"Never Again," Richard La Plante promised after he and his new wife completed building their family home in East Hampton, New York. But he did not keep his promise. Instead, he bought twenty acres of raw land on a mountaintop located three and half thousand miles away, in a small town that he had only visited by internet.... And the nightmare began. A house in New York to sell, a massive loan to pay off for the newly purchased land, dishonest builders, some of the most stringent building codes in America, and the economic collapse of 2008.
With no general contractor, because they had decided to save money by doing it themselves, La Plante and his wife face an empty bank account, a black widow spider infestation and a large wooden frame with no windows. With two young sons to raise, a stony silence between them and a marriage counselor who says in sagely fashion, "There's only one answer. Finish the house," the La Plantes stumble from hilarious disaster to not-so-hilarious disaster to ultimate success.
Never Again is a seven-year chronicle of trial and triumph, both a warning and inspiration to anyone trying to build a dream.
©2011 Richard La Plante (P)2012 Escargot Books Online Ltd
Making the world better one review at a time.
After 11 years of marriage, my husband and I are about to renovate a house together for the first time. This means I need help, and fast! Naturally, I turned to Audible and searched for all things renovation, home-building and construction. I happened upon Richard La Plante’s memoir “Never Again: Building the Dream House” and quickly realized it was just the sort of thing I was looking for, and more. Graciously, Richard La Plante agreed to talk with me about his memoir for the purpose of this review. Below are some of the highlights of our conversation.
RN: Throughout the book you attribute nicknames to everyone of significance, from contractors to the black widow spider who took up residence in the bathroom. What made you choose to refer to Betina simply as “my wife” throughout the narrative?
RLP: It wasn’t a time of great joy between husband and wife…we lost all our money, the county [we were building in] was a nightmare, we took seven years to build the house, stocks collapsed in 2008, it was a mess. It was rather an irrevocable break between husband and wife so I probably just referred to her as ‘my wife’ for that reason.
RN: What advice would you give to a couple preparing to embark on a journey similar to yours and Betina’s?
RLP: They better know each other very very well, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, be accepting of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and be prepared for disagreements over the most minor things. As the process continues the level of exhaustion grows to such an extent that it’s like the straw that breaks the back. It might be a kitchen sink or a tap or a fixture or a builder that one likes and the other doesn’t but as it builds it’s like a snowball accumulating. Tension, stress and worry – particularly financial because these things always eat up more money than you have allocated. You’re in for it. I wouldn’t say don’t do it. I’ve done it several times. Just be aware that it’s going to put stress on you in areas that you have yet to be stressed.
RN: A couple times in the book you make reference to bipolar disorder. Is this a condition you live with and, if so, what advantages or disadvantages did it lend during the building process?
RLP: That was me joking! I’m neither manic depressive nor bipolar but there is truth inside the joke. The truth is when things are going well and you see how this thing can look there’s an incredible high. When the county inspector tells you your fireplace hasn’t been engineered properly and the floor won’t bear its weight and shuts you down for four months it’s an absolute low…it’s a roller coaster.
RN: So it sounds like maybe everyone who’s building a house lives with extreme highs and lows.
RLP: Well most people take on a foreman, or someone to run the building crew. They take on an architect who oversees it and they take on a construction company. We didn’t have any of those. The architect stayed for a week. He didn’t speak English – he’s Argentinian, a great architect. We took the plan and had it drafted so it was at least done in feet and not in meters. We were on our own from there. We hired all the builders, paid all the builders, we didn’t have anybody looking after the builders but us, there was nobody overseeing the general construction – it was us. So we took it all on to develop raw land into a house. We put wells in, we ran electricity up the side of a mountain…not everybody does it the way we did it and I wouldn’t advise anybody doing it that way without a really intimate knowledge of the building system, and we didn’t have it.
RN: What was the motivation to take all that on?
RLP: The most beautiful view you’ve ever seen.
RN: Would you do it again?
RLP: I would do it again to the limit that I’d renovate a place. I don’t think I’d want to go from scratch. I’d do a mild renovation – in fact I don’t think I could own a place without putting some kind of personal mark on it. It’s just in me to do it. I rather like it. I like it because at the end of each day you see something that wasn’t there when it started. You get a sense of progression and accomplishment. It’s pretty amazing.”
It should be noted that “Never Again” is not just about building a house. It’s also about building a life in Ojai, California, raising a family, keeping a marriage going, doing lots of exercise and building a career in one of the toughest towns for career building – Hollywood. La Plante’s writing is wonderfully candid and self-deprecating. He also narrates the book, so those elements of his writing are translated nicely into the audio version of the book.
I would highly recommend “Never Again” not just to those who are building a dream house; but to anyone who has labored for the love of a dream. You will not be disappointed.
BONUS: If you enjoy “Never Again” as much as I did, check out “Mantis,” another book by Richard La Plante on Audible.
Richard LaPlante is a great writer. I enjoyed his honest, straightforward storytelling. Although it took a little while for me to warm up to the sound of his voice, his determination and eventual obsessive drive to get his house completed kept me hooked.
There wasn't one particular moment, but there were many trials and tribulations he was forced to endure while trying to juggle family life and his regular work as a writer while struggling through hard economic times, crazy building inspectors, and more than a few personal hardships. A weaker person might have given up.
If you ever wondered as I had, about what really goes on behind the building of a house on a hill, then this is worth the listen. You may think twice about taking the leap but maybe it's all those challenges that makes it that much more worth all the effort in the end. After all, what would be fulfilling about the American Dream if you didn't work hard to make it happen?
If you daydream about what walls to knock down in order to make your kitchen perfect or if you doodle floorplans on napkins, you'll be immediately interested in this story.
Few people have as many high-octane real estate stories as Richard La Plante and his chronicle begins with a background recounting of just how he became well versed in the art of home buying and renovating. That part of the book in itself is pretty interesting. But his recounting of the development of The Frankenstein Monster Dream House -- one of his many real estate undertakings -- is captivating.
The House is the protagonist.
La Plante is a man with a vision. His a goal is to build a house which works on every level: artistically, with the land he serendipitously purchases and also with his and his wife's sophisticated aesthetics.
He is, unfortunately, at the mercy of county codes, missing contractors, the mountain itself and the ever decreasing bank account. He is a veteran of many renovations and real estate deals but it seems as this project goes along, it will destroy him; his sanity, his marriage and his finances. Sometimes he is battling Byzantine governmental oversight, his "friends" often seem to be characters out of a Kafka tale or either he discovers the reality he thought he was traversing has taken him down Alice's Rabbit Hole, one with smoke and mirrors and never ending surprises. And not good surprises.
La Plante gives a humorously dry recounting of the saga. He manages to tell this very personal story but also keep a narrator's distance, which makes for an engaging and entertaining listen. He digs into the psychology and also the nuts and bolts, nails and plumbing of what goes into building a challenging dream home. But I think his struggles apply to any goal that is a vision before it's reality. And that element makes this story an analogy for any giant, seemingly unobtainable dream we might decide we must attempt.
I recommend this story, even if you have never bought a home, renovated a room or even attended a realtor's 'open house' on a Sunday afternoon.
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