Building a house is somewhat similar to climbing Mt. Everest. The routes need to be carefully planned, your body (and mind) needs to be prepped, and materials and equipment needs to be sourced. Thankfully, it is less fatal. Approximately 800 – 1,000 people try to climb Mt. Everest every year, with only 50% achieving the Summit. Six deaths were recorded in 2018 (already an increase from previous decades) and the numbers for 2019 already point to 11 deaths. There are many causes for the fatalities but many are claiming the increase in climbers, many inexperienced, causing a traffic jam on the mountain. The cost to experience this “anxiety-inducing conga line” in sub-zero temperatures and high altitudes starts at a modest $25,000 but can be as high as $130,000, depending on your desired level of comfort (and how comfortable your bank account is).
The stats on building your own home are far less clear. It seems that no one has died from taking the hammer into their own hands (though I’m sure there are the fair share of accidents). In fact, Jimmie Carter is proving that building your own might be good for your health! Without digging into each city’s permitting office, it is hard to say how many individuals file a building permit annually and how many of those actually pass final inspection. But a 50% success rate might be right on target, especially if you add people that start the process (like drawing floor plans, applying for loans, etc) before giving up.
So skip the sub-zero traffic jam and overrated view at 8,000 meters – apply that payment towards building your own home at an altitude to your liking. Plus, you get more bang for your buck: though the prep-time is somewhat the same (12 to 18 months to train for the climb vs 18 to 24 months to figure out design, engineering, and permitting) the actual building phase can be 12, 18, or 24 months filled with time management, budget review, and quality control. Talk about anxiety-inducing to get the blood flowing! Your emotions will run the gamut from frustration to euphoria as your dreams slowly become a reality.
Building your own home will be hard and fun. And at the end, you have a home.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Ariane Roesch.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Ariane. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there. I feel like it’s never quite a linear path and there were a million choices and circumstances that shaped me to do what I’m doing: being an artist living in Houston, TX.
I went to the University of Houston to pursue a Bachelor in Fine Art. My mother has had an art gallery since I was seven years old and I think the continuous flow of artists coming to exhibit, discuss, and sell their art had a profound effect on me. They brought a kind of freedom with them, a freedom to engage differently with life, asking questions and not just marching forward in absolutes or adhering to the norms.
After graduating, I became more involved in the Houston art community. Developing my work, organizing exhibitions, meeting other artists, giving talks, and in general having a great time. Houston is one of the best places to be as an emerging artist: there are ample opportunities from renowned organizations plus a community of artists, collectors, and other arts professionals that is approachable, accessible, and supportive.
Although things were going well, I felt a bit stuck with the art I was making – I was in a rut. So, I decided to get my MFA at the California Institute of the Arts. It was a bit of a shock to defend my artwork, finding answers to why someone should care about it. What makes it important and why was I even making the things I was making? Pursuing a masters degree can be a tricky thing (especially considering the cost these days) but those two years helped me further my art practice and, more importantly, expanded who I am and what kind of life I wanted to live.
In the funny but beautiful way that life sometimes works, I landed right back in Houston. My husband Zak Miano, who I met two weeks before leaving for California, and my mom were a big draw to come back but I also started to miss and appreciate the unique concoction that makes up Houston. Although it is one of the most diverse cities in the country, the southern hospitality pervades. Plus, it is such an odd city with its no-zoning regulation, the intensity of flood events, and the thick humidity embracing you like a sweaty friend that it sometimes seems crazy to love living here!
But I have now put down my own roots. Zak and I built a house in 2016 from the ground up with the pier and beam foundation burrowing 13 feet down into the earth. Our half-an-acre lot is filled with trees, some which have forged their roots for decades standing strong and tall. Our dream to build was not easy and my latest project details our journey to homeownership. The memoir/how-to book “How to Build: a House, a Life, a Future” (http://www.atmenpress.com/portfolio/items/howtobuild/) weaves a practical how-to guide to building your own home in Houston into an enticing narrative. To make the venture financially feasible, we moved into a 20 ft. shipping container on our property without electricity, water, sewer, or even a fence. Over the course of two years, we managed or assisted in all aspects of the construction and built our new life, slowly regaining standard comforts such as running water and continuous electricity. The story ended up being a meditation on affordable housing, the student loan crisis, and what happens when a generation can’t afford to invest in their community.
The book is currently available to pre-order with the release happening in September – a reading + release party is scheduled for September 19 at Gallery Sonja Roesch.
Has it been a smooth road? I don’t think it is ever a smooth road for anyone forging their own path. You have to be comfortable with and embrace a constant state of worry, fear, doubt, mixed with utter happiness and pride that you are in control of your life and the meaning it creates.
My advice to anyone starting out is to be resourceful in finding opportunities, learn to be disciplined with your work (even if you are not getting a paycheck, treat it like a job), and don’t be afraid to be persistent – never underestimate the power of a follow-up.
Just keep going… and enjoy what you’re doing!
Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of. I am a visual artist that is interested in how we situate ourselves within a mechanized society, specifically exploring ideas of comfort, risk, and how we define success. I don’t really have a “go-to medium” – the format depends on the concept, what I want to communicate, and the situation in which it is displayed or disseminated.
My recent book project is a somewhat new direction but in a way, it addresses ideas that I’ve been continuously interested in: physical and psychological structures that make up our every day, self-help literature, and how we measure success. I also have an interest in distribution and thinking about the accessibility of art. Many of my projects involve making multiples and I see this book as yet another multiple with various available versions – limited edition, hardcover, paperback, and ebook.
Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be? My family moved to Houston from Germany in 1996 (I was 11 years old) for my father’s job in the oil&gas industry. My mother had opened an art gallery five years prior which she has continued to this day (Gallery Sonja Roesch is located in Midtown – www.gallerysonjaroesch.com). After a few years of living in Houston, my father decided to leave his job and start a business importing picture frames from Germany. Growing up with two self-employed parents meant all hands on deck: stuffing envelopes for mailings, helping out during receptions, assisting with website development, etc. I think some parents try to shield their kids from the ins and outs of running a business but it was for me one of the best learning experiences – seeing the persistence, discipline, and constant innovation that is necessary to being your own boss (this is all in hindsight since at 16 nothing your parents want you to do is cool!).
Being an artist could be said is like running a business: you not only make stuff but you are also in charge of marketing, distribution, and selling. The good news is that YOU are in charge, and you can choose what kind of artist you want to be! Throughout my career, these early lessons on being self-employed have been key: you have to be flexible and disciplined, resourceful and persistent, always thinking one step ahead towards the next project.
I wrote “How to Build” to inspire people to build their own home and a big part of that journey is to find land on which to build.
Whereas a home taps into our emotional state, land is usually seen in a more black & white manner. Both are a commodity, an investment to be profited from, but land is more often purchased with the purpose to “sit on it”. Land purchases drive the real estate market – the more you have, the better – and the speculation and churning over of land is what can change neighborhoods and raise property values.
So what can one do to get theirs as investors, developers, and even the city are clamoring for chunks of prime property? How can you get your own little slice to build your home and put down roots? Just like building your own house, securing land for a home stabilizes the market. But how and where do you find them? Are there any affordable options left?
The answer is yes, especially in Houston. Although the classic options of going into unattractive neighborhoods or moving further away from the city center are still good options, I can also recommend being on the look out for small or irregular shaped lots. Anything under 5,000 square feet is not attractive for developers as it is too small to build a profitable house to sell. Here are some resources:
HAR (Houston Association of Realtors) This website is a great resource to locate properties currently listed on the market. You can even filter out to find out what properties have recently sold for. Just doing a search for land & residential lots under 1/4 acre costing $40K or less, brings up 250+ listings in Houston – with many even available within the inner 610 loop. Since these properties are in the marketplace, you will need to deal with realtors and should probably find your own representative to help navigate this complicated process. Properties can be purchased with cash or by qualifying for a lot loan through a bank or credit union.
Tax Auctions Following the city property auction sites is another way to find property at a lower cost. The Harris County Delinquent Tax Sale is the monthly public auction of real estate for past due property taxes. The downside is that you do have to have cash in hand to bid and pay in full once the sale is finalized. Even though you purchased the property, you are kind of in a holding pattern. The previous owners have 2 years to pay the delinquent back taxes and fees at which point your money would be refunded. The process to register can be a bit tricky (more info on their website here) but to get an idea of what is out there, you can browse their current listings here.
Making Offers In our digital age, it might seem strange to say “keep your eyes open and ask questions” but that also works. If you already live in the neighborhood and you have your heart set on a certain property, or you see someone start cleaning up a property out of the blue, say hello to the person on the tractor and ask if they know what’s happening with the land. They usually can give you the contact info of the owner or representative who might be happy to sell without having to deal with listing the property. Or if you don’t see anyone, research on HCAD can lead you to a contact.
This is how we secured our property: we saw the land get cleaned up, had a conversation with the person hired to do the work, made an offer to the owner’s representative, and were able to purchase the property without it ever hitting the market.
Even though these resources are specific to Houston, similar situations can be applied across the country. Check the real estate listing sites, research what your city has to offer, and keep your eyes open – your lot might be just around the corner.
Read more about my journey to homeownership in my forthcoming book How to Build: a House, a Life, a Future. The story is a meditation on affordable housing, the student loan crisis, and what happens when a generation can’t afford to invest in their community.
How to Build: a House, a Life, a Future guides readers through my journey to homeownership, weaving a practical how-to guide into an enticing narrative. The story is a meditation on affordable housing, the student loan crisis, and what happens when a generation can’t afford to invest in their community.
150 pages, plus 100+ illustrations by Kati Ozanic and myself
“The engaging and informative narrative serves as a blueprint that reveals the true dimensionality of complex human endeavor.”
This limited edition will also be a hardcover, bound in a vellum dust jacket with printed endsheets. Get Your Copy Now
“Roesch’s refreshingly transparent reflection on DIY home construction offers a practical and creative path to self-reliance and community building, especially for younger generations seeking their own meanings of home. While celebrating moments that are uniquely Houston, this personal case study demystifies the bureaucracies of home construction and encourages both owners and renters to learn more about the physical and conceptual intricacies of where and how we live.”
“Roesch has written a warm, intimate and eminently readable book about a major life decision. By telling her own story of homesteading in the big city — and including the good, bad, and gnarly details of the process — she inspires others to find their agency and the means to pursue the dream of homeownership.”
Even in Houston, which does not implement citywide zoning laws, living in a tent (or a shipping container without utilities) on your property will not fly. Whatever structure is used as a primary residence has to be legally sited on the property. Although we opted to build from the ground up, we had researched various ways of getting a shelter in place quickly at the beginning of our journey. Something that would give us a shell, a covering, under which we could then build out the inside. If the thought of starting from scratch is intimidating, then one of these might be a good alternative:
As new housing—even affordable housing—is being constructed, it may seem like an unnecessary pursuit to build your own house. But it might just be a revolutionary response to some of the problems facing our society today.
1. You have quality and budget control. You get what you want within the parameters of what you can afford.
2. You gain an awareness of the intricacies of life. Building your own is an exercise in what constitutes shelter, a review of necessities, civic awareness, and an investigation in quality.
3. You have skin in the game. Owning your own home encourages you to become more involved in your community. You want to live in a good neighborhood and still be able to afford it.
4. You stabilize the market. Building your own home stabilizes the real estate market due to the house never being public bought or sold; it removes the financial speculation.
My book How to Build: a House, a Life, a Future advocates for a move back to the self, reinvigorating neighborhoods with a self-sufficiency and character that will reignite the complex fabric from which our cities grew.S
“How to Build” is a memoir and how-to guide to building a house, a life, and a future. It is a meditation on affordable housing, the student loan crisis, and what happens when a generation can’t afford to invest in their community. It follows my journey to homeownership in Houston, and exposes a self-sufficiency and resourcefulness that explains why creatives and makers are still able to call this sprawling City with a no-zoning policy their home.
It will be published this Fall, with a book launch scheduled for October 2019. I am so excited about this new venture and can’t wait to share my journey with you!
If you are also excited and curious, sign up for the mailing list so you don’t miss any updates, pre-sales, and special subscriber content:
“How to Build” is funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.
These three pieces were installed in Los Angeles, CA, as part of a corporate collection. They consist of fluorescent rope and eye hooks in a cross stitch embroidery pattern. Though the stitch is something mechanical, the forms become also organic due to their symmetry and repetitive or cell-like structure. The blacklight illumination from above gives each piece a marine quality, recalling bioluminescent organisms.
The titles are motivational quotes about movement and finding your path. The enticing part of the pieces is unraveling the construction of the pattern – following the lines and seeing how they connect. Perhaps we need to look inward to find how to move forward.
The “I am a very important person” red carpet is headed to Greece for an exhibition. “Texas Eclectics” to held September 1st through September 16th, 2018 at the beautiful Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece. The Preview is on Saturday, September 1st and the Grand Opening with the US Ambassador is on Sunday, September 9th, 6pm to 8pm.
“Texas Eclectics” is a group exhibition of Texas artists curated by Demetre P. Grivas and Gus Kopriva.
The color red has long fascinated psychologists due to its effect on the human psyche. Red communicates confidence, success, power, lust, and sexuality. Despite its metaphoric connotation of aggression and the fact that it’s the color of blood, red is inviting in another primal sense. It is awe-inducing.
Awe is defined as reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder, producing feelings of vastness and accommodation. Awe-inspiring experiences may be one of the fastest and most powerful methods of personal change and growth. Yet they also reinforce social hierarchies. Primordial awe is the hardwired response that low-status individuals feel in the presence of more powerful, high status individuals and beings (God, celebrities, heroes, etc.)
VIP is an exhibition about this feeling of awe as a motivator and addresses issues of privilege, ambition, and risk. It is a social commentary on youtube sensationalism, social media fanaticism, and the frantic display of one’s importance to avoid fading into the ether.
The central piece in the exhibition is a floor-based, oval-shaped red carpet track titled “I am a very important person”. In order for a red carpet to work, one needs an audience. It denotes a sense of elevation and exclusivity (“getting the VIP treatment”), by providing a point of pause for admiration. This red carpet is its own feedback loop – you walk in a circle like a broken record.
On the wall are black & white drawings – black pastel chalk on white felt – of mountains. The drawings are part of a series titled “Deadliest Climbs” and feature 10 of the deadliest mountains to summit. Mountains, a long held symbol for self-help and motivational posters, inspire a sense of awe through their vastness. We feel small and insignificant in their presence. Ambition and bravery, as well as privilege and status are necessary to summit any of these 10 mountains, a quest to conquer unchartered territory.
Achievement calls for celebration. Yet are we the recipients or providers of this admiration?
Next to these monumental works, a lonesome red phone sitting on a table seems almost comical. A red phone reads as an emergency communication device – a crisis or hotline. “Find your Calling” is a direct line but to the top of the mountain and all you hear is the wind – nature’s static and silence.
A saddle-stitched zine of color photocopies is available as the footnote to VIP. Its free association doodles provide a child-like meditation on the red carpet track, turning the monumentality of the piece and its associated emotions of ambition, privilege, motivation, and awe upside down by infusing a sense of humor, a release to laugh at ourselves. Perhaps we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously because maybe the red oval is not a red carpet but an inner tube that could burst at any moment.
The initial contact a viewer has with an exhibition is through its invitation card. VIP’s postcard announcement shows a red background with “I am a very important person” written in white across the center. It’s a personal and private affirmation card for what’s truly important – knowing that you are a very important person. The affirmation is also available as an edition of bathmats.
In this episode, I interview Soledad Arias, an artist in New York who works as a medical interpreter. Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Soledad has lived in NYC for almost 20 years. Being bilingual, her life, artwork, and (luckily) her job revolve around language. She is interested in exploring the human condition through the medium of speech.
At a time when words seem to be thrown around blindly, accelerated by the speed of social media, Arias reminds us of the importance of empathy, practicing emotional listening, and that meaning and specificity still matter.
The 8th episode of Not a Hobby features Cathy Fairbanks, an artist living and working in Los Angeles who truly sees herself as having a dual career as a nurse and an artist.
She primarily works in sculpture, specifically ceramics. But her work doesn’t really look like traditional ceramics — they kind of morph into wonky-yet-delicate assemblages with materials like papier-mâché.
The seventh episode of Not A Hobby features Houston artist Tommy Gregory. As a sculptor and curator, he is a relentless advocate for having the public engage with art. Though his own work might not be so public-friendly, dealing with topics like sex and religion, he continues to champion public art and tirelessly organizes exhibitions across Texas. After getting his MFA from UTSA, he landed a job at the City of San Antonio as their public art specialist. He then moved to Houston to be the project manager for public art at the Houston Arts Alliance. Currently, he’s the public art program curator and interim director at the Houston Airport Systems.
“I never looked at art as a job…it just seemed like something that just happened.”
If you are in San Antonio, make sure to check out his latest co-organized exhibition “Referendum” at Flight Gallery. See more work by Tommy Gregory on his website.
The sixth episode of Not A Hobby features Rahul Mitra. He was born in Hyderabad, India, and lives in Houston. His work is heavily drawing based – mostly black ink on paper – through which he’s created his own visual vocabulary. He sees his work much like notes and his drawings like an extension of his handwriting. Rahul is also a scientist. He is the program director at The Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNAs at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is one of the three major biological macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life. They are the messenger between our DNA and the ability to produce proteins. A non-coding RNA is a RNA molecule that is not translating between DNA and protein production. So the idea is to introduce non-coding RNA into cells to disrupt production of particular proteins and whatever gene expression they trigger or suppress. Thus non-coding RNA can be targets to treat cancer.
All of this is to say that Rahul is pretty with it – looking at things on such a molecular level, testing out theories that might never come to fruition and all the while looking at society as a whole understanding how external forces can influence us on the microscopic level.
“There is commercial success, success as seen by your peers, or success as you see yourself. And I think, as an Artist, you should fail in all of them to be successful.”
The fifth episode of Not A Hobby is a little different than the previous interviews – my guest is Dirk Rathke, an artist living and working in Berlin, Germany, and he does not have a full time job that he balances with his art career. But I wanted to interview him anyway because I feel like there’s a fascination among the artist community in the U.S. that longingly looks to their European colleagues. There is a sense that the funding and general support from the European governments for their artists is much more generous, so that the artists are able to focus full-time on their art career without having to take second (or even third) jobs.
Dirk is a painter and has lived in Berlin for quite some time. He was in Houston for an exhibition recently and I wanted to ask him some frank questions about what the artist assistance situation is really like in Germany. You’ll be surprised how familiar it all sounds despite, some glaring differences.
“It’s a little bit like a game; you can have good luck or bad luck, and it’s difficult to push your luck.”