When New Yorkers Matthew Meek and his wife, Allison, began thinking about a weekend place in upstate New York, they considered the look and design of the house they wanted, the time it might take to build such a house and, of course, cost. After all, they’d still be paying rent on their primary dwelling in New York City. This weekend house was meant to be a smart investment, property they could actually own.
Their first good decision was to buy a spectacular lot no one else wanted. The property overlooked a rushing trout stream, but it was cheap for a reason; the purchase was a gamble. “Other buyers had put down deposits only to walk away after finding the land was ‘unbuildable.’ Several engineers told me to run away,” says Meek of the property he purchased two years ago in Gallatin, Columbia County, about 50 miles southeast of Albany.
The main problem was the land dropped off leading to the stream, leaving little flat area. But Meek found an engineer in Valatie who devised a plan for an engineered septic system to satisfy building codes.
All the couple wanted now was a well-designed house that wouldn’t blow their budget.
They knew the space on their lot called for no more than a two-bedroom dwelling. They knew they wanted a modern look, with clean, simple lines and plenty of glass so they could enjoy the outdoors. And Meek couldn’t see getting what they wanted by using an architect and going the traditional route. “Projects like that take forever and often go two to three times over budget,” he says. “I didn’t want to be in that situation.”
Their combination of desires and concerns led them to purchase a kit home by designer Rocio Romero. This choice seemed to offer the best of both worlds: a designer framework with plenty of customizing options. “With a pre-fab, we had more control over the costs than we would have with an architect-designed home,” Meek explains.
The Meeks opted for the LVL, the largest kit home in Rocio Romero’s LV series. The $42,000 kit included structural walls, exterior framing and siding. It only took about a week and a half to put up the kit, which is really a kind of framework — a very sturdy framework. “It’s built like a tank,” Meek says.
Then, the real work began.
Everything else — windows, plumbing and mechanicals, interior walls, cabinetry, etc. — could be customized.
The couple’s plans called for installing radiant heat, stainless-steel countertops and 9-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows. At one end of the house near the kitchen, they wanted a custom-designed, three-panel folding glass wall that opens to the outside. They also wanted to open up the kitchen and master bath a little more than the original layout calls for, and create two bedrooms plus an office within the 1,500-square-foot dwelling.
Meek made himself general contractor and the couple hired Matthew King, of Mecca Projects in Elizaville, Columbia County, to do their custom building. King was pleased to work on the project, noting that Rocio Romero’s homes offer a responsible footprint, sturdy “bulletproof” construction and clean, simple lines.
Easier on the Earth
He says the design’s double-wall system is exceptionally energy-efficient; the exterior is made of two walls instead of just one, and both are insulated.
“It’s a smart way to live and I’m relieved to see people begin to take a more responsible approach to their space and their environment,” King says. “I’ve been following Rocio’s career since 2001. I want to make a career of building these homes.”
His biggest challenge was customizing the siding (the Meeks opted for cedar over corrugated steel, softening the modern look). But King says that overall, the project went smoothly, because the quirks and bugs have been worked out of Rocio Romero’s kit homes since she introduced them to the market eight years ago. Romero’s firm is based in Perryville, Mo.
The Meeks’ house took about a year to finish, and in the end, it cost about $250 per square foot, or $375,000 total, including a planned deck and landscaping. It could have been done cheaper, Meek says.
On the other hand, the project could have been much more expensive. When the Meeks first looked into using an architect for a custom-designed modernist home, they found their budget could easily run over $500,000. But Meek tried to keep costs down by driving materials to the project himself, including marble he found in Washington, D.C., kitchen cabinets from IKEA and used appliances from a demolished apartment in New York City.
He also saved money by directly contacting suppliers to find the best prices for major items such as stainless-steel countertops from a Brooklyn-based fabricator and tapered insulation for the home’s flat roof from a commercial supplier in Albany.
Keeping costs down
“The kit is a way to control costs a little more and know what you’ll end up with,” Meek says. “I think my costs were low compared to the quality of the finished product.”
The home they built kicked off Rocio Romero’s 2008 LV National Open House Tour (which includes four LV homes across the United States), as well as a potential national trend in home building. When four busloads of prospective clients showed up to tour the Meeks’ home, the couple was happy to note if they ever decided to sell, they’d probably find a buyer.
“I thought we would get 20 people,” Meek recalls, noting about 200 people showed up for the tour.
But selling isn’t an option they’re even considering at this point. The Meeks are more interested in planning time away with their young daughter. Two to three weekends each month, they plan to leave New York City for their Rocio Romero designer home, where glass walls bring the beauty of the outdoors in and clean lines speak to a simpler life in the country.
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