May 31, 2023

Building a New Old House

Rachel and I have some very exciting news to share with you guys and girls. I am sure many of you already know, but we are the new owners of a little over six beautiful acres in Medford, NJ. We have been on the hunt for quite some time, and we finally closed in late May. 

Unfortunately for us, about five years after we moved into our current property the flag lot behind us sold, and someone shoehorned a 9,000 SF home with commercial landscaping right on our property line. We always knew the land would be developed, but assumed the township would ensure whatever wound up back there took into account the agricultural retention zoning, the existing site constraints/landscape, and paid homage to what this area was and always has been. Rather than design a home for the site, taking into consideration grade, natural screening, water table, wetlands, adjacent fields, wildlife, ecology, and the sun’s daily trajectory, the site was exploited and a home was built to maximize the space within the limit of disturbance. A monstrous new construction home was placed on a questionable angle on the lot, a few hundred truck loads of fill were brought in to change the entire topography of the area, and the comfort, peace, privacy, and natural beauty of what was farmland for 150 years was wiped clean. A classic case of building bigger without consideration or stewardship of the community or land. So within a couple of months we realized our forever home was no longer such. 

We first started looking for homes. Believe it or not, Rachel and myself are relatively picky, ha ha! The more we looked within our town, the more we realized that we would not find something that would suit our needs. First off, most of our town was developed in the 70’s and 80’s so the architecture is not quite up our alley. Many of the homes that were remodeled were not of our taste or aesthetic, so while many people may value these renovations, I could not justify the investment. In my opinion it would all need to be re-done. Looking at the numbers we would have to purchase at the height of the market, concede our amazing interest rate, and then need to invest a lot more money into something that already stretched us financially. We had always considered buying land and building, but it was more of a pipe dream than anything else. Something we felt we could never do. There was not much land out there, and if there was, it was not anything that fit the bill for us. A few months ago an opportunity presented itself to us just a few doors down. A neighbor two doors down from us decided he wanted to unload 6 acres of his property, and we jumped at the idea of acquiring the land. 

The lot is literally two doors down from us.  It is a little over six total acres. The front two acres is able to be developed and cleared already, and the rear four acres is heavily wooded deciduous wetlands. To the South live our best friends/neighbors that have kids the same age as our own. They are currently our neighbors to the North, so we are leapfrogging them to be neighbors once again. To the North of the new property is 5 acres of ponds and wetlands that cannot be developed. The family who sold us our property currently owns this piece and lives on another 5 acre parcel North of that. To the West is the main road that we currently live on which is shielded with a massive tree-lined berm. Behind our four wooded acres to the West is 60 acres of privately owned deciduous wooded wetlands that are also not able to be developed. I am happy to say that we secured the last geographically located buildable lot in Medford with all the privacy we could ever want. 

We are currently underway with civil engineering, wetlands delineations, EPA approvals, septic design, and surveying of the existing lot. Once we progress a little further along in these processes we will begin site layout and home layout. At that point I will feel comfortable with the commencement of home design. Rachel I and I have gone back and forth a lot, with regard to design, and I think we are going to build a new old home. Something timeless with modest yet classic stylings. Possibly a Greek Revival style farmhouse. I want to build our forever home on this property. I want to consider and pay homage to the land, the environment, the neighbors, the wildlife, the plantings, and the history of the area. We do not want a huge home, we do not want a fancy home, we want a home that is environmentally conscientious, sustainable, well-built, and looks as if it has always been there. We have the land and space to simply plop the home wherever we want on the lot, but in my opinion there are so many greater considerations. This process should not be just about what you need, but what works, and how it fits into the land/space. 

I am very excited for this journey. I have so much to learn, and I am very excited to share all of this with you. I want to be a steward for the land we purchased. I want to build a home that represents what I do. While I may not have the budget that many of my customer’s have, I want to build with quality in mind. Quality over quantity. I want to build an old home. I want to re-create details of the past with modern tools, technology, and materials. I hope this build and process inspires you all to do the same. Build within your budget and capacity and take into account the history of the landscape and property. Be aware that every decision you make will impact those around you. Do the best you can with what you have. There is no room in this world or industry for the selfish mindset of “I bought this land, I can do whatever I want with it.” Just because you can, does not mean you should!

- Tyler Grace