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HOUSE-DREAMS by Hugh Howard


How an Amateur Builder and Two Rookie Apprentices Turned an Overgrown Blackberry Patch, Ten Truckloads of Lumber, a Keg of Cut Nails, and an Antique Staricase into a Real Home

by Hugh Howard

Pub Date: June 8th, 2001
ISBN: 1-56512-293-3
Publisher: Algonquin

An absorbing account of amateur builder Howard’s construction of his family home.

A latter-day embodiment of that quintessential American, the homesteader, Howard (The Preservationist’s Progress, 1991) is determined to build his family a home in the little town of Red Rock, two hours and a world away from New York City. A writer, Howard is as taken with the intellectual aspects of the project as he is with the physical; he traces his design influences back to 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, his heating system is one conceived by a Victorian building reformer, and the layout of his grounds finds its roots in 18th-century England. No effete intellectual, however, the author spends his days hoisting beams and driving nails with his one hired helper. But his most remarkable attribute is his fundamental belief in his totally untried abilities, his unshakeable assumption that he can actually build his own house from the foundation up. For the specialized needs of the building process—the heating system, the landscaping—he employs skilled workmen, and each of them in turn becomes a character in story (from the practical stonemason to the landscaper whose vision requires that the garden look as if “an old lady lost control of it”). Yet despite the new friends and day-to-day gratification, all does not run entirely smooth. Howard makes no effort to cover his mistakes, which run from budget miscalculations to serious accidents averted only by luck; the very first vignette has him misjudging the depth of the house’s foundation by two feet. These setbacks don’t stop the inevitable forward motion of the project or the author’s pleasure in the work, however, and Howard’s assertion that “one of the joys of building is that it is at once work and leisure” is entirely convincing.

Equally fascinating for its exploration of both the physical complexities of housebuilding and the theory and history that lie behind the ways homes are made.