22 Sep A Personal Project
Behind the scenes on a custom home build.
My husband Dave and I have owned several homes in our 33 years of marriage but never one designed around our tastes, budget and lifestyle. With our three kids gone, Dave’s retirement and a lifetime of investments to fund the project, we decided it was time to build a custom home on four acres that we’d owned for a decade on Bend’s Westside. Once burned by the 1990 Awbrey Hall Fire, the site had few trees and thus unobstructed views of the Cascades from Mt. Bachelor to Mt. Jefferson. The home we had built there last year is 3,429 square feet of sheer happiness.
We started by casting about for an architect. From his years of directing real estate development for Les Schwab Tire Centers, my husband knew Lennie Brant of LB Engineering and asked him for the names of local architects. Among them was Scott Gilbride, an architect with a portfolio of diverse styles from mountain lodge to sleek contemporary.
Unlike other couples who know exactly what they want when they hire an architect, we had few expectations. With a couple of guidelines, such as square footage and budget (both of which grew over the course of the project), we asked Gilbride to be creative, to surprise us. The result is a contemporary home with a long, west-facing axis that captures the views and beauty of the site. It has butterfly-style roofs, straight-edges, large windows to let in natural light and sturdy bones softened with curvy features inside and out.
In the details
Our initial idea was a three-bedroom, single-level home for ease of navigation as we age. But to save money, Gilbride stacked the guest wing—one bedroom and bath atop the ground-level bedroom and bath, and our shared office above the family room. The result is 2,808 square feet downstairs and 621 square feet upstairs. The three-car garage adds another 1,411 square feet. Unlike many Central Oregon homes, we opted out of any stone finishes. The wood-burning fireplace has an interior masonry flue but the exterior is a unique combination of concrete pillars, granite hearth, metal mesh doors, Venetian plaster and a purple-heart wood mantle.
The kitchen, with its 14-foot granite island, is the soul of the home. To burnish this feature, Gilbride centered the butterfly roof over the island with the north wing soaring above the fireplace and the south wing ending over the dining room. Two other slanted roofs cover the bedroom suites, which flank opposite sides of the great room. A large laundry and mudroom complete the plan.
To soften the sleek, angular architectural lines, we incorporated a variety of wood and curved finishes. We lucked into a large stash of unfinished curly maple that we converted to tongue and groove boards for most of the ceilings, and flat boards for the stairs, window trim and moldings. Finish carpenter Bryan Jolly and his crew shaped the maple boards into asymmetrical soffits in the dining room, master bedroom and two baths, and also curved all the window sills. The interior doors are mahogany, a nice contrast with the curly maple, and the floors in the great room are Brazilian teak.
The exterior includes a standing-seam metal roof, stucco and fiber-cement siding, several large vertical wooden beams and covered outdoor areas with curved patio coverings and cedar soffits. Large, glass sliding doors flank either side of the living room, allowing visitors to see the mountains all the way through the house as they approach from the east.
Gilbride incorporated many energy efficiencies, including a perimeter with increased levels of insulation in eight-inch walls with staggered studs and fiberglass and foam insulation in the roof. An air-to-air heat exchanger keeps the super-tight home filled with pre-warmed fresh air, and solar panels help with electrical costs.
A great team
Early in the design phase, we hired Dennis Staines, a custom home builder recommended by Gilbride. He committed to work exclusively on our home (except for a couple of small remodels), and because of his reputation and experience in the community, brought many skilled subcontractors to the project. My husband became an ex-officio team member, showing up nearly every day at the job site—not always a welcome presence to every contractor. But Staines embraced this arrangement, and as a result, we got to know and truly appreciate him as well as the subs. Staines’ commitment continues even now as we tweak things that inevitably crop up in a new home.
The third indispensable team member was Kirsti Wolfe, also recommended by Gilbride. Some homeowners forego the cost of an interior architect, but we wouldn’t have the house we have today without her creativity. She designed the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry-mudroom, helped select cabinets, granite, tile, carpet, lighting and plumbing fixtures, hardware and many other essential features. She created unique tile designs for all the bathrooms and kitchen, which master tile setter Brian Stephens expertly installed. She also designed a one-of-a-kind front door and a glass display cabinet with an s-shape in front. Toward the end of the project, she guided us through the overwhelming process of a thousand final decisions.
Building a home brings many surprises but the biggest was how smoothly it went, given our different aesthetics (my husband spent 30 years collecting antiques, most of which I hope never get unpacked). Smooth sailing happened when subs showed up as scheduled, when building supplies and parts arrived on time, when the team made us part of all decisions and when we moved in as scheduled in June 2015.
The best part of a custom home is that it’s soul-satisfyingly ours. There’s a niche for Uncle John’s Chinese Foo dog statue, and the dining room is big enough for the antique table I refinished 25 years ago. I can see Mt. Bachelor at first light of day. At night, I enjoy Central Oregon’s starry night and seeing my husband sleeping contentedly in our very personal home.
Photos clockwise from top: The corner of the home extends into the desert | Curved glass front door in entry with contemporary LZF light and art niche for Foo dog | Views of the Cascades | Curly maple ceilings, Brazilian teak floors and wood-burning fireplace add warmth to the kitchen’s cool suelo marino granite counter tops. | Family antiques co-exist with super contemporary Tech Lighting pendant in dining room. | Exterior | Architectural staircase with steel railings and art niche.
10 Tips For a Better Building Process
Be on the same page regarding design and budget as your partner. Otherwise, decision-making with your team members will become an ordeal.
Know your budget and have a contingency allowance of 15 to 20 percent for cost overruns and change orders during construction. This will relieve stress with all parties.
The general contractor’s line-item budget can be accurate but still not reflect additional costs such as digging a well, bringing utilities to your lot, getting municipal approvals and retaining professionals, such as the architect, interior designer and landscape designer.
Respect and appreciate your general contractor and the subs that work on your home. Their work will reflect the treatment they get from owners.
Develop a realistic schedule based on current market conditions. To be safe, have contingency time built in for weather, material and subcontractor delays.
Deal with problems as they arise. It’s your contractor’s job deal with issues and to run interference.
Allow plenty of time to make decisions—there are literally thousands to be made during construction. Be available to your team.
Get estimates and compare pricing for plumbing, electrical, flooring, cabinet and other packages. Decide what you value most: sourcing local or keeping prices down, which are not always mutually exclusive. Bargains can be found on the Internet but remember that if something fails, service or replacement can be more difficult with non-local sources.
Don’t expect perfection—every home has a few mistakes.
Have fun—this might be the only time in your life you get to call all the shots.