Sunday, November 29, 2015


I am often asked why I decided to design our house myself as opposed to using an available design.  The reason I usually give is that there are very few available houseplans with attached hangars and adding a hangar to a conventional plan doesn’t work very well.  (There are a few houseplans with hangars available at the Living With Your Plane Association website.)  An attached hangar tends to preclude an outside view from a relatively large fraction of the perimeter of the house.  Although there are a handful of rooms for which a view to the outside is not important, conventional houseplans usually do not locate these rooms in the location at which a hangar would make sense.

When I am being completely honest, I admit that the main reason I designed the house myself is that I enjoy designing.  I enjoy learning about the science and practice of homebuilding.  I enjoy the challenge of manipulating the parts to try to achieve what we want subject to the constraints.  I am looking forward to seeing something I designed become a real world structure.

Some of the things we want in our houseplan will be familiar to most people designing a new house while other needs are specific to our situation.  My wife and I intend to live in this house until the kids send us off to assisted living.  Those kids are college age now.  They will probably live in the house off and on for the next few years.  How do we design a house to be suitable for just the two of us and also suitable for a holiday gathering with our kids, their eventual families, our parents, and our siblings?

For the main floor, we want a kitchen open to the family room.  When we have a family gathering, we don’t want the cooks to be segregated from everyone else.  If age or disability eventually prevents one of us from being able to climb stairs, we want to be able to live on just the first floor.  So, we put a bedroom, office, and laundry room on the first floor.  Although we label the bedroom as a guest bedroom, we provided a closet and bathroom that would make it a suitable master suite.

The master suite is upstairs.  We wanted to make sure to address the things we didn’t like about our old master suite.  Although our previous bedroom had a walk-in closet, it was really too narrow to have clothes hanging along both sides.  The new house needed a bigger closet.  As the design evolved, sometimes the closet would get even bigger because there was some unused space adjacent to it.  If the design evolved in the opposite direction, Julie would protest.  It seems you can never make a closet smaller.  Our old master bathroom was also just a bit too narrow.  Like the closet, the master bathroom seemed to grow as the design evolved.  Anyone with aspirations of designing a modest home should avoid watching HGTV (except maybe the show about tiny houses).

The hangar and garage presented some unique challenges.  Obviously, we need a door on the taxiway side large enough for the airplane and doors on the street side for the cars.  We also want to store our motorhome in the hangar.  Even existing house designs that have hangars rarely have provisions for RV storage.  The motorhome (the rectangle in the image above) dictated the height of the hangar.  We decided that it was easier to increase the height of the hangar door to get the motorhome in and out than to have a tall enough garage door.

The hardest part of designing the house was not making individual regions work out, but making them work together.  The roof sections need to come together in a way that is buildable and aesthetically pleasing.  Sometimes, the logical places for windows from the interior didn’t look good from the exterior.  No design is without compromises, but after many, many iterations, we have a design that we are pleased with.  We have good views of the runway from the rooms that we will spend the most time in.  We have a large south-facing section of roof that is suitable for solar panels.  I doubt if we have thought of everything, but hopefully we have thought of all the important things.