It was 2008 and we were blissfully riding a real estate high from 2007. It made all the sense in the world to take the plunge and build the first house of our very own from the ground up.

Architectural rendering of The Creek House.
To this day it’s one of my favorite houses, but we sure had a few missteps along the way.  This is a classic ‘do as I say (now) not what I did (then)’ with no sugar coating allowed.  There’s no sense in you making the same silly mistakes.

The end product was pretty sweet and we certainly got a lot right, but if we knew then what we know now (famous last words), we would’ve done things different and it still would’ve turned out just as sweet.

This is the story of the Creek House, or perhaps I should call it an expensive learning experience…

The plan

The original plans for The Creek House.We looked at online house plans forever until we landed on one that had the exterior aesthetic we had envisioned with an interior floor plan we could live with.

Have you ever noticed how the online mega-plan dot coms don’t ever name the architect? That’s because they want you to buy directly from them. But the rendering on the plan we ultimately decided on looked oddly familiar.

I was in the office and on my desk was a book of plans from Florez Design Studios, an architect from the Outer Banks that designed the amenity buildings at Arlington Place. And their renderings in the book had that same pastel-pencil-sketched look.

Could it be? Could we have looked at 1000 plans online and picked one from the architect we already worked with?

Yup, it was indeed a Florez design appropriately named ‘The Creek House’  and Mike Florez was our next door neighbor when we lived on Duck Woods Drive, which was our very first remodel house. You can read about that remodeling experience here.

How’s that for small world??

So we skipped the mega-plan sites and worked directly with the Florez team modifying the piling foundation to a crawl space, adding a garage, bumping out the dining room, and tweaking a few other things.  I’m such a tweaker and can’t be trusted with a floorplan and a bottle of white out.. but to my defense, it’s easier (and cheaper) to make changes on paper than on site.  A house is such a huge deal, so I say go for it… grab that bottle of white out and strive for floorplan perfection!

Tip: If you need modifications to an online stock plan, a word of warning. That’s where those online sites get ya! They overcharge to retrofit a stock plan and often don’t take local code into consideration. So you could end up with a super expensive, unusable plan when you could’ve paid the same price to work with a legit architect who will give you a custom set of engineered plans that are actually buildable.

The land

The Creek House exterior during construction.The Creek House exterior view from the back of the house.

We chose corner lot 47 on Sassafrass Loop, an easy walk to the clubhouse one way and the outfitter’s center and Mill Creek the other. It was a smaller lot so we made the executive decision to clear everything since we were surrounded by trees.

Do you know what makes a half acre lot look bigger? Clearing the whole darn thing! We instantly regretted not keeping more trees. Yikes, what had we just done to our landscaping budget?!

A tip from Captain Obvious: you can’t get a tree back once it’s removed. Flag ones you think you might want to keep and you can always remove them later.

Time to choose

We met with a few builders and chose one that shall remain nameless. You’ll see why soon…

I had too much fun with selections and even though there were a few irresistible splurges that cost a pretty penny, I was able to stay within the budget of the allowances. However now I know that I can work within allowances that are much less.

My personal opinion… you don’t need a $500 kitchen faucet. A $150 one from Amazon will work just fine. On the off chance that it breaks, just replace it with another $150 one and you’re still up $200. As luck would have it, the $500 one broke and had to be replaced… it’s a crap shoot with these things so why overpay? Even though we stayed in budget, in retrospect we spent a lot more than we needed to.

While I’m on the subject, you don’t need to brand match throughout the house. Does anyone really care if you have only Delta faucets… does anyone see the tiny DELTA printed on the faucet and remember that’s what you had in the other bathroom? Nope. If it looks good, works good and is a good price, just get it.

Color me happy

Blair’s opinion stops at colors so I was flying solo on paint selections, which also meant is was my fault if I got it wrong. Not willing to risk it, we went with exterior colors in our comfort zone. Nantucket Gray for the siding, Navajo White for the trim and Sundried Tomato for the doors. Sound familiar? We used the same colors on our Duck Woods Drive house remodel. I mean, if it ain’t broke…

The Creek House exterior view from the front of the house.Exterior view from the front of The Creek House.Exterior view from the rear of The Creek House.

For the main interior color, I was going for a super light tan with gray undertones for the great room. Being the expert that I was, I picked White Opal from a 2 inch sample square. Oh how perfect that little square looked.

We were out of town when they painted and came back to a yellow living/dining/kitchen/entry.  You should’ve seen the look on my face. It wasn’t canary yellow, but it was way more yellow than the color I had in my head. What’s done was done and it was everywhere… suck it up buttercup.

The Creek House interior bedroom.We went bold in the powder room and neighboring laundry room with a deep greenish blue color. I always feel like you can get away with fun colors in small rooms.

Upstairs we painted a guest bedroom and attached bath Tern Gray and the upstairs den was a terra cotta reddish color… I can’t remember the name but no need since it wasn’t that great.

The last guest bedroom and bath was painted Green Chillies, an olive-ish color which proved to be challenging when we wanted to turn that room into Evie’s nursery. We made it work with high white board and batten trim and pops of pale pink.

The design

Interior view from the kitchen of The Creek House. Interior view from the kitchen of The Creek House.

On the original plans, the island was squared off to the kitchen leaving too much walk space on one side and not enough on the other. We ended up angling the island for better flow which was a good call. Because it was set out a bit from the kitchen, I wanted it to look more like furniture…a piece that would bridge the kitchen and the living area together. We chose shabby chic black cabinets and a matching bead board front which was a direct contrast to the light maple surround in the rest of the kitchen. And instead of granite, my dad made us a Jim Poole original cherry island top. It was almost too pretty to use…almost.

Interior view from the great room of The Creek House.Interior view of The Creek House great room.Interior view from the great room of The Creek House.

The great room had 20’ ceilings and a back wall of windows, which was perfect for this lover of natural light. A double stack of windows with transoms…swoon. There’s nothing I don’t like about that wall.

There was also a fireplace in the great room flanked by built ins. Here’s the deal…if you’re one of those people who need everything symmetrical, then this might drive you nuts. I personally don’t think built-ins need to match. We had a cabinet on one side and just shelving on the other to make a cozy reading nook on the right.

Two beefy columns separated the dining room space, which was an add-on to the original plans with a bay window bump out.

The Creek House interior during construction. Interior view from the dining room of The Creek House.

Crash & burn

As we were building, the economy was taking a scary nosedive. What we once thought was going to be a money maker was turning into a money pit. Our builder jumped on the real estate boom bandwagon and bought way too much beach property…how could you lose when everything was appreciating at a “healthy” 30% a year? He crashed right along with the market and the bank came a knockin.

We were the last custom home that he built and the successful business he had spent decades building was history, along with his reputation. Luckily our house was finished, but unbeknownst to us, he hadn’t paid all of the vendor invoices that we had already paid him for. We ended up paying another $5K+ just to settle up with everyone…ouch.

Side note: I actually still like the guy, he’s hard not to like. He has since reinvented himself and has another successful (non-construction) business.

The missteps

Floorplan: I can’t be denied that this is one good lookin house. It looks so good because of all of the roof angles, windows and porches. We were quick to learn that every time you have a change in roof pitch, add an extra dormer or 1000s of square feet in porches, the price per square foot goes way up. We didn’t realize we chose a complicated plan, but it was a tough one to build and that doesn’t come cheap.

Dining room: We didn’t have a tall hutch and it didn’t even cross my mind to leave a windowless wall in the dining room for furniture. But most people do, so it should’ve been a consideration.

Upgrades: We would have walkthroughs with our builder and he would ask us… do you want under cabinet lighting for $400… do you want to vault your dining room ceilings for $500… do you want to add this or that… just add $$$. I’m not sure we ever told him no, and those few hundred dollar yeses added up to thousands of overages in the end, most of which we could’ve lived without.

Porch: We should’ve made the screened porch bigger. I just remember thinking, this house has five porches, we don’t need the extra space. But every good Carolinian knows, the screened porch is inevitably where you’ll spend most of your time.  So rob some square footage from the others if you have to, don’t skimp on the screened in one!  Screened in space for a for an eating area and a hangout area is a necessity.

Garage storage: If we had the foresight, we would’ve made the storage area above the garage more accessible. We ended up cutting a pony door into the upstairs den and added a few steps down to make it an awkward, semi-functional space.

DIY: We tried to paint the smaller rooms ourselves, how hard can it be?  We didn’t realize we had to wipe the sheetrock dust off the walls…rookie mistake.  Needless to say, our walls were unintentionally textured and we had to then sand the walls to bring them back to smooth.  After that labor of love, we repainted but ran out of paint so we had to go get more.  Well, Lowes mixed it wrong and you couldn’t tell it was a shade off until it dried, so we had to repaint the whole thing again. Comical now but Blair was fit to be tied at the time. We spent more money than we saved.

Happy homeowners

We loved living in the Creek House and I smile almost every time I pass it as I’m reminded of the memories that were made there. We had a lot of milestones on Sassafrass Loop because it’s where we became a family. It’s where we brought home Gus, followed shortly by Evie, and then Keegan a few years later.

Puppy walking on the hardwood floors of The Creek House.Happy family on the front porch of The Creek House.Rainbow over The Creek House.

In the summer of 2013, when Keegan was just a month old, we moved down the street (literally) and sold the house to the Cresswells who live there today. Bill and Cathy, along with their sweet rescue dogs, are awesome neighbors and just all around cool and interesting people.

I’m not sentimental about houses, at one point we had 9 addresses in 10 years. I tend to believe that the memories you make and carry with you come from the people you’re surrounded by, not the roof you are under. But I have to admit, it makes it much easier moving from a home you loved knowing that the folks living there now love it too.

Thank you to Bill and Cathy for carrying on the tradition of making the Creek House a happy home!

Arlington Place blog author Becca Lang. Story by Becca Lang

Hey there, I'm Becca... my husband Blair and I were thrown into the deep end of the development game in 2007. I have overlapping passions of real estate and design, he has overlapping passions for building and fishing. Between the two of us, we gotcha covered on all fronts! Each build is unique with it's own successes to be celebrated and lessons to be learned, and that's what I hope to share with you in the 'Sink or Trim' series.