Here at Dwell, we love houses with a good backstory. So it's no surprise that some of our favorite features from years past spotlight homes patiently and passionately built by residents with a tight budget, an obsession with modern design, and a willingness to put in plenty of sweat equity. Here, a look back at some homes renovated or built, to one degree or another, by hand.
"I’m a little wary of the construction-on-a-dime myth trumpeted in the press. Construction is ridiculously expensive," says architect Jeff Sherman (above). Nevertheless, thanks to a little elbow grease, a helpful dose of naïveté, and a decade of sustained effort, he managed to renovate his Brooklyn rowhouse for about $100 per square foot. Check out his story in New Prospects.
In a quest to develop a quartet of affordable sustainable-housing projects, Philadelphia developers Chad and Courtney Ludeman depended on inexpensive, humble materials. To achieve what they imagined people like themselves want—small, sustainable houses for reasonable prices—they first had to prove they could make one for themselves. The perpetual question in the numerous iterations of the cost-conscious design, say the couple, was “If we do a little less, can that actually be cooler than [doing what people have come to expect, but] cheaping out on it?” Learn more about the process and check out the final result in See What Develops.
Inspired by the work of Japanese architect Teronubo Fujimori, Dutch architect Pieter Weijnen clad his family's low-energy passive home with larch wood boards that he charred himself—a natural way to preserve timber and make it fire resistant. Get the full story in Second to None.
To build his small, green home in Bozeman, Montana, Brian Whitlock, a sound mixer, sourced local design talent and rolled up his sleeves. Whitlock's flexible work schedule permitted him months at a stretch to labor full-time on the house with his contractor, Josh Blomquist of CWJ & Associates. Though hardly a journeyman homebuilder, Whitlock wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty, especially if it meant saving some cash. Check out the end result in Builders Special.
Falmouth, England-based interior designer Kathryn Tyler designed her home with the help of an architecture student friend, developing a floor plan around specific pieces of vintage furniture she'd amassed over a decade of collecting. "It’s probably a very weird way of working, but I’d never built a house before so I didn’t know any better!" She and her boyfriend proceeded to do a lot of hands-on labor themselves (including shifting 15 tons of earth in two days using a mini digger, buckets, and wheelbarrows). See everything in hCollector's Choiere.
Architect Jayna Cooper had never designed a house before, much less played general contractor, when she broke ground on her new home in the middle of Los Angeles in 2009. After a grueling four months of hands-on hard work—managing subcontractors, sourcing materials, driving the front loader—she moved in. In the story of the 131 Day House, she walks us through her completed home and reveals what it took to make this $200-per-square-foot abode a reality.