1/2 acre piece of land located in Milan, NY. The land was very pretty with varied terrain, rock outcroppings, and natural trails. Big, old trees stood majestically throughout and in the distance, there was a lovely hilltop view. We cleared many poplar trees in preparation for excavation, designating where we planned to put the house. Because the land was wet in areas and quite unfavorable, we decided we would dig a retention pond to remedy the excess water. We also installed extra footing drains to divert the water away from the home site. Our extra work has been a success! Our lawn is dry and even in the torrential rain storms of this past spring, our basement remained dry as a bone and we have never needed a sump pump. And the pond is a lovely bonus – inhabited with many different species of fish, noisy bullfrogs and a couple of ducks that have seemed to make it their home! Once, in the early hours of morning, we even witnessed a crane claiming its breakfast which was truly a magnificent site!
Excavating & Pouring the Footings
Finally, the excavator has arrived and is ready to launch the project! The beginning of the construction process means the foundation hole must be dug and the footings formed. Concrete is then poured in preparation for the foundation walls. This is a timely process and accuracy in measurements are key. It usually takes a crew of several men 1-2 days to complete the job. It is the first exciting step of many in building the home. Quality starts here…after all, it is the “base” for where everything else will stem.
Pouring the Foundation
Traditionally, the forms for the foundation walls are filled with concrete and rebar. The material is then left to sit and “cure” for 2 days. Again, precision is everything here… a good foundation makes all the difference in how a home will settle. We have been fortunate to use the same subcontractors consistently over the years finding most of these craftsmen to be reliable and proficient at their jobs. It gives us piece of mind and the ability to sleep at night knowing the job was done right and to the standard we demand. So was the case with this mason; we were very pleased with the outcome.
Now the house will begin to take it’s shape. Dan is anxious to get in and start doing what he does best…framing. The anticipation in preparing the site for framing is sometimes almost unbearable. First and foremost, the main support girder has to be sized properly to literally hold up the structure and the weight of the house. The object can easily be referred to as the “backbone” of the structure. The floor joists are then installed on top of the foundation and girders to create the floor platform. Plywood is then glued and nailed to the floor joists making it ready for building the walls. At this point we were very excited to walk around and envision the rooms that were eventually going to be there. Dan laid out the walls with chalk and literally drew which rooms go where.
Next, the exterior walls, which incidentally are 2×6 for additional insulation, are now built on the floor and then stood up. This is a grueling task and always very strenuous, definitely taking two men to achieve it. Following the construction of the walls, we applied the exterior sheathing for rigidity and as a sub base for the siding. Finally, it is now time for the roof rafters … it won’t be long now until our house will stay completely dry enabling us to work on it in even the heaviest of rain. Once the roof is on, with tar paper applied, we now have the shell of the home … looking back at the photo, it is hard to believe that this was once our home. The husk of where I sit today. With the windows and front door cut out so precisely, it makes me proud to think we went from there to here making me realize what a true metamorphosis it has been. A wonderful and exciting journey….
Ah … warm summer days certainly call for a nice tall glass of lemonade while relaxing out on our screened porch. Here, we are spared of the pesky gnats that usually make their appearance once the nice weather hits us. Building this screened porch was something Dan had always wanted. He had built many for former clients and has always desired one of his own. The rear of the home was the perfect spot as the setting was ideal … tall trees, lush plantings and not a neighbor in sight. Instead of a back deck, which the plan called for, we opted for a 300 foot screened in porch equipped with ceiling fans and a speaker system. This area is literally an extension of the interior accessible through french doors from the living room. There is nothing like being able to enjoy the great outdoors while being completely screened in, insect free … we have enjoyed this area of the home immensely and will certainly incorporate another into the plan of our next home.
And who doesn’t like a rocking chair porch with elegant columns and wide plank floors? The front porch is very significant to any home. After all, it is the “approach” to the home…it is the most important attribute aesthetically I think. It says “welcome.” How can one have a mediocre porch on such an exceptional home? We loved the design of this one for the columns…it added just a little bit more flair. The oval window and front door (with side lights and transom) are very special as well and we like the way the columned porch showcases them. The wainscot ceiling (which we kept natural) is an added characteristic making the area very exceptional. Rocking on the front porch, admiring the pond, and basically enjoying nature and the environment at its fullest is true tranquility. Nothing beats this moment … it’s a little piece of heaven without a doubt.
In this project, we decided we would have radiant heat throughout the home, under all the flooring as well as in the garage. This was an extensive project and took very precise measures. The way the tubing is laid out along the base is extremely important for energy efficiency. The design is very intricate and multi faceted. I must say, being a novice to this heating method, we have been very satisfied with the radiant heat and our energy bills reflect an overall savings these past two years. It has also been a “cleaner” way of heating and provides more wall space in the rooms without having to contend with various baseboards.
Next, we applied the flooring throughout the home by nailing and gluing the hardwood. We chose a wide-board Ash hardwood (the material used in baseball bats). We sanded and coated with polyurethane which took several days to get to the luxurious sheen of the finished product. The result is a clean, very natural and truly beautiful accent to the home. The light blonde color gives an open – airy feel. Because of it’s natural look, it was an easy match to other colors throughout the home. We decided to bring the hardwood throughout the entire home, both upstairs and downstairs. With the radiant heat, the floors would be “cozy” in the winter…kind of like having the effect of carpet with the purity of hardwood. Waking up on a cold winter morning and resting your feet on a warm hardwood floor is quite a feeling. Who needs slippers? We also liked the non-allergenic promise of hardwood. Carpet fibers can wreak havoc on those prone to allergies.
Is the kitchen not the hub of the house? When we designed ours, we understood from past experience, the space was very important. In being from a large Italian family, I knew that when ever we hosted a party, most always everyone congregates in the kitchen. It’s just the way it is! Our kitchen has proven to be a very warm and inviting area, while being functional and spacious serving every need.
The Alder wood cabinetry (by Omega) with crown moldings and ample storage space was the perfect decision. The color of deep cherry hue contrasted the blonde floor precisely. The stainless steel appliances we chose were of higher scale, for example selecting the 6 burner Viking range with Viking hood and the double microwave/built in oven by Kitchen-Aid. Having both cooking options has been a blessing at Christmas and Thanksgiving when there are many dishes to prepare. One could cook the turkey in the Viking and bake the pie in the built in wall oven. Such a time saver. The arrangement has been truly convenient!
In choosing countertops, we elected a rich Granite surface. Never having granite before, I am so pleased with the quality as well as the visual the countertops lend. Natural stone is a beautiful thing…and the durability is amazing! When we visited the granite yard down in New Jersey, the selection process was almost overwhelming. With so many choices it was definitely a tough decision. We settled on St. Cecelia for it’s golden hues to match the ash floor and highlights of burgundy to match the Alder cabinetry. There were also accents of black throughout the stone which tied in well with the ballusters and crown moldings. It even offered bits of silver which blended nicely with the stainless steel appliances.
Once we selected our piece, we then provided the measurements of our countertops (which were taken by the installer a few weeks earlier where he actually makes a template for our countertops) to our representative at the stone yard. They cut us our piece and transported it up to the installer. Within two weeks the installer was out to the house site to mount the granite. It was a very smooth experience and we were pleased with the productivity of the yard and the installer. We would definitely recommend them!
So being in real estate I have an idea what makes the difference in the house and what sets one aside from one in a similar price range. When the plan called for the 500 square foot Bonus Room with skylights, I knew it definitely needed to be finished. This space lends itself to a studio or home office, an in law suite or a playroom. Currently we are using it as a 5th bedroom for our 14 yr old. Need I say she absolutely loves the space to hang out with her friends. She’s also an avid artist so the space and light has been great for her “creativity needs.”
The palladium window is an amazing feature and definitely the focal point of the house! Once you hit the second floor there is a revelation. Because it looks out over the pond, we placed a window seat in front of it to take in the view. It is very enjoyable to sit here and read while feeling the sunlight and enjoying the outdoor scenery. The amount of light the window provides is wondrous. It really is one of the highlights of the design and we have enjoyed it very much!
The butler’s pantry with service bar has been a true luxury. Again, because we entertain a lot, it has been great to have this area to offer beverages. Here we set up the ice bucket, the glasses and beverages of choice and cocktail napkins for our guests. The built in sink is practical for rinsing out glasses or cleaning up any spills which may occur. The wine rack accommodates 12 bottles and the wine glass rack has space for 16 glasses. The cabinets above offer sufficient space for liquor bottles and cocktail glasses while the cabinets and drawers below offer generous space for tablecloths, serving dishes, cloth napkins and cook books. It is nice to have a designated area for these items specifically and having this space has really been a great convenience. The area is also located between the kitchen and the dining room so again offering ease in entertaining. Granite counter to match the kitchen makes cleaning up a breeze. Everyone just helps themselves … it’s a wonderful arrangement.
The Finished Product
It’s hard to believe seven months from start to finish and our beautiful home has been built. Our “labor of love” as we like to call it. What a wonderful feeling to see the reality of all our ideas, desires, needs and wants come to fruition. Building this home was a real pleasure with little to complain about along the way. We have enjoyed this house immensely. The kids have loved the land where they have swam and fished in the pond and built a tree fort in the woods. Hide & Go Seek certainly took on a whole new challenge with 8 1/2 acres to explore. We are excited to start our next project in the Fall and look forward to new decisions and discoveries along the way. Some things we will change and others we will do exactly the same … the joy of building your own home is deciding what works best for you and your lifestyle. Custom built to your needs … nobody else’s.