Building a home on their own was the ambitious family project that Denis and Jean Duggan and their four children undertook.
They wanted to create a timeless dwelling that would be energy-saving, geared in all ways to nature, happy and livable, and which they could construct themselves with a minimum of outside assistance.
Today, they have all of this in an allwood, naturally air-conditioned open-plan vacation home only a short distance from Gainesville, where the parents are employed and three older children are university students.
With the aid of house designer Frank Smith, the family worked together steadily, first planning and then building. Their home, which is hung on 12 telephone poles, is perched on a plot of wooded land overlooking a protected inlet with a view of the Gulf of Mexico.
Exposed details of construction form the interior decor. A vast cathedral ceiling has its handsome beams on show. Overlooking the main living area hangs a wide sleeping balcony, so that the size of the house almost visually expands when friends of the six-member Duggan family arrive with their sleeping bags.
The Duggans' 19-foot boat is pulled in under the house, straddled by the stilt-like telephone poles that form the framework. Now that their project is complete, the family is able to enjoy the house every weekend and holiday.
Hidden among long-needle Florida pines opposite the tiny Cedar Keys Museum, the Duggan home can literally be found by its frangrance. Constructed of red cedar on the interior and cypress on the outside with thick cedar shake shingleson the roof, no stains or paints have been used. The fresh natural aroma of the woods can be detected a hundred yards away.
"Eventually the cypress we used on the outside walls will weather into a lovely silver gray," says Jean Duggan. "We tried to make the house relate to nature as much as possible, both in materials, design, and our use of it."
Definitely a low-energy house, there is no need of artificial air conditioning here even in the hot Florida summer. Ceiling fans lazily stir the air. Wooden vents, which form the exterior siding of the house, can be opened wide to make the walls seem to vanish and let the breezes sweep through the open. For wintry days (not as rare as one might think in this northwestern part of the Florida Gulf Coast), the vents close tight and an efficient wood-burning, cast-iron heating stove in the heart of the house takes over.
In their planning, angles of the sun in summer and winter were charted as well as the direction of the prevailing winds. Advantage of every possible detail was taken for natural comfort. An immense porch deck huddles against the house breasting the prevailing winds and, as intended, works like a giant wind scoop, helping to bring in welcome summer breezes.
With the exception of designer Frank Smith, the family had practically no outside help in the construction. Smith, along with 23-year-old Kerry Duggan, worked steadily for nearly six months on the heavier construction and initial framing.
Each member of the family took on a specialty. For example, Mrs. Duggan and her youngest child, 15-year-old Chris, have concentrated on finishing details.
The handsome doors and windows are all handmade. Only plumbing and electricity were done by outside contractors.
Their dozen pressure-treated pine telephone poles, 16 inches in diameter and each weighing more than 2,000 pounds, posed the biggest problem; somehow they had to be set firmly on land before the beams and timbers of the house could be bolted in place.
"It's been like putting together a toy-sort of an oversize erector set," comments Mrs. Duggan.
Placing the poles was solved easily by a electric utility compnay. Digging holes deep in the earth with their enormous auger, the heavy poles were set in place for $20 each for the 129
Denis Duggan estimates that the entire cost of building, not including the countless hours of work by family members, was around $25,000-a definite bargain in today's home construction costs.
Smaller poles could have been used but the size of the poles chosen by the Duggans should withstand a wind force of 120 miles per hour, an important consideration in Cedar Keys, which has been devastated several times this century by hurricane winds. Like the trees of which it is made, the house would give slightly under severe storm conditions.
"People should think about alternate and more simple ways of constructing houses," says Jean Duggan. "Use the materials in an area which are plentiful and natural. There is an abundance of wood here, so wood was the right material for us."
Her family has found that a house such as theirs is easy and satisfying to build, even by unskilled amateurs. Would they tackle such a chore again? "Yes, indeed!" chorus the six Duggans.