Speed Restrictions on Housing

Pipe Dreams

Exit door of “Pipe Dreams” at Elefante, handcrafted home structures

I wish that I could claim that I thought of Slow Home first, what can I say?  I didn’t, but when I ran across the idea, I was like, “Well, yeeah.”  As a residential designer, who secretly (guess it’s no secret now) wants to design & build treehouses and garden rooms, I hope the Slow Home movement sweeps the nation.  I hope it brings a new era of building or deconstructing that encompasses environmental restorative design, reconnecting humans and nature, and is a celebration of the human spirit possessing both anima and animus traits.  That is all.

The 10 Steps to a Slow Home 


Avoid homes by big developers and large production builders. They are designed for profit not people. Work with independent designers and building contractors instead.


Avoid home finishing products from big box retailers. The standardized solutions they provide cannot fit the unique conditions of your home. Use local retailers, craftspeople, and manufacturers to get a locally appropriate response and support your community.


Stop the conversion of nature into sprawl. Don’t buy in a new suburb. The environmental cost can no longer be justified. Re-invest in existing communities and use sustainable materials and technologies to reduce your environmental footprint.


Reduce your commute. Driving is a waste of time and the new roads and services required to support low density development is a big contributor to climate change. Live close to where you work and play.


Avoid the real estate game of bigger is always better. A properly designed smaller home can feel larger AND work better than a poorly designed big one. Spend your money on quality instead of quantity.


Stop living in houses filled with little rooms. They are dark, inefficient, and don’t fit the complexity of our daily lives. Live in a flexible and adaptive open plan living space with great light and a connection to outdoors.


Don’t buy a home that has space you won’t use and things you don’t need. Good design can reduce the clutter and confusion in your life. Create a home that fits the way you really want to live.


Avoid fake materials and the re-creation of false historical styles. They are like advertising images and have little real depth. Create a home in which character comes from the quality of space, natural light and the careful use of good, sustainable materials.


Avoid living in a public health concern. Houses built with cheap materials off gas noxious chemicals. Suburbs promote obesity because driving is the only option. Use natural, healthy home materials and building techniques. Live where you can walk to shop, school and work.


Stop procrastinating. The most important, and difficult, step in the slow home process is the first one that you take. Get informed and then get involved with your home. Every change, no matter how small, is important.    


Treehouse as Studio

I started out during the design phase of my home, wanting to build an office/ studio/ guest cottage at the rear of my property. As it turned out, it wasn’t in the budget. This was probably a good thing because at the location where it was sited, I didn’t realize until after the lot was surveyed, there is a nice little grove of young live oaks amongst a thick bed of palmettos. Of course, now that my daughter is graduating and is soon to move on, building another structure just for guests seems silly and the home office still functions perfectly in the the third bedroom. Now I’ve decided if I still need some sort of studio to “get away” or create, I would like to build something open and treehouse-esque. Even though I don’t have any trees large enough to support a real treehouse, I was recently inspired by a childs playhouse nestled in a hardwood hammock that was sporting a bridge to a look-out. For all intents and purposes, it could be considered a treehouse. The treehouse concept is also fueled by a recent holiday gift, Treehouses of the World by Pete Nelson. Each of the treehouses featured in the book is truly spectacular in its own way. The one on the cover, the Redmond Treehouse is one of my favorite. It encompasses several trees that pop out at odd locations and the moss gives it the patina that is evidence that it has evolved over the last 20 years. If you’re engineeringly inclined, you’ll appreciate the design of a little device called the “GL”, which is used in modern treehouse construction as a support to anchor the beams of the treehouse to, so as to allow the tree mobility and growth. The GL hardware device can apparently support up to 9,000 lb.

Really, my intent was to post about ANOTHER idea for a studio, NOT the treehouse, but the treehouse is so organic and small and perfectly immersed in the natural environment, I couldn’t help myself. This other idea is not new, nor is it orginal and I found evidence of this right in my own hood.

The shipping container.

Shipping containers

If someone would be interested, I’d love to design them a re-purposed shipping container studio/ house/ outbuilding/ whatever. As for my own purposes, I’d love to use the shipping container, though the problem is fitting it on my narrow lot and wedging it in the back without taking out the sparkleberry tree. The other issue is of course aesthetics, I much prefer the look of two containers together (double wide, if I may) as opposed to a single. I love the charming gable roof on these, though on mine, I would design a barrel roof made of corrugated metal set on some beefy 4″x8″ beams just for fun. The roof would span the double wide. Then I’d design a simple lean-to porch on the long side with again the corrugated (mini preferred) metal roof over 2X4 purlins over 2X6’s, no I’d use “L” channel to keep the profile miniscule, set atop a beam supported by (2) reused 12″ dia. piles. I’ll have to work on that in SketchUp so you get the idea.

If you’re interested in pre-fab design and other ideas that have been executed with the container bay, check out http://www.fabprefab.com/fabfiles/containerbayhome.htm.

I would love nothing more than if we could reduce our living square footage to fit in a couple shipping containers and a treehouse and simultaneously start to appreciate and cultivate creative solutions to our living structures.

Casa de Maraposa – House III

I’ve been meaning to continue my exploration of more examples of the “reduce-reuse-recycle” housing model and low and behold, my work was done for me.  If you recall, the first home I described is a home that will be reused and relocated on the property (still in a holding pattern, though DEP has granted a permit).  The second home was remodeled using recycled materials.  The Casa de Maraposa or house III is an example of building new using advanced wall systems, reducing square footage and incorporating green practices throughout.  This project is still on the boards.  My friend and client has written a great post on the project so I won’t spoil the fun, read all about it at his blog.

Bohemian Bungalow – House II

Revisiting the past briefly, this is an oldie but a goodie.


 The down and dirty:

  • 800 sq.ft. beach house, built in the late 60’s
  • basically destroyed from the inside out by termites
  • 5 contractors looked at this project with no takers
  • purchased the home at tax appraised value with cash

The renovation:

  • $10,000 in materials which included: wood, drywall, wiring, plumbing, concrete, discounted metal roof, new misordered windows from building supply, paint and a LOT of caulk
  • scavenged materials: solid mahogany doors from old restaurant, bricks and 5-panel wood doors from 1800’s house, oven and cabinets from street collection, misc. wood, insulation, appliances, plumbing fixtures from nearby house destroyed by tornado
  • labor supplied by a close friend, daughter and self.

Where we lived during renovation: backyard, in a 1969 AirStream

Timeframe: approx. 6 months

Appraisal before renovation: $15,000

Appraisal after renovation: $55,000


This story really begins with a charming red 1963 Dodge Dart convertible with rusted out floor boards and a fuel filter that needed continual cleaning.  I was working with a local architect and making about $12/ hr at the time, and my b.f. thought it imperitive that I buy this car, being that it was the ULTIMATE beach vehicle.  So, I did, for $1,500 that I really didn’t have.  Oh, we sure enjoyed that car though.  Several months after the car purchase, a tornado came barrelling down our street and took out about 10 houses, including a friends house, the Skrabalak’s.  Heh.

I decided it might be a smart idea to purchase one of the newly cleared tornado lots, build a new house then tear down our termite buffet.  The lot I wanted was $18,000 and I needed 10% down.  BTW, this was one of those lots within 1,000 ft. of the gulf.  I put the car up for sale, sold it for the same price as I purchased it, saved $300 and had my $1,800 to put down on the lot, which I promptly did.  After 3 months of trying to convince a bank (any bank) that I was a good risk for a construction loan to no avail, I gave up.  Realizing that I could no longer pay on the lot AND fix up my current abode, I opted to sell the lot and purchase an Air Stream.  I made a tidy profit of $5,000 (funny, right?) and promptly rolled 3 grand into the 24′ trailer, which I figured I would live in while I built a new house.  Still unable to get a construction loan with my salary, I decided I would do the next best thing when you have good credit…apply for every credit card on the planet and take out all cash advances possible.  This provided the $10,000 as noted above.

Oh, I almost forgot.  You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just get a home equity loan.  That’s because the house was in such disrepair it was uninsureable, hence unmortgageable.  Also, it was financially impossible to rent another home and simultaneously fix up my tear-down house.

Having the credit cards and cash in hand, we went about fixing up the house.  First it was jacked up (the roof was sagging about 6″), gutted and all the extraneous rotten additions were removed.  Then each exterior wall was rebuilt, one at a time.  New windows and doors, plumbing and wiring followed.  The floor was a peeling mess of poly-faux terrazo, which we recovered with 1.5″ of fresh concrete.  Then the new roof went on, followed by all the interior finishes, drywall, trim, paint, fixtures, etc.  It was a tremendous amount of labor that was being performed under a time crunch.  It was impairative to be complete before hurricane season due to the fact that insurance companies don’t write policies during that time.

It all came together about a week before June 1.  We completed the house renovation, the insurance company did an inspection and wrote me a policy.  With policy in hand,  I was able to go to my local credit union and apply for a home equity loan.  They gave me $20,000 to do home improvements (after the fact), which I in turn, used to pay off my credit cards used during renovation, as well as a few other debts.  I had about $2,000 remaining which I treated myself and family to a 3 month backpacking trip to Alaska.  This story continues but I’ll leave you here for now.  And that is just the beginning of how a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible transformed into a house.


Bohemian Bungalow


I had an epiphany.  Not the ‘manifestation of Christ’ kind of epiphany, but a ‘moment of sudden revelation’ kind of epiphany.  This MAY seem totally radical to some of you, like maybe I fell and bumped my head kind of radical.  To others, it may seem foolish and still others may see this as a natural progression towards creating a new economy built on value.  A quick disclaimer, I have done no research on this topic other than reading the books I have listed on my blog and reading other blogs.  This epiphany is driven on instinct alone at the moment and the results thereof may play out completely different in reality.  Here it goes.

I just e-mailed a client of mine with the proposal that he pay me, what he thinks my services are worth to him.

I’ve never done this before and I may never do it again but here’s a little background.  I’m a residential designer.  I don’t claim to be an architect, though according to the definition, architect best describes my profession.  I charge my clients by the hour or square footage depending on the circumstances.  One of the biggest challenge I often face is creating proposals.  Basically I put together a set of numbers that I think is a fair and marketable price for my services taking into consideration the parameters of the project and the client.  That seems very straight forward until other things creep onto the scene and somehow interrupt this process, for instance:

  • I really connect with the client, though  realize they have greatly under estimated construction costs and my fee.
  • I realize the client is someone I have no respect for and therefore no desire to work with.
  • I realize the project may be beyond my capabilities, though I’m eager to give it a whirl.
  • (for women) I know my male counterparts may be charging twice as much, though I’m concerned with alienating my loyal clients by charging more.
  • (for degree-less professionals) I have 12 years experience in my field, yet no paper to “prove” my worth.
  • I like to think I have a conscience and natural desire to do what I believe is right for the environment and humankind, e.g. design homes that strive for sustainability including home structures for folks with limited means.
  • I have a business to run and a family to support.

Needless to say, writing the proposal can be a daunting task.  Recently, our area is experiencing a shift in real estate sales and therefore labor costs, etc.  Once again I am rethinking what my fees are or will be in response to this shift.  Many clients have been late to pay, with a few not paying at all.  There have been a few remarks as to the rate being high or prices seem to have doubled.  Then there is always the blank stare response that says, “I had no idea it was going to cost that much.”  Of course there are the clients that don’t bat an eye and just roll with the program and are full of praises.

All of this brought me to where I am today.  Even in lean times, the universe has always provided for my family and I feel that I am a fair and equitable person with a healthy work ethic.  So, what if I decide to go against this economy that only values the GDP and work toward creating an economy that values people, relationships, the envionment and defineable products and services?  What if I only attract clients that I want to form a relationship with and I ask those clients to pay what they feel my services are worth to them?  What will happen?  I don’t know what’s going to happen but I had this overwhelming feeling to “put it out there”.  So, I did.

Foolish?  Maybe.  De-valuing?  Maybe.  Risky?  Maybe.

Maybe another world will reveal itself to me.  I know one thing for certain, the anxiety of placing a price tag on my design capabilities has in this instance been removed and replaced with renewed enthusiasm for the project at hand.  I’ll keep you posted on how this approach plays out.

First, the DEP’s Blessing – House I

This is a post that actually goes along with an article written for Topsail-Island about the 3R’s – reduce, reuse, and recycle.  In the article I write about how the 3R’s also apply to our homes.  Simply stated: reduce living square footage, reuse your existing home, and build with recycled materials.  Over the next several months (however long construction lasts) I’m going to document the transformation of a few homes that are prime examples of the 3R’s put into action.    Exciting, right?

The first home is a residence on the beach.  This property has been in the family (not my family, if you’re wondering) for many years and has been passed down to the children.  Originally constructed in the 1980’s, this home has endured many storms and was fairly protected due to its modest size and location behind several dunes.  Over the years, the dunes have washed away and the gulf has crept a little closer.  During hurricane Ivan, beach erosion washed away the homes seaward facing porch, though no structural damage was done to the main house.  For the most part, the house has been rendered useless.  The owners, through much agonizing, have decided to keep the house intact and relocate it northward about 65′.  Since the storms, the DEP has relocated the CCCL closer to their northern property line essentially decreasing the square footage needed to build another home.  I know, you’re probably saying, “If I only had such problems.”

Back to the house.  The first step was to have updated CAD drawings of the existing structure drawn (me! me! pick me!).  Those drawings were then given to the structural engineer to redesign the piling and girder foundation.  In the meantime, geotechnical engineers stepped in to collect boring samples to determine the depth of the new pilings. A new topographic survey is ordered and all of this data is given to the structural engineer so he can work his magic.  He generates new drawings combining all of this information including the new building location, fill if needed, dune walkover location, piling depth and turtle lighting.  These drawings have been submitted to the DEP and now we wait for their approval and a permit.  That’s just the beginning.  We still need to get a county building permit, which can’t happen until we have the DEP permit.  The owners still need to settle on the piling company and a contractor that will pull the permits and rebuild the lost porch.  So that’s where we are on that house.  Patiently waiting.

North Elevation South Elevation East View West View

CFH Design Studio Website

It’s been 6 years coming, but the long awaited website is finally up and running.  It’s a little slow with the photos & needs a little tweaking.  Well, maybe a lot of tweaking.  There’s no fancy Flash or CSS or java scripts, just plain “old school” HTML.  I’ve had some time on my hands recently with the slow down in the real estate market, so I was able to pull out my 1,079 page HTML book/ flower press/ door prop and brush up on some web development skills (like I don’t have enough to do, staying up-to-date on my Autocad skills).  Hence, nothing too fancy for now.  Fortunately, I think I’m in a good spot with my business, focussing on end users with a need to update and/ or expand their existing homes.  It certainly won’t hurt to finally do a little self promotion at this time.


CFH Design Studio, Inc.