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10/22/08

Story of Green Modern Kits. Where I ramble on endlessly about land, life, and the pursuit of gorgeous green design, affordably. Tiresome!

I was invited to be on a green design panel tonight for HausTalk. Yesterday, I was sent an itinerary, which made it clear I was to speak about Green Modern Kits.

As my hesitation kicked in (I thought I was just helping out to foster conversation- I know this is going to surprise people but I'm comfortable on the internet but in real life?!? I am shy! I was going to talk about outdated zoning and why citizens should be allowed to have urban chickens!), after some thought I'm going to use it as an opportunity to tell my story, the story of how Green Modern Kits became reality.

I really hope I don't bore you, you don't have to read this, house kit updates coming soon!

Warning to all! This is a Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally Looooooooooooooooooooooong Post!
It's the longest, rambling, long-winded post EVER!
RUN!
(Really! I'm so sorry! I just wanted to set this down for myself, to turn over in my head and consider. I'm only using the end part, the part where I talk about what happens *after* I kidnap the architects and industrial designers, for HausTalk.)

Any-hoo...

It all started with land.
I grew up with a family farm, 180ish acres on the banks of the James River. It was part of my family waaaaaay before I was born. My entire childhood and young adult years were spent fishing, wading, swimming and floating endlessly in inner tubes with fish nibbling my toes in the 35 foot deep pond, hiking briskly through the woods, whiling away the days on the porch, doing nothing. I was born with land in my heart, in my soul.
And then, when I was 32, it was lost.

That is another story, one that could fill volumes.
In my heart, I still walk and love every inch of that place... the pawpaw trees, the gravestones, the old bell on the top of the hill used to call in the horses, the quarry, the flooded woods with boats in the trees, the civil war trenches, the quiet fields, the old house, over 200 years old, the original barn, the warm smell of horses that filled the stalls in the new 18-stall barn, the summer kitchen where people from all over the world, mainly Kenya, would gather after running the Rotherwood Races (back then we pelted runners with water and doled out salt tablets), the mahogany stairs, the multi-level rooms upstairs, the old house I recall, before it burned: the smell of it, that red-clay and seasoned wood smell you only encounter in very old homes. The cannons on the front porch, the roses climbing to the balcony, my great-great grandmother's quilts on the beds, the pear tree the bears would climb... the ornate woodworking that made my granddad fondly refer to its architectural heritage as, "Steamboat Gothic!"

Then the sudden fire that took that dry old house down like lightening, the empty, charred foundation, the rebuilding of the new house with a modern open great room, a fire pole to shimmy down from the loft, the Chinese lacquer furniture, a gift from my Hong Kong aunt's family, and scattered bluegrass tapes and cds from our cousins in Tennessee, The Dismembered Tennesseans.
















So, it started with land. And land lost.














A few years passed.

One day, scanning another boring money market statement, I realized,
"This money is just sitting here, doing *nothing.* Why don't we instead buy land?"
We both have land in our blood. Land, preserved.
We can see that investment, play in that investment, raise our children with that investment, and besides, you can't go rolling around a bank vault, but think of the fun we could have purchasing land! And protecting it! Growing it! Doing our part to preserve rural property already on the market instead of some developer getting it! Being one more person joining a rural community that recognized the value of protecting it!

Isn't the end result supposed to be that you buy your end-of-life community? Why not invest in it now?!? I mean, what the heck are you supposed to *do* with your moneymarket fund? Why not join an awesome community *now*?

So I started to research.
Research is actually a big part of my other job.
And extensive research plays a huge part in every decision for Green Modern Kits.

Now, before you start thinking we're wealthy: We're not. We work hard, but spend our money differently: we drive cars we pay for in cash (usually about 5k, then fix 'em), don't send our children to private schools, shop at thrift stores, have little use for credit cards, have no desire to keep up with The Joneses, and save, save, save.

So, for those of you thinking about buying and preserving land, here is my research and "why's" of how I found our little piece of eden. (Email to friends, below, outlining why I'm not crazy. Ok, maybe I am, but not when it comes to business / frugality / investments.) Skip over this part if you're not interested- it's long!
Business analysis: Listening to my real estate, chambers of commerce, and senior living/lifestyle community clients, I started searching for land that satisfied the following criteria:
  1. Near historic landmarks/history
  2. Surrounded by close towns with festivals and music throughout the year
  3. Are those towns positioning themselves to be developed or preserved? I looked for areas where people understood the value of farms, preservation, etc. for tourism. I was looking for something that would appreciate in value but in a community where development was not an interest. Who will be the next Charlottesville? Williamsburg? Do they have cultural events?
  4. Is easily accessible. Mustbe within 2 hours of Richmond. Who wants to spend the weekend on a big commute? And when we move there, we're still within easy reach of our longtime friends and family, being just over an hour away.
  5. MUST have infrastructure for investment purposes: hospitals, other services close by: Farmville and Appomattox are within a 15 minute drive.
The Charlotte County area met that criteria.
  1. History:

    1. Well, let’s start with Appomattox- you may have heard of that if you’re a Civil War buff… ; ) Less than 15 minutes away!
      www.tourappomattox.com
    2. CharlotteCounty: The land is located in historic Charlotte County. Charlotte County Courthouse is about ten miles away. http://www.charlotteva.com/history.htm
    3. Red Hill:Patrick Henry’s residence: http://www.redhill.org/
    4. Civil Rights History: http://www.varetreat.com/civilRights.asp
    5. More history links: http://www.fpehs.org/links.html







  • Music:

    1. Appomattox has a “Friday Cheers” once a month: http://www.appomattox.com/html/friday_cheers.html
      What fun to take off early on a Friday, and head on over to start your weekend right!
    2. Check out the local band Deja Moo! How can you not love a band with that name? http://www.dejamoo.us/home.cfm











  • Local Festivals/Powows/Antique Tractor events—fun things to do with your grandchildren! ; ) (hee hee couldn’t resist that one)

    1. http://www.appomattox.com/html/events.html
    2. Antique Tractor Festival http://www.appomattox.com/html/antiquepower.html
    3. Charlotte County events: http://www.co.charlotte.va.us/events_calendar.htm











  • FISHING/Hunting:

    1. Holliday State Park Deep in the heart of Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest Holliday Lake State Park is a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast. Fishing for largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill is a popular activity in the 150-acre lake within the park. The nearby state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries delayed-harvest trout stream allows anglers to fish for brown and rainbow trout. The park also features excellent trails open to hikers, bikers and equestrians. Read more here!
    2. Twin Lakes State Park:http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/twi.shtml
    3. Virginia’s Largest Lake!

      1. i.http://www.virginia.org/site/description.asp?AttrID=20291
      2. ii.http://www.hunting-fishing-virginia.com/maps/lake-kerr.html
      1. Here’s what Charlotte County has to say about hunting and fishing:Read more here!
      2. The Land: We often flush quail as we roll down the drive. Deer, turkey & bear is abundant.
    4. Accessible: Just take 360 and cut over to 460. Once you get past Brandermill, it is a 70 mph easy drive on four lane roads—so easy! And beautiful! Just one horse and dairy farm after another. And the location of Pamplin is central to area attractions: Appomattox, Charlotte Courthouse, Farmville, Charlottesville, Buggs Island, Richmond. All an hour and a half away. So you could spend weeks there, and have interesting things to do with friends.
    5. Let’s talk about Pamplin! It’s a cool ghost town. Literally. And there is a library in the old train depot. They are trying to turn the line where the railway came through into a hiking and birding trail.

      1. Here’s the Train Depot: http://www.geocities.com/pamplindepot/
      2. There’s a historic Pipe Factory: http://geocities.com/pamplinpipeman/
      3. The BIG NEWS around Pamplin is that someone is OPENING A BBQ JOINT- so imagine being on your quiet, peaceful land yet having a jumpin’ bbq/bluegrass joint five minutes away. YAY!
    6. Let’s talk about Charlotte Courthouse! A historic town where the courthouse was designed by Thomas Jefferson.

      1. http://www.towncch.com/
      2. Lots of national register listings: http://co.charlotte.va.us/charlotte_list.pdf
    7. SCENIC. Rolling hills filled with wildlife yet the land is easily farmed (vs. buying property in the mountains) with plenty of streams and water accessible.
    8. A WINERY OPENED!!! Check it out!
      Spring Creek Wine Cellar












  • So that’s my overview of why this is a prime location surrounded by historic and national park resources with a wonderful, close community
    That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. ; )
    We bought 55 acres. And started to camp. : )
    And some years (and many mortgage payments) passed.
    Our household income grew a little, and one child was now in public school vs. preschool we had to pay for... so...

    Maybe it was time to build a green, mod home.
    As we no longer had to make one child's preschool payments, that was X amount we could slide over to house construction, and with the raise, if we kept at our current spending levels, well, then... that together could pay for something affordable.

    ...I began to research. (Always an auspicious start to my tales...)

    I didn't just want affordable... I wanted GORGEOUS! GREEN! ENERGY EFFICIENT! My dream house!!!! Because this is where I will live when I'm 70! Small enough to clean but big enough to have the grand kids over! Off grid so I don't have to worry, as a retiree, about heating bills!

    And I looked. And looked.

    And fell in love with one unaffordable prefab house after the other.
    $300 a SQUARE FOOT?!? Zen Gardens and breezeways but only ONE bedroom?!?
    These were certainly not *my* lifestyle...
    What was out there that was semi-affordable and modern was not passive solar / not built for other green features such as cross ventilation, etc.

    I researched shipping containers, and loved the recycled/reuse theory. Then realized that once I dragged a container out to the land it would be $9,000 and then I'd just have a hot box with no windows or doors. And it was downhill from there. I know, I know all those XYZ people you're going to now mention- remember, I *research?* But at the time they were not affordable, nor passive solar.

    I had to think about investment, not that I ever intend to sell, but... when you start talking *money,* it is practical too also consider what worth others would find in it, *just in case.*

    So once I realized the real costs of creating a real house outta shipping containers, I ditched the idea as not being affordable, and not having a layout I liked.

    I researched steel framing companies. There's a *bunch* of 'em out there! I found the cheapest on Ebay. Got some nice quotes, but then realized the added cost of paying someone to come in and insulate, plus... well... there was that leeeettle thing about gorgeous design I was missing.

    Then I discovered SIPs (structural insulated panels).

    Cool!

    And then saw a plethora of modern house plan sites with ugly "Our-Plans-For-Free-No-Shipping-Costs-Either!" designs with tons of hidden fees, as I researched company after company after company.

    What's a girl to do?
    I want a green, energy efficient, kickin' mod awesome house.
    And I'm looking at these... ugly... boxes.

    So, I kidnapped some architects.
    Held hostage, I told them I had two requirements:
    1. That the designs be passive solar, so that when the sun is low in the winter, it enters to heat the house, and when the sun is high, the sun can be blocked.
    2. That they favor practical bedrooms over amenities- I envision these homes accommodating young families, yet practical for all life stages.
    3. (Ok, fine, there were three:) Design what YOU want. You have no client looking over your shoulder, you're the designer, design what YOU love!

    Someone out there in the world will "get" it!!!! : )

    So...
    There ya go.
    It was really as simple as that.

    Oh I forgot the part where I negotiated hard for weeks to get the low volume pricing with the SIPs manufacturer, researched the other vendors for cladding, rainwater collection, etc. but that's boring, right? ; ) Thaz just business stuff!

    We have two lines of modern house kits. David Day Design's casa ti, and Grace Street's The R1 Residential.

    Then came the cottages...
    From Seattle, Gelotte Hommas brought out the Bienvenue, Midway, and The Sinda.

    And let's not forget Akemi Tanaka!
    This fabulous industrial designer is *almost* finished with her furniture kit that does multiple things in small spaces.

    And... Big News soon...

    Any-hoo... That's my one rare moment of actually talking about the "why's". The architecture and industrial design stories are more fascinating- they should post here their own take.

    I will work on that.

    *THEIR* stories are fascinating.
    (Sorry for boring y'all! I'm just writing this all down in my head!)






  • As I Often Say: Green building for the rest of us!

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