From the beginning, possibly when Tina met James, in 1984, they talked about building a house. After 15 years of daily commuting to New York City, where both worked as computer consultants, they launched a cottage-industry business creating laser-cut fashion and home accessories and started working from home.
Even though the new business kept them occupied, they didn't forget about their house fantasy. "We had always been sort of looking for either a vacant lot or a house that we could redo, though never seriously," says James, who one day decided to drive by a house his real estate agent had recommended. James was attracted to the property—especially to the mature oaks that fronted it—but sensed Tina wouldn't be thrilled by the ranch home that came with the land. So he offered her a deal: If they bought the property, Tina could do whatever she wanted with the house.