(pictured: a sketch of Greg Kessler's new home, now under construction)
Host: Planning to build your dream home? Architect Gregg Kessler says before you do, you must think beyond prevailing notions of “home”, and ask yourself some fundamental questions about what truly matters to you. Mary Hawkins reports in “Our Northwest Home.”
Hawkins: Dream homes are the stuff of everyone’s imagination, according to Greg Kessler. And those notions of home can mislead us into some big homebuilding mistakes.
Kessler: You know, we all grow up with preconceptions about what our ideal house would be. And those are formulated by our experiences growing up: where we were brought up, how we were brought up…I think those are really strong forces and strong influences in how we think about what we want to build. Some of those preconceptions can be beneficial in terms of what we want to build. And some can be really detrimental.
Hawkins: Kessler believes Americans often plunge into home building efforts with a vision that may not work with the landscape – that may not be energy efficient, or even make sense structurally.
Kessler: The fact is that you can build a southwest style home no matter where you are – right? And it may have nothing to do with the context of the landscape that you’re building in. But for some reason, it fills a preconception of what it is that you want.
Hawkins: And what Americans seem to want is - everything. Fueled by images on TV since the 1980s this country has seen a trend toward big houses with lots of guest rooms, big bathrooms, great rooms and vaulted ceilings. Americans spend big bucks building, heating and cooling what Kessler believes are oversized, clunky constructs.
Whether renting, buying or building, the quest for home is a journey of self discovery. Essential questions force us to consider our core values. “How much space do I REALLY need?” “How do I best fit (into) my building site?” “How do I build responsibly?” And by “responsibly” – Kessler means to respect long term finances in addition to environment and ecology.
Architect Greg Kessler went through his own self assessment before he began his plans. He and his wife decided on a 13 thousand square feet home – about ten thousand feet smaller than average. But it’s augmented with outdoor “living spaces,” such as courtyards, which offer privacy in outdoor settings. This brings us to another common misconception: that the home ends where the exterior begins.
Kessler: We tend to draw the line of the house at the perimeter of the house, and say that’s where it is, when in fact, that’s not where it has to be. It’s that kind of thinking that allows someone to be that much more thoughtful and that much more creative about what they build.
Hawkins: Kessler’s view is that we should visualize living in and around our homes all year long.
Kessler: I have an outdoor space where I anticipate spending a lot of time in the winter. I have to wear a jacket, but that’s OK. I’ll probably sit in my Adirondack chair with a glass of wine in the evening and look at the landscape. In the summertime we have an interior courtyard space that’s fairly private. In the spring and fall we have a south-facing terrace that we can use.
Hawkins: As for building techniques: Kessler employed very simple principles and tools, all tried and true. Windows face south for solar gain, and are shaded by sunscreens in the summer. North facing windows are minimal. Kessler is also using simple methods to promote water conservation and good drainage such as installing pervious paving materials.
The homebuilding process isn’t easy, even for an architect, but it can be a very fulfilling experience.
Gregg Kessler’s definition of the ideal home is a space where you are best aware of your environment, the people you live with and around, and where you can be your best self.
Kessler: If I go into a room and because of the way the room is designed, I’m able to have a certain set of experiences or a certain set of relationships that enhance my life, that make me feel better…I think if you can do that, you’re doing pretty good.
Hawkins: Greg Kessler is Director of the School of Architecture and Construction Management at Washington State University. For pictures of Kessler’s “home in progress” and links to information about his favorite architects, come to Our Northwest online now at N-W-P-R dot org. I’m Mary Hawkins.
More photos here.