What It Truly Means To Build Your Own Place
Splinters Fingers & Other Means of Tiny Living…
My partner, Reyce, and I are no strangers to alternative means of living. For the past couple of years, we’ve built extraordinary foundations from the little-to-no resources provided — including, but not limited to: seamlessly room-mating with my father in a home that’s more of a garage than an actual house, traveled at such a high frequency that we never found the need for a permanent bed, soaked up luxury living in a downtown apartment as part of a 4-month artist residency, etc.
…you get the point.
We’ve also toyed with the fantastical idea of living out of our car for a year while penny-pinching our millennial desires until we stored enough finances to one day buy our own home. We’d deck out the Subaru Outback with meaty tires made for muddy trails in the desert backcountry and hookup a sweet camper on the back. Reyce would cook his famous Trader Joe’s hotdogs with spinach, spicy mustard, and whole grain buns as we listen to the coyotes sing their song for a nightly routine. It’d be beautiful, we thought. I then immediately purchased a gorgeous almost airstream-lookalike tear drop from a dude named Paul off craigslist, totally stoked for the future.
But one night in bed at my father’s unforgivingly dusty home, I turned over to Reyce with pleading eyes.
“I don’t know. What if we actually had our own place? Like, why is that such concept? We’ve done a great job dodging normal means of rent and home dealerships, maybe it’s time we settle into an actual place to call our own.”
Before I knew it, I perused the internet with fierce belonging; searching up, down, left, and right for unique homes in the East valley of Phoenix or North mountains of Los Angeles. Run down shacks were either 1.) too jagged to renovate, 2.) too costly to expense, or 3.) in not-so-pleasant parts of town. My heart sunk with each search, like a terribly skipped rock on a riverbed. Not a single listing caught my eye and after months of what seemed like an endless battle between passion and reality, I began to give up.
Just one week before we had moved out of our artist residency program in early May, we pondered the idea of Reyce’s grandfather’s “barn”. It’s not reallya barn, but the Carrasco family loves to call it as such. At the time, it was nothing more than a skeleton of what used to be a living, breathing two-story guest house on his grandfather’s ranch property in Gilbert, Arizona. The interior dated back to the 1970’s with wood panels, shag carpet, and other wonderful remnants of old-school architectural eclectics. Unfortunately, in the late 1990’s, a plumber came to sweat the pipes and burned down the entire place — leaving nothing but dust, drywall, and insulation piled atop one another in a nucleus of melted loss. How’s that for a total plot twist?
The whole situation was a nightmare from ‘ole family tales; no one ever came to the rescue after insurance wouldn’t pay for the damage thereafter. It cultivated itself into a distinguished storage shelter and garage where everyone in the family would pile in their forgotten skis, boats, and toolboxes. The entire building was a decrypted mess for over 10 years.
Though, Reyce and I never saw this precious gem as a mess. It was a project. Our perfect opportunity, we thought.
It started with the drawing board; islands of paper scraps with tiny inklings drawn like etched hieroglyphs on the side of a cave. We conglomerated a series of measurements, size capacities, weight limits, and furniture outlines like a couple of hard-earned architects who acted like they knew what they were doing, but totally didn’t. We ended up calling a few professional family friends, like Jose, to finish what we had started on the drywall and complete our staircase that brinks between our garage and loft. Though, other than those two completed aspects, Reyce had done everything else; from the electrical, the painting, the plumbing, the floorboards, the insulation, the furniture building, the sanding, the tiling, the wood making — everything.
Our kitchen has reigned the most difficult task beyond measure. We were forced to live amongst boxes of vegan take-out for over two months before semi-concrete plans secured in place — and even then are they not so permanent. Due to the loft’s curved A-frame, the distance of the window and the door from the short wall, and our ridiculous desire for a trendy apron-front countertop became far too difficult to toy with. With only inches of space working against us, there had been many points of frustration in which we thought a kitchen wouldn’t be possible at all. After a few trips to IKEA, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and reality lane — we needed to compromise. Instead of a traditional kitchen with gorgeous concrete slaps and toasted apricot cabinets to match our floorboards, we’d need to settle with a white kitchen cart and open shelves for our neatly complied handmade dinnerware, and a mounted sink on the other side of the bathroom wall (that still need to be installed). Traditional was never our strong suit anyways, I guess. We thought it ended up looking pretty damn cute.
To get a feel for the place — it smells of a balsam forest. The furniture is colorful. Our walls are as smooth as a Southwestern adobe. The bathroom is downstairs, kitchen appliances are sporadically stuffed into crevasses in which they fit best, and numerous of books, photo albums, and postcards rummage the floorboards. And Reyce — that sweet, beautiful, handsome man of mine — turned our downstairs garage into a studio space topped with trendy bistro lights and a canoe paddle. And the patio… oh my god the patio! It’s a wonderful mini escape to the outside world with chickens and horses galore.
Did I mention that my neighbors house livestock? Yeah, our dog, River, is a huge fan.
This place isn’t just space. It’s our home.
Building your own home from bare bones is a gruesome division of love and labor. It can be hard, really hard. Dust will collect in all the wrong places, the timing of projects are never in one’s favor, nothing seems rational, and everything seems stupid. But, just like my theatre teacher back in high school once said: “the middle every great project looks like a disaster”. And boy, she wasn’t kidding. Behind every perfectly painted wall in someone’s home embodies that brownish messy, insulated amalgamated muck that lives to tell the story of hardship, financial struggles, and torn hairs from the stress of loss. It’s like those wood panelings are smirking at the very whisper of an impression with your exasperated sigh and back against the wall. All those silly dents from moving furniture, or those scuffs underneath the bed from your dog’s thatched nails — ridiculous. But every mistake or perfectly imperfect abrade is what ends up making the place as cozy as it will be for your first Christmas. Or for your first new born. Even for their first day at school…
It’s a special thing, you know. To build your own home with your bare hands; those tired, bloody, splintered hands.