The House my Father Built

Early picture of the house my father built

My father, with the help of my mother and brothers, built this house. We moved in just before the end of the year in 1955 (mistake — would have been better to have waited until after the year for tax purposes, as I recall). He designed it, and with the help of the family, did all the work except for pouring the slab floor — and maybe the roof trusses. I was only in 4th grade at the time, so I don’t remember the details like my brothers do.

The house, though fairly small for a family of 8, had more storage than most homes a lot larger, even today!

None of us had dressers in our bedrooms — they were built into the walls, along with adequate hanging storage! My parent’s bedroom had floor-to-ceiling storage across two full walls (except for a doorway into their room, and a doorway into their bathroom). All the hanging storage had cupboards above with shelves. The drawers were built in, and as deep as the closets. Above the drawers were more shelves as deep as the closets, with doors on the front. All the woodwork was stained a light color and water-proofed.

My brothers’ bedroom had one full wall of storage, plus another small section (two hanging areas, two drawer areas) — again, floor to ceiling. My room, which I vacated when we had guests, had most of one wall of storage, with one area for hanging, one area for drawers, and the rest shelves with doors. The only furniture that touched the floor in my room was the bed, and the chair that sat in front of the built-in dresser.

The floors were the GOOD linoleum tile, so cleaning was exceptionally easy. The living room, eventually, had one full wall of storage (bookcases on top, with a counter and covered shelves underneath, and a coat closet just inside the front door. We also had an open office, with one full wall of built-in storage. In the office was a desk that my father built, with a pop-up typewriter stand. (Remember those?)

The washer and dryer were in the kitchen, extending the kitchen counter. The kitchen cupboards were also unique. The upper cupboards had sliding doors instead of ones that opened out for people to hit their heads on. One counter was lower, where my mother prepared her baking. There was also a sugar drawer (lined with aluminum, and had a lid that slid shut, keeping the dampness out), and a flour drawer with a lid. She could empty a 10-pound bag into each drawer easily, even if not completely empty. With our large family, she did a lot of baking.

The two big window configurations you can see more or less facing us, were in the living room. The living room was quite large (I remember it as 20×26 feet, but I could be a little off on that.

Another unique thing about the house he built was that all of the toilets, showers, sinks, etc. were centrally located. He could walk into the utility room (it was very small, held the hot water heater and room for very little else), and have access in that small space to the shower, tub, and kitchen water supplies. He had shut-off valves on everything. The house was also heated with a hot water system, with the heat running along the outside walls of the house. It means they mostly ran along the floor on the outside walls, but in the walls over the two exterior doors. He used solid paintable metal to cover the heating pipes so that dust wouldn’t collect.

A few years later, my father and brothers added a double garage, workshop and efficiency apartment for my grandmother, almost doubling the size of the house. It was added onto the back of the house, creating an L-formation, behind the living room. He had anticipated doing this before starting to build the main house.

My father was NOT an architect, and as far as I know, had no formal training in designing house plans or anything else related to it, or other wood working techniques. Probably had some “shop” in high school, and probably learned a few things from his father, who was an orchard farmer, but nothing else. His house plans would probably have looked primitive to an architect or to a contractor, but they allowed him to build what he wanted to build. They were drawn to scale, on only one piece of paper. His job? Soil Conservationist!

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