Honey We’re Home: The Design Process
If you read my post on Wednesday you know that things are starting to move at the new mission site in Camp Mary (Kan Marie in Creole)
My role in all of this building process is quite a bit different than Chris’. He’s taken charge of the work area, and I’ve taken charge of designing the house and office space, as well as the guest house and volunteer residence. When we built our current house back in 2008 he was much more involved in that process and I just added bits and pieces of input here and there. I still remember when Otto, our engineer friend, came to spend a month with us to oversee the form work for the header beams on the first floor, and he pulled me aside to talk about layout. His exact words, “I want to talk to you because I know Chris doesn’t think about these things. Where are you going to put your garbage can in your kitchen? And where is your filter going to go?” I laughed because he was right, and because I knew exactly where they were going to go.
This time around I’ve been responsible for designing all of these spaces from the ground up. And I’ve literally been working through this process for almost two years. From the time we bought the property. Up until last spring Chris didn’t want to even talk about plans, but had to cave under pressure from our board to give them a price point for fundraising. You have to know what’s going into a building before you know how much it’s going to cost! :)
After having lived with our current facilities, and taking into account how we plan to use spaces going forward, as well as what is and isn’t available in Haiti, this whole process has become very personal for me. Because concrete is really permanent I’ve tried to take into account what our needs are and think about how those might change over time. With each building I’m taking into account what works in our current spaces, and what has become a frustration over the years or what we wish we’d done differently.
Sometimes it’s not even that we planned poorly, it’s that our space usage has changed. For example, when we started doing our Vision Trips we mostly had single people coming. Now we get interest from married couples, and our dorms weren’t designed to accommodate married couples. We previously used the second house on the property for those special cases, but now we have a full time volunteer living in there and that space isn’t available. Also, we had previously had two large dorm rooms, so that’s what we modeled the new building after. But, when we only have a couple of visitors we still have to clean the entire space, a waste of Yonese’s time and energy. We’re taking all of these things into account and planning better facilities that will be more flexible for all of our needs.
For the main mission residence specifically I’ve tried to really think through spaces. The office has been a big one because we currently don’t have a formal office space. It’s literally a wall in our living room where Chris and I share a 2×6′ desk that I whipped together with plywood. No drawers. We have a filing cabinet that holds a printer on top and other stuff. We have stuff piled in the window sill. We have shelves above the desk. We have stuff like paper in our storage room. Everything else is down in other house and we get it when we need it. Not efficient. It’s going to be so nice to have a well designed space that provides a lot of actual work space for all our leadership staff, storage in the actual office, as well as a storage room for bigger items like boxes of paper and any supplies that we need to give out a bit at a time for our staff.
The rest of the house plan has evolved over time as we’ve evolved in our acceptance of what is needed. That might sound funny but hear me out.
First, we live in a country that is often defined as one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. I don’t like that definition, but the fact that there is a vast amount of poverty here can’t be ignored. The area that we’re moving to is rural. People have very small homes and some of them are built out of rock, mud cement and tin roofs. We were mindful of all of that. BUT, we also have to be realistic and think about the needs of not just our family, but also the mission and how the space will be used for mission activities.
The bottom line, and something that I’ve been very mindful of through this whole process, is that while our family will be living in this house, it’s not our home. It is the mission main residence. Whenever our time comes to move on to something else (hopefully many years down the road) someone else will come behind us. On top of that I’ve been paying very careful attention to how we currently use our space. What do we do with it? How does it feel when we do these things? Could we do more with more room?
The hard facts:
- Our 3 year old is the same size as a typical 4-5 year old. We know that he’s going to be about 6’4″ when he’s done growing. Probably around the age of 13 if he’s like his Pappa was. How will the space feel 10 years from now when we have a towering teenager lumbering around the house?
- We currently have a staff of 15. That means that any time we do anything with our staff in our home, whether it’s pay day every other Friday, or special events like our Christmas party, we need to think about what space is available. Over time, as funding increases, our staff size will grow. We would like to be able to do more in our home with our staff, and have the space for the mission to be able to do things like this, so that’s a major factor.
- We believe in having healthy relationships within the local missionary community, and the mission has become a place that is known as a relaxing and enjoyable place to come and be. We host bi-weekly missionary fellowship times where we do a Bible study together and enjoy visiting. The meetings used to rotate from house to house, but about a year and a half ago we were asked host each time for consistency and because we’re the central location. That won’t change when we move. We often have at least 15 people here. That’s something that we’re taking into account.
- When we host Vision Trips a few times each year a priority is hosting those guests in our home for all meals and social times. The reason is that we believe sharing meals provides a relaxed time of being able to connect and really talk about things. We really enjoy these times with our visitors. It’s personal and it gives them a chance to really be with our family and volunteer staff. Those relationships are what really connect people to what we’re doing. Yes, they’ll go home and remember what the mission does over all, but we become the personal connection to that.
Thinking through how spaces that we use for these activities feel now in our current place and how they would feel with more room has been the key design push.
At times seeing that our space will actually double feels overwhelming. For example, last week our engineer asked if I had kitchen designs that he could see so he could center window placements. I did have drawings done, and just needed to mark measurements on them. As I started doing that I realized that I was working on my original dimensions that I had sent when he started the structural stuff, and that I should take a look at his drawings to see if there had been changes. When I gave him my drawings I told him they were a starting place and hadn’t counted in wall thicknesses or block sizes, both things that would change room sizes. We didn’t want to go any smaller, and if he needed to make minor changes on room sizes to go bigger where needed. Glad I checked because we gained a foot in each direction in the kitchen. The kitchen was already big, but the adjustments bumped it up to an 11×20′ space. And that feels crazy. But then I think through all those points above and it’s not crazy. It’s smart. And very usable. And will mean the mission has wonderful facilities available for a very long time.
The fun part of designing from ground up is that it is personal.
This is where Chris and I go in completely different directions. While he’s needed to be part of the structural stuff, and we’ve talked about important things like where to put the washing machine and having a half bath on the first floor, when it comes to the detail stuff his head explodes. When we built our current building he literally spent days driving around Port au Prince trying to source things like windows, doors, bathroom fixtures, etc. The selection last time around was limited. We didn’t have a passenger vehicle at the time and Olivia was just a baby, so it wasn’t easy for me to go with him. I did go a few times but when it came time to buy things, he really did most of it, and it was fine.
This time though it’s all on me. The house and guest house/volunteer housing are much more detailed. We’re also going to be doing certain things like kitchen cabinets and office built ins in-house. While Chris might get twitchy about that, it gets my juices flowing. While he might want to go to a hardware store and get in, get out, I want to wander around and look at stuff and make notes. In November we went into Port with a friend and while they looked at solar panels for her I quickly walked around the store and made notes about prices and sizes on specific things like doors, bathroom fixtures, etc. I took pictures with my phone. I had a clip board in hand where I had already written down what we needed for each room, how many, and space to write down the source and prices. This kind of planning for this kind of thing makes Chris want to break out in hives. Construction stuff, no problem. Details for bathroom fixtures? No thank you. But, we’re smart about this, and quickly decided that when it’s time to start buying this stuff I’ll be going in and doing the buying runs. And that makes this girl happy.
Last week when I ended up with a few extra hours before needing to be at the airport for a pick up I decided to stop at a few of the places where we know we’ll be getting certain things from so I could price out certain items, see what was available, and get ideas about timelines. The first stop was a new hardware store similar to another major one in town. It had a lot of the same things. It was good to see what they had, compare prices and get an idea about where to go. As it turns out, they didn’t have some of the key things, like interior doors in the style and price point we want, that the other store had. The stuff they did have was available at the other store, so I know now that it’s just going to make more sense to go to the other store and save a trip across town.
I stopped by the same distributor where we got bathroom fixtures last time to see what they had for bathtubs, sinks and toilets in comparison to the previously mentioned hardware stores. Their quality is better, and so are their prices, so I know that’s where we’ll go for some of those things. The best part? I found the kitchen sink we’re going to get, and I’m excited about it. Silly, but fun too. The best part? It’s higher quality than the other options, and less money. Love that! Glad I could check out the bathtubs because we were still waiting to see which way the bathroom plumbing was going to go. When you build in concrete you have to think about embedding things in the floors and walls, and that affects which way fixtures can go in. I was able to chat with our engineer more about the options which was helpful for both of us.
One of the best stops along the way was the tile store! We’re going to the same place that we went to last time because a) their prices are good, and b) the tiles are cement tiles that are made here in Haiti, and we want to support local production wherever possible. I was able to talk to one of the owners and get prices on things so we would know what to estimate, as well as find out how far in advance we’d need to order the tiles to have them ready when we’re ready for installation. We’re going to be working on a tight timeline so these are key things. The best part though was to get an idea about what was available this time around.
We’ve made a decision already about what we’ll be getting, but that was even a funny conversation. When we built our current place and chose floors we wanted a mosaic. There were a lot of choices and we landed on a sunburst pattern. It wasn’t my first choice but it was the one that Chris really liked so I went with it because I was making other decisions with things like the kitchen cabinets. They’re fun, but over time it feels chaotic to me, and it feels limiting in what goes with it.
This time around I wanted something solid colored. Because we know the walls will be a creamy white like we have now and love, I thought something in a terracotta color would be neutral and classic looking, but Chris was still hoping for a mosaic. The pricing on the mosaics come in at about $10 more per square meter than the solids. I found a fun option that I thought would maybe meet in the middle as far as having a sense of pattern, but was the same price as the solid colored tiles. This:
My thought was that it was a solid color, it was neutral, and yet the shape gave the sense of pattern without being outright pattern. A happy compromise, if you will. I thought for sure that he would go for it because it was still interesting and different.
Do you want to know what Chris said when I showed it to him?
“Oh my gosh, that makes my head hurt! No way. We’re going with a solid square tile. Pick whatever color you think will look good.”
Because a yellow background with a green and terracotta sunburst through the entire house for the past 5 years doesn’t do that.
As far as the house and office building goes, we’re still finalizing some of the details with the engineer, but we’re hoping to break ground on the building in the next couple of weeks. I’ll keep you posted.