Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yet another model.

The problem with designing a castle yourself, if you're a castle fan, is that there are so many different styles that are interesting or just plain neat. To stick to one style tends to mean that any of the other features you like probably will not be included. Well, the good thing about computer modeling is that you can mash them all together to see what it will look like.

This castle is a little bit of everything. Yes, there are some things that aren't quite right: Windows are too large, bad positioning, eyebrow windows too large, a few missing features, etc... But you can get a fair idea of what the finished product would look like. It appears to be big, but it would be less than 4000 sq ft were it actually built (not including garage). The exterior could be easily and rapidly done in CMU and all decorative features applied as facade (such as half-timber or stone). The raised ground is backfill to 4' high, the wall would be 12' above the surrounding grade to give a sense of height. There doesn't even need to be a wall really at all.

Anyway, the model is available to view with Google's SketchUp, along with the rest of my creations.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Storybook Homes

The path towards thinking of building a castle has been winding with a few stops at different ideas along the way, and my better half and I have looked at several styles and types of buildings and thought they were the all the "Cat's Meow" at the time. We both think old houses (read 75+ years) are great, they have character that the modern suburban cookie cutter homes lack. After owning an old house though, one quickly realizes all of the work that must be done to keep it up or fix it. There's a couple of times I've thought it would be easier to tear the house down and rebuild it than to fix some issues it had. Needless to say, we probably won't want another one...

We also took and interest in earth-sheltered homes. They're incredibly efficient, blend in with the landscape, and there's lots of DIY info out there on how to build one on a very tight budget. The efficiency comes partly from using the Earth's roughly 57F constant to shelter the building from any temperature extremes in the environment, and the often thick walls of an earth-sheltered home act as thermal mass to shield the interior from the temperature swings as well. It may come to pass that one of these gets built as a home first and a bigger structure gets built while we live in the smaller building. An earth-sheltered home can look like anything you want, from super modern to "Hobbit"-like.

Along the lines of the older homes, we also like "Storybook" homes. There was a brief run in the popularity of this style of home that peaked around the 1920s. They were generally smaller buildings that incorporated any combination of castle, cottage or even Tudor architecture to give it a look like it belongs in a fairy tale. The original homes are very desirable to this day an can be found in many places around the country, though they tend to cluster in urban areas. is a great site to get more information and to see some examples of these homes. There is also a modern business selling plans for their version of storybook homes, the site is We purchased both elevation/description books from the site for ideas. They tend to lean towards the Cotswold cottage style, and some of the plans look more palatial than cottage-like, but it's really neat stuff to look at. Honestly, to build one of's homes would cost a fortune due to all of the architectural details unless you built it yourself. The only thing that I didn't care for was that the layout of the rooms in the plan was completely modern; in other words, when you got inside the home you'd feel like you were in any other modern home and that, to me, seems to detract from the whole cottage or storybook feel that you would be trying to create with a building like this; but that's just my opinion, and that design may be exactly what some folks want. At any rate, both sites are worth looking at for enjoyment or inspiration, and the has some link resources leading to specialized hardware or tradesmen that could be interesting.

(The picture is from the site)

Friday, September 14, 2007

T. E. Breitenbach's Castle

T. E. Breitenbach's Castle.

I've had this one in the "links" section for a while, but apparently forgot to write a little something about it. T. E. Breitenbach's castle is an owner built castle that doubles as an artist's studio, classroom for art classes, and gallery. Mr. Breitenbach built his castle out of concrete block and veneered it himself with large stones. Absolutely worth looking at his site, the art is fun to see (reminds me of Bosch or Dali, except much lighter in mood), and maybe you could sign up for a lesson or tour while you are there.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Busboom Castle (and the second interview for the site!)

Busboom Castle is an owner built castle near Mahomet, IL.

Mr. Bruce Busboom has taken the time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for this blog about his castle. Without further ado, here's what he had to say:

How did you become inspired to build a castle?
I'd been a carpenter all my adult life, remodeled older houses, etc. and always wanted to build a new 'dream' house. When I started perusing house plans, none of them fit the 'dream' category. So I started sketching and estimating and resketching until I made it affordable.

What prompted you to actually start building?
I started stockpiling materials in 1987, stuff that went on sale, etc. I built all my own windows, cast the stone crennelations, drawbridge, etc. Finally it was time to start digging the foundation in 1993 and the ball was rolling. It's a big ball that cannot stop once it's started.

How much planning did you do?
I spent about five years sketching and planning. You can't do too much will pay off later ten-fold. In my mind, I drove every screw and nail five times before I actually installed it, every detail haunted my sleep.

Were there any difficulties with local laws/building codes/inspectors that you had to deal with?
No, luckily. I was building out in the country, and the county didn't have a real comprensive zoning law (at that time. They do NOW!). All they required was a sketch of the floor plan, which I provided. You couldn't readily tell from the floor plan that it was going to be a castle.

Was there any difficulty in obtaining financing for an unusual building like a castle?
I saved up for 20 years, worked three jobs, so I was able to buy all the materials without a loan.

How large is your castle?
5100 sq. ft., but that is not a real good description of size, since the ceiling in the Great Hall is 22 feet high. It contains the same volume as three 2500 sq. ft. houses.

What is it constructed of?
The exterior is 8" thick concrete 'split-face' block with special waterproofing additives. They are tied to the interior stud walls with galvanized metal, but there is a 1 1/2" airspace between the block and the first layer of insulation - 2" extruded foam. The foam is glued and nailed to the outside of the studs, 3 1/2" fiberglass insulation in the stud cavities, then 1/2" O.S.B. screwed to the inside of the studs. Aluminum foil is glued over that, finally a layer of drywall on the inside.

How long did it take to build?
Nine years.

Approximately how much did it cost?
$120,000 - but that was in 1987-1993 dollars, and I bought everything on sale. It would cost at least three times that today, plus the cost of the land.

How much work did you do yourself?
Virtually all of it. I had friends stop in and help occassionally (51 of them), and my step-father was there for moral support. I hired a backhoe operator to dig the footings, cement finishers for the flat concrete, and when I got behind in the fall I hired three bricklayers to help with laying the block. I spent about $9,000 on labor. I did ductwork, wiring, plumbing, everything. I made my own trim, door jambs, etc.

Are there any special or unique features that you'd like to mention?
I think my castle has the only real, working drawbridge in the USA. I cannot find any evidence of another drawbridge except the Cinderella Castle at Disney World, but it hasn't been operated since 1980 for some reason. I would like to know if anyone has information to the contrary. The oak and brass elevator is pretty cool too.

Are there any special "green" or "environmentally friendly" features included in the construction of your castle?
Oh yes. If LEED ratings had been around then it would have qualified for a "gold" rating. Everything was obtained locally, recycled when possible, I cut down as few trees as possible and reused the lumber. As far as energy efficiency, my electric bill for the month of July was $20.97, keeping the indoor air temp at 74degF. Not bad for that large of a space. I am not kidding.

Any services you could provide would-be castle builders?
The most interest I've seen is in how the drawbridge operator was designed. Most of the castles I've seen just have a stationary drawbridge with chains hooked up to the side. They are still definitely cool though.

Any advice for would-be castle builders?
Make sure your wife is on board. And make her be involved in the planning and construction. I am now divorced, I can't afford to keep the castle and am finding out it is a 'white elephant' on the real estate market. Be sure it's what you want and that you want to keep it for a long time! And GOOD LUCK! Pursue your is easier than you might think.

Anything else you'd like to add...
Busboom Castle is for rent, by the day, weekend, week or month! If you'd like to spend an evening or romanitic weekend and have the whole place to yourself, to get some ideas or make sure a castle is what you want, it is only $300 a night (including brunch).

Stop by the websites to support your fellow castle builder!
Castle for rent, day, weekends, week or month
Gags and Gifts, Uniques and Antiques, Art and Artifacts, Oddities and Novelties!

Many, many thanks to Mr. Busboom for returning my emails and allowing me to share this information with other would-be castle builders.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fieldstone Castle (Old Man's Castle)

This castle is somewhere near Franklin, New Hampsire; it came up while digging through long defunct Geocities sites. These folks are truly building a DIY castle out of local materials one stone at a time. One of the pages is titled "How to build a fieldstone castle, cheap." The tower in the picture apparently only cost $2000. The site has a crazy layout and it's not the easiest to get around, but there's some interesting information there. I've sent an email in hopes that I can get more information about the castle and how it was built to share here. I'll post more if it happens.

EDIT: After returning and checking the site out more, I don't think the resulting room is anywhere near castle-like. I'll leave the post here all the same as the site shows how to build with stone and cement cheaply, which is still useful and interesting.

Is this for real?

Realms of Legend.

The plan for this idea seems to be a small city and to have the largest castle and grounds in the United States. It certainly doesn't appear to be something that could be built by one or even a few people, and looks like it should require a large number of investors, lots and lots of money, and years to construct. Interesting idea, but the lack of updates to the site since the earlier parts of this year makes me wonder if the idea is no longer being pursued... I'll just have to categorize this one with the rest of the "wish castles" until something more substantial shows up on the site.

Contact from across the pond...

A visitor to the site from Europe stopped by and made a very good point, and something that I should've posted about a while back: The use of steel in construction. When building with ICF, CMUs or even slipform methods, we all think of the need for using steel reinforcement such as re-bar. There are a lot more uses for steel in modern construction though. There are steel framing components, steel floor joists, and even steel ridge beams. The steel ridge beam is pretty fresh in my memory; a friend of mine built his own house in New Hampshire. He needed a roof ridge beam (the part that holds up the crest or peak of the roof that can run the span of the building) that would take a load of around 55 pounds per square foot due to the snow load requirements needed to meet local code. Most ridge beams aren't terribly long, due to load bearing walls below they can be supported at various points along the span and not need to be engineered to a large size, or of a length that would have difficulty supporting the aforementioned weight. Basically, the longer the span, the thicker and stronger the beam must be to support any weight it must bear. His span went the full length of the building with no support except at the ends. He spent weeks on the phone trying to find a company that could supply an engineered wooden beam that would meet the specifications he needed, the closest any company came was over $3000 for a beam that could only support only 53 pounds per square foot. Finally, someone clued him in to the fact that he could use a steel ridge beam. Sure enough, he found a company that within one week was able to engineer and manufacture a steel ridge beam and supports, pre-drilled and delivered, for $1300. The reason this may be beneficial to castle builders may wish to support a long roof span without support beams interrupting the space below, and steel may be a way to make that happen. The visitor also suggested that the steel could be covered with a wood veneer to hide it if it is exposed to view, also an excellent point.

Thanks Mark, good luck with your castle!

(Examples I found on the web: the photo shows what appears to be a 4"x14" wooden ridge beam, the other photo is a steel ridge beam.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Yeti Stone

Yeti Stone is located in Maine.

If you live in the Northeast and need someone who can build walls or buildings, quarry stone on or off site, or just about any other service associated with traditional stone working, have a look at Yeti Stone. The services described would be fit for a castle or a palace, take a look at the examples on the site. This individual will travel to your site and be a dedicated mason, and is willing to work with an owner to come up with affordable costs. Cost estimates to (hopefully) come when I get the "standard castle" designed.

Brick and stone working information

Happened across this site while looking for more castle information. It contains a lot of links having to do with stone working. Some of the links are redundant with information I've posted here, but the site is still easily worth a look. I noticed that the site is called SSRsi, the "Survival and Self Reliance Studies Institute". Why is it that many of the sites featuring do-it-yourself information pertaining to odd or older materials, or any serious level of getting off the grid/build your own green home always have New-age names and/or an anti-establishment feel that would drive away Mr. John Q. Public in a heartbeat? These sustainable architecture or "granola" -types (don't get me wrong, I agree with what they're trying to accomplish) love to say how great it is to live in earth-friendly dwellings and they can't understand why everyone doesn't live like they do, but presenting material with a "survivalist" pretense makes them their own worst enemy to their cause sometimes...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Gothic Arches

Everyone has likely seen beautiful carved stone arches in the Gothic or Medieval style. If you wanted to build a castle, you probably wouldn't mind having some of these included in your design. I'm sure you're capable of carving these yourself out of stone.... What's that? You're not a stonemason? Ok, just hire guy to spend a few hundred hours carving individual arches.... What now? You can't afford that? OK, here's my idea, cheaper and DIY:

First of all, building an arch for a window yourself does not alleviate your responsibility of making sure that it is structurally sound and meets all code requirements, and if you actually try to build one using my ideas and you get hurt, it's not my fault! These are just ideas!

After watching too many DIY shows and now the Mythbusters (they make all kinds of cool stuff in their pursuit of, science, I mean) it seems the best way to make a nice decorative arch for a window would be to form one out of cement by using a mold of RTV or some similar material.

Now, there's no getting around the fact that you are going to have to make an arch, at least one yourself, that is exactly what you want. I'll have to leave the construction method up to you, but several ideas come to mind. Pour plaster into a cylinder or approximate shape of the arch segment you are constructing and carve it to the appropriate shape (time consuming and difficult to maintain the accuracy of alignment when done in segments). You could block together an arch out of craft or large foam blocks and carve that to the desired shape (easier and cheaper). You could also build the whole thing out of wood (not too easy, not too cheap, but very durable). Either way, you'll have to build it at least once, taking into account the structure it will sit in, appropriate room for supporting and installing glass and affixing the whole thing to the structure of the building.

Once you've built the window frame, (I'll assume wood for the sake of not writing three different versions), you'll want to make sure that it is precisely the trueness, shape and quality you want for your finished product. You'll be using it as mold. Every imperfection or error will come out in the end product.

Build a wooden form capable of surrounding your arch laid flat, the form must have two halves. Make sure it is strong enough to support cement and will not "blow out" due to the weight of the material. You'll need to look for a mold-making how-to online at this point, I could fill a couple of pages on how to make a mold like this; if I find one, I'll post it. EDIT: Here's a video You can scale it up and use more appropriate mold making materials to make it larger. Once your mold is made and you extract your original part, you'll be able to pour as many cement molds of your arch as you want. You could even lay re-enforcing bar or wire mesh inside the mold to have strong, reinforced cement in the end possibly capable of bearing structural loads. One could make large windows and incorporate a hollow frame to hide or place a structural support inside. You could create door frames, gargoyles, decorative wall caps, decorative heraldry, all out of cement; durable, beautiful, and limited only by your imagination and what you are willing to try.
I have noticed that some of the mold-making materials are somewhat pricey, but when you consider what it would cost to make these things out or real stone, the price is considerably more reasonable. I suppose if you were good at it, you could sell some of your creations and make some money on the whole thing!

Another how-to here.

The "mouth" or "face" arch picture is part of T. E. Breitenbach's Castle.

How to build an arch

Arches and castles seem to go hand-in-hand many times, and I've wondered how to build them. Most masonry books tend to build straight walls, walls with square openings for windows, or other basic structures. has some fairly basic information on how to build an arch with brick or wood. This information could be used to create a stone arch quite easily, but the fit of the stone would have to be pretty good if you were going to make it out of dry stone; and if you were to use mortar in the construction of it you'd still want a good fit, otherwise it'll be more mortar than stone.

EDIT: Dec 6, '07

Another description.

This particular segment of the site seems to be by far one of the most popular (over 20% of the dreamsofcastles.blogspot hits), so for everyone looking for archbuilding information I've dug up some more information. Hope it helps!

To build an arched doorway in your house using wall board:

Kit Method

Totally DIY

How a barrel vault was built in a house

Building a Medieval archway:

Simple BBC Animation on how it was done

Arched ceilings being built at (beautiful work!)


With framework still in place

Various arch forms being used to build windows and doors during construction.

If you can find it and are interested in the historical construction of arches and vaults, I'd highly recommend getting your hands on The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals, by John Fitchen ($13.00 USD at the time of writing this on The book contains lots of information on how vaults and arches were constructed out of stone using Medieval methods. All of the information could be simplified and applied to building an arch out of modern materials. It only has about 6 chapters and the rest is notes and definitions, but it covers vault types, formworks, centering, explanations and drawings very thoroughly.

Want to learn how to work dry stone?

I happened across this site called the "Dry Stone Conservancy" while looking for a suitable example about a how-to on building a stone arch. The DSC is all about preserving, repairing and promoting dry stonework; and they provide workshops as well to those of us that might be interested in learning the craft and applying it towards building something of our own someday. Worth a look.

Half-Timber and Castles

Most of us associate castles with solid, thick, stone walls and minimal exterior decoration; but there are a wide variety of buildings that bear the description of "castle" (as some of the buildings on this or Castle DuPont's site will prove). One of the ways to add to your castle's height without having to raise stone multiple stories is to build the upper floors in half-timber style. Many European castles use this method in some of the buildings, though obviously half-timber construction is not as resistant to attack as pure stone would be. Aesthetically speaking, the half-timber look may be more pleasing to the eye, depending on your preferences. It may be even more affordable than stone would be to the prospective owner-builder. While I couldn't find any "how-to" articles on building in a true half-timber style, after a little thinking is seems entirely possible to build a solid first floor (whether it be stone, ICF or other material with a stone facade) and then the second floor could be standard stick framing or SIP. This would provide a lighter and easier to work with material to the home-builder, and the half-timber could be applied as a facade as one would apply stucco and window frames. The photo is of Kaiserburg. Wikipedia has some interesting information on timber framing, as well.

Leaded (or "Stained") Glass

Leaded and stained glass are not always the same thing; leaded glass is simply the process of joining together panes of glass with lead caming, stained glass is the actual painting of colored vitreous material onto glass and then firing it to melt the two together. Solid colored glass is sometimes called "art" or "slag" glass, but can also be called "stained" glass. Some folks would like to have leaded or stained glass in their home or future castle and it can be anything form affordable to outrageous. Seeing as this site is all about DIY, I think that everyone could do it themselves to create basic leaded glass to hang in a window or to cover a window completely. Check this site out: Leaded Glass Panel Tutorial.

As you can see there are a few necessary tools and the designs can be quite simple. Fired stained glass is an entirely different story, requiring: vitreous paints, a high temperature oven capable of precise temperature control, basic leaded glass skills and the artistry needed to create a painting as a work of art. Probably not suitable for the average DIY'er due to the high skill, time, and tool investment required. The point of this is that a lot of folks associate leaded glass and Gothic/Ecclesiastical architecture with castles and would love to have a window or three that filter the sunlight into their home. There are a lot of resources available on the internet as far as supplies an how-to books that will help you get what you need. There are probably classes held by local schools or individuals that could help as well. Leaded glass is definitely a beautiful addition to any home, and something you can make yourself to boot.

Updated Links

Verified active links, transferred links from postings to link sections at bottom of page.

"Build Your Own Stone House" (book)

"Build Your Own Stone House: Using the Easy Slipform Method" by Karl and Sue Schwenke.

Finally I've read a decent amount of this book, and I have to say that I have enjoyed reading it so far. The author has an easygoing style that allows the writing to flow in an almost conversational way. There are humorous little "asides" that bring in events that happened during construction, such as forgetting to leave a hole in the foundation for a drain or the neighbor's visit that caused a smashed finger. The information presented is a blend between completely ditching modern conveniences and construction methods but using them when necessary. Truly you could go into the woods with your tools and build basic house with just this book if you had to (as long as you had access to cement, anyway; after all, it is the "Slipform Method"!). The author concentrates his examples on the basic rectangular house that he and his wife built, but provides methods and suggestions as to what you'd need to do to build something different. For example: The author chose to build a roof with a low pitch, but provides charts to adjust the angle to something different. He also provides different methods of laying the stone, whether it be coursed or rubble.

Other recommendations he does make throughout the book are to make sure you know local code, do the necessary research an planning on your site (such as siting of a well and waste systems, building on proper soil types, alignment of the building to sunlight, etc...), use local agencies as required for things like water testing or soil testing, and if you're not sure of what you are doing, get the knowledge from someone who knows how to do it right. No need to have the building fall apart on you, especially when you're inside.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Contact Me

Someone said that they found no way to contact me on the blog. I hadn't really thought about it, but now that it appears to be necessary I should provide some means. Place a comment to this posting to contact me. All comments are moderated, so I'll see it. I'm sorry I can't provide an email address, but the last thing I need is some bot trolling the blogs looking for email addresses finding mine so I wind up with even more spam in my mailbox...

Dry spell

Well, I haven't made too many posts lately. It would appear that I've found most all, if not all, of the owner built castles that are currently available on the web via popular search engines. Having kept an eye on the site almost daily, it seems that the all-time high of daily visitors was around 20 and has leveled off to around 6-8 per day. I really was never sure how much traffic a site like this would generate, so I guess I'm pleased that anyone is stopping by at all. There are a lot of search terms used that lead folks to this site, the most common are people looking for a few of the popular castles like DuPont castle, and the rest is a mish-mash of search terms that have to do with building castles from stone or other modern materials. This is kind of surprising in a way, because it means that there are several people that would like to know how to build a modern castle. That's great! I wish I had more concrete information to give the searchers, especially along the lines of "this is how I did it...".

I've also had a couple of inquiries from material vendors that have found the site and are interested in telling me about their wares. I always write back, but it appears that they haven't really looked at the site too closely; especially the parts of it that essentially say that I have no money... Funny, once they hear that they never write me back! So for vendors that happen across the site, don't run away! I'm happy to take information about your product as long as you can provide specifics as to how it may be applied to modern castle building, exactly how it would be done with your product and what benefit or support you, your product, or your company would provide an owner builder.

At some point, I'll put together a "standard castle" model with floors, square footage, exterior windows, walls, and doors. Differing materials can be applied to the structure so it can be used as standard cost gauge for walls, foundation, and floors is in a rough cost per square foot output.

As always, if anyone knows of a castle that is currently being built by the owners or owner-builders that are living in their own castle, I'd be happy to hear about it.