There was no magic to finding it. It found us. We had been house hunting for months finding nothing even remotely interesting, all bungalows or poorly designed ranch houses with no personality. I first saw the house on a realtor web site, this one lonely photo of an unusual cube-shaped house in poor light. I saw it and shrugged to myself, huh, must be a foreclosure since there is only one photo. Interesting looking but not in the area we want. When I finally mentioned it to Richard he said he’d seen it as well, and also thought it looked interesting…but knew I’d protest because of the location. But it can’t hurt to look, right?

click to see more images

My first impression at the showing: Nice shaded lot, the house looked sad and droopy (later realizing the sagging cantilevered beams were the cause), but WOW the view of the water, the open shallow stairwell moving us through all four levels, the peaceful and intimate living spaces. And the quirky unexpected things – an odd little door under the stairs, a safe, a speaker the size of a closet. I left the place chuckling. Richard left the place with the wheels spinning in his head. One of us brought it up later that day and my response was NO WAY. Too much space. Too much house. Too much work. Wrong location. But Richard was smart and bided his time.

This is the first post; those below are the most recent.
Read in order: next

I pulled a plethora of punches in this blog process. There was no benefit to us to express the extreme frustration we experienced with our builder, deadlines they generated that they very rarely met, responsibilities they continuously externalized to everyone around them, and their inability to control and account for expenses without steady pressure bordering on harassment.

Richard and I chose to be positive throughout the experience despite being told by many around us we should be angry, yelling, demanding, and threatening. Perhaps. I’m not sure that our house would have been completed without more delays, litigation, and costs though. And I think we would have lost every scrap of that magical feeling we had when we first bought the house and started dreaming of a life within.

There is a huge chunk of the population that just isn’t honest with themselves or others, despite our society’s rules expecting us to be. So we celebrate the moments of honesty we have with those we love, and minimize our time with the rest of the jokers.

We were delighted and honored to have our home included on the Jacksonville chapter of American Institute of Architects’ annual DOCOMOMO Tour, this year focusing mainly on modern homes in the Arlington area. Despite the steady rain and our gentle request for folks to please remove their shoes, we had over a hundred people troop through and around our home. We met some amazing people with stories of their own and recaptured some of the childlike delight we originally had when we saw our home through others’ eyes.

Thanks to the local AIA for including us and giving us perspective on our project and to all the people who visited!

Richard and I have decided to kick ourselves out of the nest (or camper as it were) and finish the renovation project ourselves while living in a home with no working bathroom or kitchen, and are forging ahead with our own plan and people. Might as well make things more challenging, we’d gotten so complacent in our wee place on wheels.

First step, got the building permit transferred to ourselves. Second step, create our plan to make the place livable – not done, just livable – including closing out the city permit and construction loan. Third step, line up our subcontractors and manage the project. Fourth step, arrange our work schedules to supervise all work (I mean, who needs to go to their paid job?). Fourth step, close our eyes, jump, and flap like hell.

Strickland Supplies has been supremely professional and kind in assisting us with arranging to keep the scaffolding a bit longer while the last of the exterior work is done, including Richard scampering around to remove every last nail and staple from our lovely bare parallam beams on all four exterior levels. Richard and I also stained all of the wood framing on the coquina cores on the outside, saving ourselves a bundle rather than getting a professional painter.

Blanchard Caulking and Coating folks are completing their waterproofing work, providing great guidance and advice as they went. Our continued obsession with water intrusion.

We were then delighted to see our home in the emperor’s clothes…sans scaffolding!


As those of you out there may have also been told as a child, if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. I stopped writing posts for a while when we had to terminate our contract with the builder. We got the building permit transferred to ourselves to complete the project while we dealt with the sudden onslaught of unexpected liens from subcontractors the builder failed to pay.

We are exceedingly grateful to the subcontractors who were willing to work directly with us to help get the job done despite the pressures of this economy.

June 5, 2010 to June 4, 2011 – measuring life in the camper

1 herb and vegetable garden
1 intact marriage
+1.8 inches (our son)
2 manatees
+2.1 inches (our daughter)
4 nutria
4 visits from the tooth fairy
-5 lbs (me)
+6 lbs (me)
6 binders of documents
7 outdoor dinner parties
11 canoe adventures
18 toothbrushes
25 oz dishwashing liquid
44 lawn mowings
47 gallons of milk
56 house meetings
79 Netflix movies
80 blog posts
89 face shaves (not me)
193 buckets of human waste
249 sleeps
1,072 loads of laundry
educational life moments – still counting


This week I found myself picturing all of the subcontractors as part of my big proverbial 60s style, swingin’ afghan just like my grandma used to make, not worrying so much if it wasn’t utterly perfect, just humming away and focused on putting together an item that would keep a loved one warm. Of course my grandma was color blind (I don’t know this for a fact but what sane person would otherwise knit those colors together?), but her goal was clear.

Richard and I spent all week coordinating. Telephone call to Whittington Plumbing, text to Josh at Eberling Design, quick pow-wow with Rob Lytle about the wood flooring timeline, and a stop to visit with Chris at Tile Market…all just so we could ensure the bathroom tile and wood flooring would continue as planned.  Oops! Must check the sinks are coming in on time for the plumber. Oops! Must remember to mark the walls where the electrician needs to put light outlets in the bathroom. Rip out a few stitches and start again.

Unlike coordinating a renovation, however, knitting is therapeutic, meditative, and supremely satisfying. And a decent quality skein of yarn only costs $5-15. Perhaps my color-blind grandma had clearer vision than I thought.

Today I spent my first day in the house – no we haven’t moved in, that’s sure to hit Twitter first – organizing the architectural plans for most of the homes in our neighborhood and searching for the plans for the Hatcher House. The history lessons have been delightful. Joseph Durkee, who owned much of the land in the neighborhood, subdivided his holdings into lots and decided who could buy and what they could build. A neighbor mentioned he now has possession of all the plans from the Durkee family, and offered to let me look through for my house, then I offered to organize the rest by address.

Original lots here were generally sold for at least $4,000 in the mid 50’s. Mr. Durkee wrote a letter to the bank advising that one proposed buyer should not have been approved for a mortgage because he seemed to lack sufficient income – the mortgage was for $19,500 and the buyer only made $6,600 per year as a bank clerk. A number of local architects and builders were involved in designing and building the homes, and almost all were designed as one level homes with an understated appearance. A few original owners are still in the neighborhood, as well as many descendants of the original families. Tracking the homes by the year built, I saw that many lots sat for a while before homes were built. I could imagine watching the houses pop up initially in the mid 50’s, then a smattering in the late 60’s and early 70’s, with a few stragglers in the 80’s. No trees clear cut or widespread construction, just organic growth over the years.

After opening the last bag and working my way through half of it without finding our plans, I was becoming disheartened. But this story shall have a happy ending – curled up modestly with the few remaining sets was an entire permit plan set with the name “Hatcher” scrawled across the outer edge.

As to our news: We have wood flooring on our top floor! We have wood flooring in our dining room and kitchen! We have tile in the second bathroom! We have a refrigerator and oven and dishwasher and induction cooktop…to install! We have kitchen cabinets…to assemble! Must be time to return to the present.

We all know children live in their own little universe and ours are mostly blissfully unaware of the home renovation stress. Thanks to the clearance section at Target, the kids have invented a new activity in conjunction with fishin’ and crabbin’ and twirlin’…

Earmuffs make it quiet for the fish

Ethan's first Florida blue crab

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Galoshing to one and all!

We have been pedaling hard uphill for the last year with no real breathers, but we finally feel like we have gotten to the top of this renovation mountain and can relax and enjoy the view. Now we just have to watch for the bumps as we careen downhill.

I spent the weekend pulling up the last of the subfloor and all the pieces edging each room that used to hold down carpet, smiling to myself as I pulled up bits of the original red shag the Hatchers put in 44 years ago. The hvac ducting went in last week and we are cruising at a comfy 74deg inside and Butch from United Electric put in the three breakers we needed to have hot water (Whittington Plumbing had already primed our instant hot water heater). This week we hope to get the bulk of things done so we can MOVE IN. Dear reader, please smile indulgently and allow us this fantasy. After all, it’s easy to dream with the wind rushing by, eyes closed, no pedaling. And for the first time in a year, I have a limitless hot shower on my property. Ahhhhhh.

The contractor has lined up window waterproofing to commence this week along with installation of exterior fascia (wood to cover up and streamline all the post and beam connections). Richard and I have scheduled Rob Lytle to start installing the wood floors, Josh Eberling returns this week to start putting in the Schulter-Kerde system (instead of shower pans) in the second bathroom to prep it for tiling, Dandeneau Contracting is installing the custom bathroom cabinet and countertop in the first bathroom, Ikea kitchen cabinets and the kids’ closet system are being delivered Saturday, and Sears will install the refrigerator and double ovens next week.

Tune in next week to find out if any of this comes true…

Against the odds, we arrived home Friday to find our four hvac units gloriously, and incredibly quietly, humming away outside the house. Then straight from a 30’s Fred Estaire movie, we swept in the front doors to have our hair and clothing softly stirred by cool, conditioned air. If a manufacturer rep from LG had been standing right there, I would have signed a contract in my own blood promising to tout the amazing benefits of their products for my lifetime.

Alas, Sunday was not a day of rest. Richard and I ripped up the last of the two layers of parquet and plywood that had been glued and nailed down in the dining room, I scaled the scaffolding and scrubbed clean 2 of the 4 coquina exterior towers, and I met with a fourth wood flooring installer, hoping this one will be the right fit at the right price. We also ordered all of our kitchen cabinets and talked through the final design for the master bathroom.

Almost time for the Clampetts to move from behind the cement pond into the big house.