One of Funny’s Ten Money Principles is “do it yourself.” Great piles of cash are to be saved (and spent) by following this principle. If you’re at all handy or crafty, improvements to your house, yard, and vehicles are waiting for you.
This weekend I visited the home of some friends who deserve the nomination for All-Time Great Do-It-Yourselfers. Fred is a firefighter, and Kathy works for the Great Desert University. A few years ago, not long before the real estate bubble began its final expansion, they built their dream house on an acre of land under the White Tank Mountains, a natural preserve on the far west side of the Valley. The basic structure of the house was built by the developer, a man they had met through their daughter’s sport, but Fred wired the place for sound, and working together Fred and Kathy installed a handsome stone façade in front. Then they started on the huge backyard.
Still a work in progress, it’s beginning to shape up as a lovely park-like retreat. Fred has made a hobby of metal-working; when they built the house, he specified a separate, fire-resistant workshop, which you can see in some of the photos here. At the outset, they laid two large patios, one of paving bricks and one of flagstone. The flagstone surface was the only landscaping project for which they needed professional help. Otherwise, Fred and Kathy designed and installed the entire hardscape, the structures, and the plantings.
This shade structure was built of scrap metal. The entire thing consists of recycled materials. It casts a cooling, airy shadow close to the house’s covered patio, where, Kathy says, the two of them like to sip wine in the evenings and dream up new projects. Beneath it, they built (themselves!) a complete outdoor kitchen with propane-powered gear and a stone countertop. Taken together with the house’s built-in overhang, the flagstone patio, and the great room that opens into the backyard, the whole arrangement makes an awesome entertainment area.
But that’s just the beginning. In addition to the barbecue kitchen, they also designed and built a fantastic propane fireplace, complete with a Santa Fe-style wall and bancos. In this view, a protective covering is set in place over the firebox. The other evening, though, SDXB and I had the privilege of joining our hosts in front of this lovely hearth, where we watched the sun set over the mountains and the moon and stars come to vibrant life. That’s a young elm tree behind the structure. The flowering trees are Desert Museum hybrid paloverdes, an exceptionally beautiful xeric tree that, once established, provides great shade and hardly ever has to be watered.
Their latest development is an elaborate garden structure. Fred also built the framework in his workshop, although this time the metal was, I believe, not recycled. Here are Kathy and VickyC about to enter through the gated arch—the fencing discourages coyotes and can be equipped with a dog- and rabbit-repelling barrier. A couple of weeks ago, Kathy planted a pair of Lady Banks climbing roses, one on either side of the archway. It will take a year or two, but in due course these plants will cover the arch with flowering vines. The skeletal “roof” of the structure is designed to accommodate shade and frost fabric, which will protect tomatoes in the scorching Arizona summer and frost-sensitive plants during the chilly winter nights.
They already have a healthy garden of tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, herbs, and the like:
The amount of work Fred and Kathy have done themselves represents savings in the tens of thousands of dollars. I can’t imagine what it would cost to have even one of those weather-resistant, termite-resistant metal structures built. An outdoor kitchen? I’ve never asked, because I can’t afford it. Outdoor fireplace? Doesn’t compute.
Kathy says that, except for the metalwork and the flagstone installation, most of the projects were not difficult to build. I think, though, that success with these projects requires meticulous care, knowledge of building codes, and understanding of how to design block and metal structures that will withstand the test of time. Clearly it’s not impossible to acquire these skills. The result is pretty amazing.