I’ve designed and built four homes for myself. Each one of them holds a special place in my heart–for the journey each took me on and for the joy of living in something I created. The first one was completed over fifty years ago. I was in my early twenties. I had saved the princely sum of $3,500 (roughly half my annual salary) by living like a pauper and by subjecting myself to twice-a-week plasma draining at a blood bank ($8 per visit). The fruits of my savings were directed towards buying a lot and building a house. It took months to find the lot I wanted. It turned out that the cost for a contoured 3 ½ acre wooded lot, with a stream, in southern Lancaster County was the exact figure as my savings. While I had a fair amount of education in architectural design and a few years of experience teaching it, I had only one summer of construction work. I, however, was young and blind to my limitations.
The financing wasn’t easy: I had a very short credit history, the house plans didn’t have door facing the road, my prospective mortgage to income ratio wasn’t pretty, and I wasn’t a professional (proven) builder. The bank finally caved by the end of the school year and I had the time-of-my life that summer. Total cost for land and house was $27,000, if one assumes that my labor was for “free”. It wasn’t the perfect realization of a dream. I certainly did some things in the design that I would never repeat; but, I loved that house and cherish the memories of making it exist.
These photos show the house as it is now, fifty-two years later. I lived there for less than five years when, out of the blue, an unsolicited offer was made. What made it impossible to refuse was not the money, which was high, but the opportunity to build again.
The house is now owned by a company involved in vacation rentals. A week’s stay is $3,500 and I’m giving that some thought.
– Tony Zaya