Monthly Archives: March 2011

My “Sabbatical”

My blog has been inactive for awhile. I’ve been made more aware of my silence because concerned readers have recently been sending me messages like these:

“Are you all right?”

“This isn’t like you. Will you be writing again?”

“I had been worrying about your silent weblog for these months, though I know you have been regenerating your company in the recession.”

The last comment is accurate, but to put a better spin on it, I’ll call my writing absence a sabbatical. The time of not keeping up with the blog, while indeed caused by excessive work for our company, has also been helpful. The space and time has given me new perspectives and new energy. I’m now ready for a return to regular reporting, though I realize I surely lost some readers who had every right to give up hope.

While some people have been worried about me through the fallow period, our marketing team has been breathing a sigh of relief. They know I will always say the truth as I see it, and it gives them some concern at times that I might write with rather too much unhappy honestly. They rightfully worry that my unfiltered words might tarnish our image. I’m gambling that honesty and good soul-searching are better than the hyping and preening just for positive effect.

Therefore, for better or worse, I’m back, and you can continue to count on me to write what I think without concern about whether it’s a benefit or pitfall for our marketing.

My blog sabbatical began at the end of December when my site got hacked. In the place of my posts, a dark, satanic creature appeared with dripping sharp teeth and a foul mouth. It was shocking. My IT experts couldn’t get rid of this guy, so after multiple attempts we pulled the site down. I took it personally, even though I was told my site was almost certainly the victim of mass attack, not a personal vendetta. I still felt violated.

Eventually, we put the blog site back up with a different host, but by that time my focus was on trying to maintain our company’s health and vigor in the midst of the feeblest housing market for 75 years, compounded by realities of a typical New England winter, which is usually our slowest time of any year.

I can report that we are prevailing despite the slings and arrows of the persistently tough economy. With thanks to the hard and creative work of our team, and with further thanks to the many clients who have demonstrated their faith in us, we’ve been able to push through a long, cold winter. We’re even beginning to develop strategies for increasing our production capacities rather than shrinking.

There’s no doubt I have some battle scars from the home industry depression, but they don’t include laying off any associates in 2009-2011, and that’s something about which we can be very proud of considering the dire circumstances.

As I renew my conversations with you here, I’ll remind you that the themes I care about remain those that have been the focus of my 38 year effort to improve homebuilding in America. On the building process side, the elements of craftsmanship are key, but when that is in place, it must be supported by good design, the art of structural engineering, the technology expertise required in mechanical engineering, and the fast-emerging field of building science. But on the product side, we must never lose sight that the end goal of homebuilding is for and about enhancing and ennobling the lives of people.

I believe we homebuilders can do a whole lot better. We’ve set our bar too low. Anything we build will eventually move in the marketplace because people need shelter. But that fact has blinded us from a correct vision of what we we should try to accomplish in our profession. With that, I guess I’ll spend the next 38 years (hey, I’m an optimist!) working on raising the bar.

Homebuilding is most of all about our aspirations for humanity. Expressed in every seemingly mundane construction there are also loud statements about what we value and what we believe.

Here’s what I believe:

  • We can build homes that deeply matter in the lives of people. Such homes are not commodities; they are the context for security, love, beauty, sacred relationships and cherished memories. The best attributes of good homes are its intangibles; the stuff that inhabits dreams and is a source of hope and inspiration. Homes are both a refuge of comfort and security and a prospect for action and engagement in the world.
  • We can build homes that represent our highest values, that display the hopes and ideals of our culture and reveal our best ambitions for the future.
  • We can build homes that are durable and flexible enough to pass from generation to generation for centuries, sometimes many centuries. When we are at our best, our homes age like fine wine, not like raw milk.
  • We can build homes that are the pride of their communities and cities that define the place where they are; that honor the past, vibrantly live in the present, and project a stalwart attitude about their important role in the future.
  • We can build homes that extract little from the planet and give back in relation to the resources used in a way that is worthy and sustainable.
  • We can build homes that use less energy than they make.
  • We can completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels for the heating and cooling of homes.
  • We can build homes that exhibit a reverence for the natural world of which they are a part. We can build homes that inherently renew the natural connections to the places they inhabit.
  • We can build homes that are a tribute to 21st century craft of homebuilding, showing once again the critical contributions of our historically proud and noble profession.
  • We can highlight the advancements in workmanship and technology that are the hallmarks of our contemporary civilization. We don’t need to choose between honoring the past and embracing the future. However, we do need to choose from both wisely.
  • Finally, we can and we must make these kinds of homes accessible to the broadest possible sector of our society. Our brightest destiny requires that we pursue ways to allow all people to live in homes that elevate life.

And so, onward. With many thanks for your understanding and patience, and especially for your kind words of concern and encouragement. Please join the conversation as my “sabbatical” now ends.