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.
As a former contractor, James did know something about framing and hands-on construction, and with their shared computer expertise, he and Tina became adept at using AutoCAD software, the same automated design program used by the licensed building crowd.
Now, four years later, the family lives here—happily, for the most part. And the dust has pretty much settled. What remains is a 4,100-square-foot rectilinear structure that has little in common with its neighbors—two-story Colonials, mostly. Early on, Tina and James realized they were not a cozy-up-to-the-hearth family. So the fireplace was replaced by a freestanding waterfall. "That's something we can enjoy every day, all year round," Tina says.
The open living room affords little privacy, so the parents retreat to the bedroom when their children's friends visit. A walnut bed by Cappellini floats in the master bedroom.
- The shower in the wall-less master bedroom doesn't drain properly and steam warps the hardwood counters, so a glass shower enclosure will have to be installed.
- The sinks in the bathroom used by the children (Domenick, 16, and Rosina, 15) are too shallow and constantly overflow.
- The centrally situated dining table has become, Tina says, "a way station to the outdoors, collecting books, mail, and a variety of junk."
- The smooth-as-cashmere limestone floors were sealed and now have to be cleaned with distilled water (regular water turns the surface of the floors cloudy).
Despite the mistakes, Tina says there's very little she would change about the experience. "As a designer, it was the ultimate project." And in the end, "it turned out to be what we'd always imagined," she says.
They also didn't anticipate that their DIY dream home would require something of its owners that the surrounding Colonials don't: "One has to be very, very neat." James says. "We love our house, but it's not easy to do modern."
- Even on overcast days, there's so much natural light in the house that it feels very uplifting. (Above: De Sede of Switzerland chairs surround a Heltzer table in the semicircular breakfast area overlooking the back patio.)
- The large expanses of glass permit the family to observe nature all year long.
- The rectilinear house is long and low and does not overpower its surroundings.
- After they designed the house on the computer—establishing the footprint, layout, rooflines, ceiling height, and window arrangements—Tina and James didn't have to make any more changes, which saved them time and money.
- The 11-foot-high ceilings provide a feeling of simplicity, spaciousness and light.
- The flexible layout allows for bright, open communal spaces as well as for smaller, private bedrooms.
- The limestone floors inside the house would not be sealed, because the stone floors stain when cleaning solution is applied to the sealer.
- Tina and James would design storage in the kids' bathroom to better accommodate their teenage daughter's cosmetics.
- They would install aluminum windows throughout the house rather than use smaller, more traditional frames in the bedrooms.
- The couple would build a place near the front door to drop off keys, mail, books, and magazines.