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Duce's Wild: Making your home a monument to your ideals

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

A home can be a monument to Mormon ideals, beginning at the entryway. (Stacie Duce) A home can be a monument to Mormon ideals, beginning at the entryway. (Stacie Duce)

When I was a preteen, some of my best mommy/daughter dates were to Saturday morning fashion shows at Nordstrom or parading through new home tours near our modest neighborhood. Our invited invasions into the lives of the richer were similar to what some find fascinating in reality shows today, although I have never seen a Kardashian episode and don’t intend to anytime soon.

Somehow my mom molded those experiences into an appreciation of quality craftsmanship and thoughtful consumerism instead of cultivating covetousness and envy. To me, home tours were like visiting a museum of fine art.

So, I felt like an Olympic athlete whose parents couldn’t be in the stands in London when I welcomed our community to wander through our new home in our local Parade of Homes without my mom by my side.

My mother had traveled the 500 miles several weeks earlier to help me clean, declutter and decorate. Unlike most homes in traditional tours, we had lived here with our five kids and pets for eight months. Our builder, like others in our bedraggled economy, had few choices for an entry but wanted to support the local building association and the tradition.

Our enticement to allow strangers to wander through our closets and kitchen came in the form of quality products at deeply discounted prices as well as craftsmanship that stepped it up a notch for the sake of advertisement. In the end, I marveled and appreciated the equivalent of five years’ worth of honey-dos finished in the final two weeks.

Like most Mormons, my husband and I are thrifty by nature. We consider our home more than just a place to crash for a good night’s sleep. Our home is a safe haven, even a sacred place full of prayers, laughter and hard work, where we hope to raise our children in righteousness.

Much like an LDS temple where superior craftsmanship is also a testament of gratitude, we wanted our home to be as nice as our limited budget could allow, which required significant sweat equity.

We found a one-of-a-kind builder who was honest to the core and willing to partner with our unconventional plans. In exchange for a set monthly fee during construction, he listed every cost of every step in the process and allowed us to choose as many tasks as we could handle to save money. I shopped creatively for deeply discounted fixtures, appliances and lighting, and miracles followed daily during the process.

Our teenagers spent last summer staining cedar siding, painting walls and spreading mortar like frosting on rocks for the fireplace. My husband became proficient at everything from stamped concrete to deck-building and I still have tender fingertips from the never-ending chore of caulking. We spent many nights over the last year waking up simultaneously with numb fingers and tingling sensations, and we have joked about scheduling a couple’s carpal tunnel surgery as a romantic getaway and final testament to the project.

Our plot of land was a diamond in the rough that took years to prepare for building, since it was covered in downed cottonwood trees, a creek camouflaged by thick brush and mountains of scrap iron. We found treasures to recycle, like thick beams for mantles, barn wood for shelving, and iron wheels and farm implements for yard art.

In the end, our builder couldn’t help but brag about our ridiculously low price per square foot, and we couldn’t brag enough about how he kept us from naively ruining everything.

We decorated most rooms with items we bought or inherited through the years, including refurbished furniture from estate sales. We let the teenagers choose bright wall colors to match their personalities, and we subsequently soothed my husband’s heart palpitations and boiling blood when he saw the paint cans arrive.

In the end, more than 1,500 people traveled miles to see our semirural home. Our builder encouraged us to host the tour alongside other contractors and suppliers because we were so involved in the process. We also wanted to encourage voting so our builder could win the People’s Choice award for the second year in a row.

We learned this week that our home was 10 votes away from the coveted honor behind a mansion that cost four times more with all the finest decorations and amenities.

The slim margin of the public’s preferences surprised us all, but here are a few other interesting aspects of building our family abode that we’ll always remember:

• Positive feedback

Our builder couldn’t believe the absence of criticism from attendees. Last year, he endured vocal critics galore of his million-dollar home that ironically won the first- place prize. We treasured visitors’ compliments of smart living, peaceful feelings and beauty that had as much to do with the natural surroundings as the art pieces that included borrowed bronze sculptures, original landscape paintings by Jon Bowcutt and Katheryn Buxton, as well as LDS art of the First Vision, temples and latter-day prophets.

• Busy as a beehive

Our builder couldn’t believe the landscaping was completed almost overnight. Our secret came in the form of home teachers and a counselor in the bishopric with the hidden talent and prior experience of installing intricate sprinkler systems on golf courses before he moved to Montana. We also had generous friends helping us clean windows, lending flowering pots and clearing away the final bits of construction dust.

• Parental support

I’m not sure Mormons have the corner on the market of generous parents, but we could not have built our home without their support. From sweeping sawdust every evening to planting bushes and trees, our parents in different ways offered energy that was not age-appropriate. We hope to say thank you in the future by offering assisted living under our roof whenever they are ready for that transition in life.

• Strengthened marriage

We were warned of the toll home building takes on a marriage, but we ironically found more strength because of it. Unfortunately, this year was marred by other stressful tragedies, but it was the hard work of finishing our home that brought us together when we’d rather give up on everything.

Now that the dust has settled, literally, we are more grateful than ever for the process as well as the end result. Our home is more than a structure of sticks and stones, but a monument of a Mormon family who had faith to make it happen.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on desnews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com

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