Karrie Jacobs


July 21, 2011

The Perfect $150,000 House

One very sweet house outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

Back in 2003, I began the 14,000 mile road trip for my book, The Perfect $100,000 House, at a two week intensive workshop on designing and building houses at a school in Vermont called Yestermorrow.   The formula was simple; in the morning we learned to design and in the afternoon we learned to build.  Our instructors were John Ringel, one of the trio of renegade architects known as Jersey Devil, a Vermont architect named Kathy Meyer, and Tom Virant, a young guy with a ponytail who I thought of as the team’s carpenter.  Indeed, when we students were out building our shed, Tom was the one who was best able to help a bunch of bumbling amateurs read, understand, and act on  construction drawings.

A few months ago, out of the blue, I got an email from Tom.  He and his wife Yumiko, both architects, had established a design/build practice in Asheville, North Carolina and had recently completed a house for an old friend near Charlottesville, Virginia.  I looked at the photos and was struck by the resemblance between this house and the one I was trying to design in Vermont.  It was a 1000 square foot, cube-shaped house, light-filled and efficient, for one solitary women.

More than any of the houses I’d seen on my epic road trip, or have seen since, this was the house I’d had in mind, more nuanced and better executed than I could have imagined.  So I went down to Virginia to take a look and wrote an article about it that’s in today’s New York Times.

It’s not a very long article, and there isn’t a lot of room for moody solipsism in the Home section, but down in Virginia I was struck by two things: how powerfully this little house satisfied all my requirements circa 2003, and the extent to which my life has changed since then.  I’m less solitary now, and might need a somewhat larger house.  But still, I’d want one as beautifully efficient as the one the Virants built for their friend Alison.

P.S. Also see Love and Money in Bridgeport in Metropolis.

P.P.S  I also wound up being quoted in this LA Times story about the sale of Frank Lloyd Wright’s eerily gorgeous Ennis house.