The secret formula to create your dream home

Building a home can be extremely stressful, frustrating and cause many arguments with our loved ones. We have all seen it on TV shows like “Grand Designs”. People embrace a project and encounter many problems along the way, such as changing design after the project began—arguing about it—extending the timeframe—arguing about it—exceeding budget—arguing about it, etc. Eyes roll, hair pulled. What a drama!

But this doesn't have to be the norm. Andrew and Alessandra, who have just finished building their straw-bale home in the North Island, had a very different experience to share. They helped answer three questions that puzzled me the most.

1. How can we enjoy the process of building our home instead of rolling our eyes and blaming each other?

Andrew and Alessandra said the secrets lie in planning, preparing, finding the right professionals and understanding your limits.

Thirty years ago, Andrew met his dream. He walked into an architect-designed straw-bale house and was blown away. From that moment, Andrew started researching, reading and talking about building a straw-bale home. When he met Alessandra, the dream became more real.

Alessandra and Andrew wanted to create a place that matched their lifestyle, but most importantly, the house itself was not the goal, the shared experience of building a home themselves was the dream long-held. They wanted to shape their home based on their values, values about how it should be made, who and what it should be built with, and how it should fit into its environment.

They deliberately created a financial safety-net for their house build over many years, therefore even though they had one year of living without income during the construction process, it was still sustainable for them. When the right land was found, they bought it without a site visit as they were working overseas. Then they found Pat Mawson, their builder, via recommendation and waited for two more years until everything aligned to start the build together.

During the preparation, while sharing and bouncing ideas around with Alessandra, Andrew converted their concept design into drawings, simple 3D renders and a collage of pictures. He then worked off and on via phone and email for more than a year with their architect Alex Greig and builder Pat Mawson to slowly transform the dream into reality—a set of plans that could express the shared vision and gain building consent from the local council. According to Andrew, the professionals helped him simplify and improve on the original ideas, while also suggesting cost saving. It was important to find the right professionals, ask questions and trust their expertise. Which leads us to another secret of a happy building process, know what you can do and what you can't.

(Image clockwise: Happy feet; Cleaning up the straw wall; The couple were treading clay slurry into loose straw; Pat checking the weight/density, uniformity of the bales in the field. )