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September 5, 2003
Designing our dream home

We can't show you our house because it isn't built yet!  However, here are some pictures of other Topsider houses from their Website.  All images are Copyright by Topsider.

On July 7, 2003, the day after we returned from our July 4th camping trip on the mountain, we began the serious work of designing our dream house.

Gail had been working all along with Steve Hill, a "Senior Project Manager" (i.e., sales rep) with Topsider.  Although Steve currently lives in North Carolina (where Topsider is located), he was originally from California.  Steve was very pleased to hear from Gail again (he had given us up as a "dead" sales lead), and Russell joined the call as we brainstormed ideas.

Topsider allows for three different construction alternatives: on a pedestal, on a crawl space, or on a slab.  Gail liked the idea of a pedestal (it gives you a "tree house" feel, and thus a higher panorama) but Russell thought it made the house look too much like a mushroom.  A crawlspace would be out of the question, given our mountain of solid flagstone.  A cement slab would be our best alternative.

Given the size of our family and our current residence, Steve recommended that 1,730 sq ft would be appropriate for a retirement/vacation home, while 2,250 sq ft would be necessary for a year-round residence.  Given that we're not quite sure how much we'll use the house, we've decided to work with 1,750-2,000 sq ft.

Furthermore, our least-expensive option would be a two-story house.  This would give us a single smaller foundation and a single smaller roof.

Steve knows that the main reasons we selected Topsider are:

  1. You can have a house with no interior walls, and
  2. You can have walls that are completely glass.

As Steve proudly declared, "There is no builder on the planet who can do Topsider's glass abilities!"  However, because of California's Title 24 (an energy efficiency statute), we cannot have a total of more than 75% glass throughout the house.  If we want to maximize glass in the walls, we should eliminate any skylights.

Russell was adamant that one story would be an octagonal room, with glass on all external walls with no interior walls.  In order to do this, we would have to have less glass on the other story in order to achieve an overall total of 75% glass.

More pictures from Topsider's Web site, showing why we selected their system.    All images are Copyright by Topsider.

Steve estimated that if we acted as our own contractors, we could save about $12,000 (Steve also knows that the Topsider is more than twice our budget, and he is trying to help us find ways to cut costs).  He reassured us that Topsider houses are easily put together like Lego sets, and that they were originally developed to be owner-built.

On July 17, Steve came back to us with preliminary estimates for a two-story stacked house.  On July 28, we signed Topsider's "Standard Design Services Agreement" and gave them a deposit.  Now we had to figure out what to tell them to design.

We knew that one story would contain three bedrooms, while the other story would contain Russell's "big room" of glass walls, including the kitchen.  The question was, which one should be on top?  We initially thought that the "big room" should be upstairs, in order to achieve the best panoramic view.  Ultimately, however, we decided that the bedrooms should be upstairs.  We wouldn't want guests to have to go past the bedrooms to get to the living area.  Besides, we would get very tired of having to lug groceries up the stairs to get to the kitchen (and lug plates of food downstairs every time we wanted to have a cook out).  So the "big room" would go downstairs.  The "big room" would be a Topsider "03" design (865 sq ft), while the second story would be a larger "04" (1,125 sq ft).

For the upper (bedroom) floor, we scoured Topsider's online and paper catalogs, hoping to adapt a floor plan that already existed.  We found something close to what we liked and went from there.  In addition to the three bedrooms, Gail wanted a small living area upstairs as well.  She called it her "quiet room," where she could retire to peace and quiet if things got too noisy downstairs (she anticipates having lots and lots of guests when we're finished).

ts-0407.jpg (28431 bytes)     030803_upper.jpg (114614 bytes)
1. Topsider's TS-0407 floor plan, the inspiration for our upper floor (image is Copyright by Topsider).
2. Our upper story sketch for Topsider's design team, submitted on August 3, 2003.

The lower ("big room") floor was much more difficult.  There was no existing Topsider floor plan that came anywhere near what we wanted.  We knew that we wanted a big room with all-glass exterior walls and no interior walls that would obstruct the panoramic view.  At the same time, we knew that the kitchen would have to be here somewhere.  In addition, Gail wanted a downstairs bathroom and pantry.

We went back and forth, rejecting several ideas that just didn't work.  Finally, Russell came up with an idea that included an open kitchen and only one interior wall.  The lower story would only have six of the eight walls enclosed in glass, but we would keep solid walls on the north side, where we had the least panoramic view.

     030803_lower.jpg (76023 bytes)
1. Russell's original conception for a "big room," sketched on July 16, 2003.
2. Our lower story sketch for Topsider's design team, submitted on August 3, 2003.

For the next two months, we worked with Jim DuBois, Topsider's Director of Design Services.  Jim would keep faxing us house designs, and we would keep faxing him marked up house designs.  We never wanted to be the cause of any process delays, so we were often up past midnight in order to respond to Jim's latest revisions.  We looked at every minute detail, down to which way the doors opened on their hinges.  Finally, on September 5, we approved a "final" house design.

030905_final_upper.jpg (55547 bytes)     030905_final_lower.jpg (33956 bytes)
Topsider's final design, as approved by us on September 5, 2003.  Note that the upper floor is cantilevered above the lower floor.

The next step will be for Topsider to spec out the design and provide us with a formal quote.  If we decide to proceed (i.e., give them money), then Topsider will develop a full set of blueprints.  Steve estimates that it takes about 12 months from payment to building permit.

Before we take the major step of giving Topsider a gigantic amount of money, though, we have decided to take a tour of Topsider's factory.  We have made arrangements for Cameron and Joss to stay in California; and Gail and Russell have purchased plane tickets for a trip to North Carolina.


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