Why You Should Build Your Own Home

The house that feels like home is the one you build yourself

| September-October 1999

Teaching people how to design and build their own homes makes some architects nervous. But John Connell, Yale-trained architect and founding director of Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vermont, has been teaching prospective home owners the essentials of home design and construction for 20 years. He feels that such efforts not only broaden the market for architects because clients are more informed, but also connect people to their communities.

Building one's own home was an honorable tradition for hundreds of years before World War II, when the United States was an agrarian society with intact nuclear families who believed that their farm buildings would be there forever. Even professional builders assumed that whatever they built would be around for a long time. Consequently, they used the best materials and tools, and the results were a tasteful expression of their lifestyles and culture.

"We seem to have given up all the elegance," Connell says. The shift was prompted by urbanization and a housing shortage after World War II.

At that juncture, rather than thinking of them as solutions to living situations, we started dealing with houses as products: commodities assembled, acquired, financed, and paid for as other merchandise is. The more people saw their houses as products, the more they relegated fabrication and maintenance to professionals. Today, many don't even know how a light switch on the wall relates to the fixture on the ceiling. They have no idea where their water comes from or where their waste goes. "The disconnect between the building and the occupant is so complete that most people are mystified if not intimidated," Connell says.

When veterans left the service after the war and started climbing corporate ladders, they were subjected to endless transfers. People began to view their homes as transitory and, in their drive for material achievement, relegated family and house to second and third priority. Today the average household moves approximately every five years. Not surprisingly, the design and construction of their current shelter has become unimportant to a large percentage of Americans.

"That's the backdrop against which I entered the picture," says Connell, who wrote Homing Instinct: Using Your Lifestyle to Design & Build Your Home (McGraw Hill reissue, 1999). "After graduation, I went to work in an architect's office. But I never really wanted to be an architect. My undergraduate training was in fine arts and I view buildings as a great artistic medium to work in."

Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!

Facebook Instagram Twitter