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Professional angler exchanges rod n' reel for hammer n' nails

Fourteen months after framing, the house stands finished with exception to landscaping, which is the Durham-Pappas family's summer project.1 / 6
A custom-made sign welcomes visitors to the Durham-Pappas home.2 / 6
A ledgestone gas fireplace, framed with custom cabinets is the focal point of the sitting area, also visible from the kitchen courtesy of an open floor plan.3 / 6
Ornamental corbels, a common characteristic in Craftsman style homes, and notched fascia boards add visual appeal the home's exterior.4 / 6
The dining area is perfect for family dinners, thought the table can extend to twelve feet for entertaining guests.5 / 6
Extra deep drawers fill the kitchen cabinets to store everything from pots and pans to silverware.  Putting away dishes is a breeze due to the proximity of the drawers to the dishwasher.6 / 6

My arms ache. My back muscles are stiff, yet I still have a smile on my face as I look out the window to see what's been accomplished.

In 2007, I, along with my wife Dawn and sons Nick, Aaron and Grant, decided to buy a 3.5 acre lot north of Park Rapids and embark on the process of building a house. The goal was to construct a stylish home that we could be proud of with enough space to entertain friends and a "kid-friendly" basement that wouldn't crumble when the boys threw balls, swung hockey sticks and were as rambunctious as typical teens.

The four-bedroom, 3½ bath craftsman style home was designed by my wife, beginning with a sketch on a napkin and evolving into something much greater.

We started by pouring the basement walls and building a heated garage. The basement was "capped" for a year as we finalized main and upper-level layouts. As winter approached, we decided to move ahead, becoming the general contractor along the way. In essence, this meant we were responsible for getting bids from the sub-contractors, overseeing their work and making sure the workers were paid.

The heated garage became a huge asset, since our carpenter, Home Total Construction owner Jerry Werder, and his crew could warm up while working in sub-zero winter temperatures.

As the walls of the house began to go up, the housing market crashed. With a home to sell and another being built, our timing couldn't have been worse. But our family forged ahead.

Although the bids from our subcontractors were fair, we decided to put some "sweat equity" into the project, convincing family and friends to help. I had some experience in construction but neither the expertise nor desire to build my own home.

In doing a portion of the work, there were many late nights and early mornings at the work site. I recall frequently coming home from one of my fishing guide trips at 10 p.m. and working until 2 or 3 a.m. to complete a phase imperative for the carpenters or subcontractors to proceed.

The hours put into those jobs were much greater than we ever anticipated. And there were many things we really didn't know how to do or had never attempted before.

Some of those tasks included the installation of maple wood floors, insulation and vapor seal, bathroom vanities, tongue-in-groove basswood ceilings, painting and trim work.

Those projects turned out great, but professional advice was essential.

The subcontractors, who included Four Season's Plumbing, Marchell Electric, Keith Blumberg Flooring, Pickett's Excavating, and material suppliers Carpet Direct, Wick's Wood Products and Northland Lumber, not to mention carpenter Jerry Werder, were always available to offer guidance. Internet research was also helpful throughout the building and learning process.

Defining features include a master bathroom with Jacuzzi tub, a custom shower with six spray heads and a dual sink granite top vanity. The kitchen boasts granite countertops, a stainless steel gas cook top/grill and double convection ovens that make cooking for large groups simple.

An 18' x 40' rear deck provides plenty of room for outdoor entertaining during the warmer months, though the addition of a propane fueled patio heater extends the comfort calendar.

A 10' x 30' breezeway connects the garage and house with a utilitarian purpose.

Shoes, coats, backpacks and outdoor gear are all left inside the breezeway as kids enter the house, limiting excess clutter, which Dawn especially likes.

And with stamped concrete floors and textured cement-board sided walls, the structure is virtually indestructible. A tiled shower base with flexible spray nozzle sits near the end, serving as a dog bath, plant-watering station and easy way to rinse off dirt- covered kids before they come into the house.

Each segment of the project was prioritized, with landscaping, the final phase, scheduled for this summer.

The interior design incorporates the natural, wooded environment around the house.

We used maple, oak, basswood, rustic alder, cherry, birch and black walnut woods to contrast each other in various portions of the house. Native rocks were also added as decorative elements to the interior decorating and will serve as landscaping barriers.

Bumps in the road

As with any construction project, there were a few "challenges" that arose. I remember a few sleepless nights and decisions that had to be made quickly.

Yet the most daunting obstacle came after the structure was complete. Securing our mortgage was very difficult.

We were ideal mortgage candidates with stable jobs and great credit, but finding "comps" (comparable quality homes) that had sold in the Park Rapids area within the past six months was impossible.

Ultimately, the appraised value of our home dropped substantially due entirely to the decline in home sales and values.

Talaine Collins at Trustar Federal Credit Union and Jesse Clack from Clack Appraisals worked together to finalize the mortgage, a difficult task in a bottomed-out housing market.

Advice from experience

If you do decide to begin a building project, it's definitely worthwhile to do some of the work. However, the trade-off to hire a professional is less frustrating (they do this stuff every day), less fatiguing and professionals can complete the jobs in much less time.

We planned ahead and purchased many of the materials and fixtures when they went on sale. We priced things like fixtures from various vendors and bought some doors and windows from WindoWorld in Park Rapids. As an example, we saved $600 on a single door.

There are several things we'd do differently if we built again.

First, I'd have in-floor heat installed in the garage. The up-front cost for an electric heater was much less, but it's expensive to operate and takes quite a while to warm the 30' x 40' garage.

We also wouldn't put a Jacuzzi tub or 6-head shower in the master bath. The tub is rarely used and the side-spray showerheads aren't very eco-friendly. It was unique at first, but now we don't even turn them on anymore.

In retrospect, we enjoy the style and spaciousness of our new home, and plan to stay there for a while.

I don't think we could build another house unless someone else does all the work!