The leaves rustle together as dappled sunlight dances on the floor. Laughter is heard, trickling in on the leaves as they blow in across the floor.
Ben Harbuck enjoys the beauty of nature from the middle of his living room. “This is nice,” he thinks. “This is what I wanted. This is my dream home.”
Not many people can say they have their ultimate dream home. For Ben and his family, wife Sarah, daughters Megan and Ava, and son Zander, they consider themselves lucky.
Their four-bedroom, two-bath, 1,450-square-foot house sits snuggly in the middle of the forest in front of a large pond.
The home is unlike any other and took Ben and Sarah over 13 years to design. They began building it in September 2012 and didn’t complete it until early April 2013.
This little abode is L-shaped in formation, except both sides are equal lengths. With stained concrete floors, it opens up toward the pond.
“We really like the concrete floors,” Sarah said. “It seems to stay cool in the summer and retains the warmth in the winter. The kids drop stuff, the animals make a mess; it’s just easier to clean than carpet.”
Inside the house, a modern, chic steam-punk style blooms. The entire interior is painted in a light dove gray that highlights the artwork splashed across the walls and the forest views framed by windows that seem to be everywhere.
The heart of the home is the 18-by-18-foot family room where both sides meet. High ceilings feature a lean-to roof.
“Our whole goal was to build the smallest house possible, that felt big,” Ben said. “This is under 1,500 square feet but it feels big. We also wanted to have the outside inside. You can’t be anywhere in the house and not be outside.”
Ben’s brother, Sam, who works at Furniture Fetish in downtown Lufkin, worked with Ben to bring his dream home into fruition. They built multiple double-paned windows down both hallways facing the pond.
“We did spray foam insulation on both the ceiling and the walls so we could have so many windows and not lose energy efficiency,” Ben said. “The most expensive thing in the house is the windows. But you don’t need lights for about 10 months out of the year. If we turned out all the lights, it would still be just as bright because of the windows. When it gets dark we run the lights for a bit before going to bed.”
Walking down the left wing of the house, one passes the kids’ bathroom and then three bedrooms, each with unique barn doors.
“These are my pride and joy,” Ben said with a grin. “I wanted barn doors so the kids can open up their doors and use the whole hallway space to play in because hallways are never used for anything. They have a window in front of each door across the hallway so it opens up the room and makes it seem bigger.”
During the building process, Ben had looked at purchasing barn door kits but they cost several hundred dollars. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease, he made his own. He used corrugated plastic and various items to build his own barn doors about 4 by 7 feet.The handle is made of steel cast iron plumbing pipe, around roughly $10.
The steel adds to the steampunk, modern style of the house. Throughout the house aluminum is used for functional items.
For instance, each hallway is lighted with several aluminum wall sconces.
“This is my genius husband for you,” Sarah said. “To buy modern-looking wall sconces, we would have had to spend $250 to $300 a piece. So he took about 15-inch aluminum flashing and built a frame for it and put it on these cheap eight buck outdoor lights. It looks super fancy even though each one cost around $10.”
Sarah recommended individuals looking to build their house or remodel to “consider their options.”
“Research how to build cheaply and decide what is necessary,” she advised. “It will take a little bit more work, but it can save a lot of money.”
The 12-by-16-foot kitchen, next to the family room in the right wing of the house, opens to stainless steel lights illuminating a big granite island, granite countertop, stainless steel fridge and dishwasher, but no dining table can be found.
“We don’t use a kitchen table,” Ben said. “We always gather around the island. That’s where the kids do their homework, Sarah edits pictures. We make food together. We eat together.”
Exactly,” Sarah added. “I didn’t want a dining room because it would never get used. And I wanted countertop space, so this is perfect. The kitchen is open so that when I’m in here cooking, the kids will be in the family room and I can cook and be in the kitchen but still participate with them and talk with them.”
Past the kitchen is the utility room and the master bedroom.
In the master bedroom, a “gigantic” space, features the queen size bed that faces two balcony doors with a window.
“In the morning the view you wake up to is incredible — the porch overlooking the forest and pond,” Ben said.
The bed sits against a wall that divides the room from the closet. When one walks around the bed behind the wall, a fairly small closet can be seen.
“If you don’t have room, you can clutter the house up with things that don’t get used,” Ben said. “We only have what we need and use.”
Their bathroom is fairly large compared to the room. It features a 5-by-3-foot walk-in shower with a shower head and rain shower head.
There is a small crank window near the top of the shower to allow the steam out.
The bathroom has a granite composite countertop with shelves hosted up on more steampunk plumbing pipes.
“The bathroom is big because you spend a lot of time in it,” Ben said.
He stepped through the balcony door onto the 1,800-square-foot balcony.
“I love minimalist,” Ben said. “I love steampunk and functionality. It makes me feel so happy to live in the middle of the forest. Every day when you get up, it’s like ‘I’m in the woods.’”
They both agreed that making the forest a focal point was necessary.
“It was important to us to keep the integrity of the forest around us,” Sarah said. “It being a reality was so satisfying. It was like, ‘Wow I get to live here.’ I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Ben said it changes the way you look at life when the space you live in matches who you are.
“It’s great when I come home and all the doors are open, the leaves are in, the kids and pets are in and out, hummingbirds are in there, I was like yeah, this is what I wanted,” he said. “I knew it was possible to sit a little house in the middle of the forest to be in harmony with the forest. And this is it. We built a house we love.”