One of the primary requirements for this house is that it needs to be nearly maintenance-free. I'm already 61 years old, and I don't see myself up on a ladder 20 years from now re-roofing, or touching up fancy detail woodwork. I've always been drawn to European architecture, but the level of detail can be very costly to build, and high-maintenance later on. So, I came up with what I call "Modern Bavarian" - a style which attempts to maintain the basic European shapes, while doing away with half-timbering or fancy filigree detail common in Alpine architecture. Materials would be stone, stucco, and a slate roof. With almost no wood, the exterior should be fireproof and extremely low-maintenance.
So I set about drawing up the house plans, first with sketches, then on the computer. At first I used inexpensive architectural software by Better Homes and Gardens, but after a few months I switched to the semi-pro version by the same developers, Chief Architect. While great fun to use, home-design software can often be infuriating. You can spend hours creating a section, only to have it inexplicably disappear. My only advice is save, save, save. One of the neatest things about these home-design programs is the ability to see a 3D-view from any angle. Here are a couple of early renderings from different angles:
The basement would contain the gameroom, gym and theater. The main level would consist of the living room, library, dining room, kitchen, pantry, bathroom, laundry, storage room, and garage. The upper level would be comprised of three bedrooms and baths, and offices for my wife and myself. The highest point is a castle tower with a cupola on the top.
I built each floor of the model directly on a copy of the plans for that floor, so the scale is the same as the plans - 1/4-inch = 1 foot. Each level pops off to expose the lower floors. I then mounted the whole thing in a base of styrofoam which I carved to approximate the contour around the house.
This is probably as good a time as any to mention the number-one cost-saving item in building a house: LABOR. If there's anything you can do yourself, do it yourself. I know that some of these tasks may seem intimidating at first, especially in this age of specialization, but most of them really aren't that hard. After a couple of days at painting or plumbing or installing drywall, you'll seem like an expert to a casual observer, and your friends will be in awe of you. The most important thing is Divide and Conquer. Can you plumb a house? No? It takes a couple of minutes to learn how to drill a hole in a stud, run some PEX tubing through it, and squeeze on a connector. Do that enough times and you've plumbed a house.
It would have cost several thousand dollars to have someone else build this model. My cost? About $20 worth of materials. Balsa wood is easily cut with an Xacto knife, and Super Glue bonds the walls to the floor almost instantly. Yes, it took a month to build, but here's the most important thing I've learned about time in my old age: After about 30 days, that month would be gone whether or not I had a model to show for it. I could be watching TV at night, or I could be working on the model. Usually, I was doing both. :)