I love our saltbox house, built almost entirely by my husband in a style we like: a simple classic design with an open, modern interior.
Even though the architectural rendering showed my dream house clad with cedar shake, I imagined it in sand-colored vinyl siding and it appealed to me just as much. Maybe that's a Midwest thing. Or maybe I just have bad taste or bad eyes. But I always felt our siding was attractive as well as practical. It certainly was in line with our budget and in sync with our vision of a matching house and outbuilding for an office, workshop and photo darkroom.
Construction started in 2003 in the middle of a 10-acre wooded parcel near a Lake Michigan coastal town called Cross Village, Mich. We had just found out we were expecting our son and it was time to upgrade from our rustic tiny cabin. My husband built that cedar A-frame with a sleeping loft in a week back in 1996 and hooked up one utility: a phone line with a dial-up modem. With a kid on the way, we figured electricity, running water and space for a crib would come in as handy as the internet.
As cautious new parents with careers in journalism and photography, we played it safe in terms of the initial investment on building materials for our new home. We went with vinyl siding to save on cladding and put the money saved toward lots of skylights, French doors, 6-foot windows and a pair of octagon windows to flank the wood stove.
We weren't alone in our thinking. Vinyl siding had been the No. 1 cladding choice in America since 1994. Installation of this affordable, durable, maintenance-free material peaked at 40 percent of all new homes in 2002, about the time we were looking at it. A slow decline followed.
Vinyl siding was put on 27 percent of new single-family houses in 2017, which is the latest figure available from the U.S. Census Bureau. After vinyl comes stucco at 24 percent, brick at 22 percent, fiber cement at 20 percent, wood at 5 percent and other materials like concrete block, stone and aluminum siding at 2 percent.
While our siding and window plans came together nicely, other projects went over budget — say what, we need a 300-foot-deep well? — or took way too much time. That'll happen when the building site is hundreds of miles away and life throws curveballs related to health, the recession, the slow rollout of rural high-speed internet, etc.
Finally, 15 years later, the house is pretty much done — are they ever really all done? — and as of Jan. 31, we're no longer seasonal residents. That baby is in ninth grade now and thriving at his new school academically and athletically. The great public schools are one of the reasons we built here. So much for making the transition by kindergarten, but we did make it.
Next door to our house, my husband makes photos and teaches various analog and digital processes in a sand-colored, vinyl-sided pole barn funded through two Kickstarters and constructed with more sweat equity. I love the matching French doors.
I'm sure some architectural and design professionals are recoiling in horror picturing our homestead with two structures bearing "hideous" siding seams and J-channels. They might be relieved it's nestled deep in a forest of towering beeches, maples and poplars far from public view.