The dream for this house started at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. It was there that James Hay was recovering from injuries he sustained in a bombing in Afghanistan. After he arrived at the hospital, doctors wanted to keep the brains of the soldiers moving, even though their physical abilities were limited.
“After being blown up in Afghanistan, I arrived at Walter Reed,” Hay said. “They wanted to make sure that we, all of the soldiers, kept our minds moving. So, they assigned us several possibilities of what we could do. Write a book, write a song, or design your own home, were a few items on the list of examples.
“There were at least four architects in the area that volunteered to come and work with recovering soldiers. They set us up with a PC, with a form of CAD, and showed us how to use it to design our own home. So, I designed this home. I did not have the land yet, but I knew I wanted a pool, and the software was really cool because you could even put furniture in and people in. Then, I turned it over to them and they completed the drawings.”
“I left Walter Reed with a disc and a print-out of the house. I needed to find a builder and a way to build this modern-looking home. I looked at builders and got rough pricing. My partner, Jeff and I built a scale model out of balsa wood.”
He says he did not know about structural insulated panels (SIPs) until he met District Sales Manager Lee Bergum at the Minneapolis Home Show in 2018. He learned that the SIP construction would be a good fit for his desire to be environmentally friendly and energy efficient. Construction of his home started in the fall of 2019.
“I had considered concrete block for the construction, but after seeing the SIPs I decided they would work for my house. Lee connected me with an EPS builder and the plans went back to EPS for engineering.”
Hay served two tours in Iraq during 2003 and 2005 followed by two joint tours between Iraq and Afghanistan. He worked as a senior contracting officer, negotiating major military contracts, the smallest being for $25 million and the largest was $1.6 billion.
“We were working with Afghani security force folks that were black marketing items given to them by the U.S. government. We went to observe the apprehension of the individual responsible, and he felt that if I were dead that the investigation would end. Little did he understand that it is not one person. The military is not one person. It was an attempted assassination.
“When I retired from the army, I wanted to stay active, and we decided to build an RV park and found this land of 46 acres of untouched paradise in central Minnesota. The hilltop was going to be the clubhouse, and we had the lakeshore, for boats and all. We ran into a covenant on the land that I was not aware of. We could have tried to fight it, but it wasn’t worth the risk. We looked at the land and we went back up to the hilltop and said, let’s build a house. We decided to build this house.
“It wasn’t a vision to be a B&B, but it would certainly work as one. I knew I wanted out in the woods and I wanted a lot of access out of the house into nature. Hence, every bedroom has access to the outdoors. Jeff was a lot of help for selections of color schemes, including colors that would fit into the woods. It is not bright colors, but colors that fit into the woods.”
Hay divided up the 46-acre site and sold off 8 lots while keeping 27 acres in the middle of the property. He was born and raised in northern Minnesota.
“I knew I wanted to build it away from everybody. I wanted to buy some land and build it right in the middle where I wouldn’t have neighbors. I really like my privacy. After spending so much time in the military, you just want to be alone. We know we have neighbors, but we can’t see them.”
The property road is now named Eagle’s Way after his military rank and Jim and Jeff named their home Eagle’s Perch. Hay retired as a colonel.
He remembers telling architects that he would live in a glass house if he could. He wanted as much glass windows as possible. The front room is all one big room—the kitchen flows to the dining area, to the living area, to the family area. And it’s all windows and that was important to have windows everywhere. They also wanted to be one with nature with colors that fit in with nature.
“As you drive up to the house, it’s kind of camouflaged in the woods. We wanted it functional. Like the swimming pool, we wanted as much activity outside as possible. We are both very environmentally friendly. There is no lawn, the landscaping is all natural. Other than the rock gardens around by the pool and the patios. We have some beautiful weeds that are cool and interesting. We try to be one with nature. We don’t cut trees down unless absolutely required.”
This 6800 sq. ft. house was built with structural insulated panels from EPS. Hay was not a builder but has seen houses built. They felt the build of this house was fun. In less than a week, the entire house was up. The home has proven to be very energy-efficient and they have no hot or cold spots with the energy being held in by the insulated panels.
“My inspiration on the single slope roof line probably came from living in California and Europe where they have a lot of more modern single slope construction. Certainly, a California influence, the house is very simple. It is a rectangle, 78’ x 38’ with some really cool looking roof lines. I intentionally wanted it to look different from everyplace that you looked at it. I wanted the view from a corner to look different from the front side.”
A tour of this house is evidence that a new home design can fit right into the lifestyle of the owners. With a wall of windows, windows set high, windows in the shower, outdoor access from every indoor space, plus colors tuned to nature, this new home matches the desire to be one with nature and a fitting addition to its woodsy location.
Photos of this home can be seen in the Eagle's Perch photo gallery: https://www.epsbuildings.com/new-home-galleries/single-family-home-gallery/150/homes-single-eagles-perch.php