Written by Victoria Van Vlear
Dena Breitmeyer is a wife, mom and the voice behind Fletcher Creek Cottage. She and her husband have an amazing story of learning how to DIY home projects, and they now live in a home they built themselves for just $70,000. Dena was also one of the top 3 finalists for our 2022 Brand Ambassador contest. Here’s more about her.
American Farmhouse Style: How did you get started in the online décor community?
Dena: First, I have to say how grateful I am to be a part of this community! It’s been such a blessing in my life and I’ve met some of the kindest people! I guess you could say this community found me.
At 21 years old, my husband and I bought our first home and spent four years completely renovating it. We even built an addition and did all of the work ourselves. We learned a lot and spent the next 17 years designing and renovating homes (all DIY). After moving back to our hometown and purchasing 65 acres, we decided to build a little cottage, all DIY, on our land in hopes to live in it while we saved up to build our dream home one day. We built our little cottage for $70k, simply because we did all of the work.
During the last few weeks, a few friends of mine suggested I share our DIY home and projects online. Up until that point, I really had no idea there was a wonderful online world of design and home decor community! For years, I had spent all my free time designing and renovating homes and had no clue that people were sharing online, writing blogs, creating video content and documenting their journeys. I’m so glad my friends encouraged me to start sharing our journey. If it weren’t for them, I would never have shared our home or DIY projects started writing a blog, or started my own business…and I certainly would not be here today chatting with you about our $70k DIY house!
AFS: How would you define your style?
Dena: Over the years we’ve moved a lot, and with each home I renovated, my goal wasn’t so much to have it look a certain way or have a specific style, but more focused on designing a home/space that gave you a “feeling.” When I design a space, my goal is to make everyone feel welcome and at peace.
We named our little cottage because Fletcher Creek runs through our land and because “Cottage” means “a small simple house, typically one near water.” Our house is just over 900 square feet and near a creek, so it seemed fitting to call it a cottage. So of course now my Blog, Instagram and YouTube Channel are all Fletcher Creek Cottage. Now that we are building our DIY Dream Home, we are going to have to decide what to call that…maybe “Fletcher Creek Farms”…we’ll see!
AFS: Tell us a little bit about the house you built.
Dena: Fletcher Creek Cottage is the first house we designed and built on our own from scratch. We had spent years renovating homes, and we felt confident we had enough experience to build a new home. My husband and I were our own designers, general contractors, and did all of the building/construction/electrical/plumbing/HVAC work ourselves. We pulled all the necessary permits and passed all our inspections. We broke ground in 2017 and passed our final inspection and got occupancy in 2018.
The cottage has an open floor plan, with two bedrooms, one bath, a 400 sq ft bonus loft space and an attached garage. From the outside, it resembles a barn, but it’s not a pole barn or a kit. It’s built with 2×6 construction on a slab with in-floor heat, 9-foot ceilings with a floor plan that we carefully designed to be as functional as possible for a family of four. We currently live in the cottage and we plan to use it as a studio/workshop after we move into the dream home we’re currently building on our land. Since finishing the cottage, we’ve also built a heated greenhouse, raised garden beds, and a 24×40-foot backyard pavilion on our land. It’s been so fun making Fletcher Creek into the homestead we’ve always dreamt about.
AFS: What advice do you have for someone who wants to take on bigger DIY projects but feels intimidated?
Dena: Anyone who knows me knows I’m all about a good DIY! DIY is a way of life for our family, and it’s saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. But, I totally understand feeling intimidated. I often do. I tell my friends to start small and the more you learn, the more confident you’ll become to tackle larger projects on your own. It took years of trial and error to acquire the skills I have now. It was a long process and I messed up plenty of times. Even after 20 years of DIY projects, I am still learning every single day.
I would also add that when it comes to larger DIY projects that involve safety or anything structural in your home, the best way to make sure that you’re successful is to do research (I don’t mean on YouTube, I mean knowing building code. It’s is a MUST) and ask licensed professionals for help. We learned a lot of what we know from hiring a professional to teach us, or from asking an uncle or friend who worked in the trades to help us with a project and teach us along the way.
Make sure that you are learning from a credible source! If you have a larger DIY project that you’re nervous to take on alone and can hire a trustworthy craftsman or licensed professional to build it WITH you, you’ll be set! The best part is that you’ll be able to ask questions along the way and gain the skills and confidence to tackle the next big DIY on your own.
AFS: Are there any projects you’re working on now that you’d like to share with our readers?
Dena: We have recently started our biggest and most exciting DIY project. When we got married twenty years ago, we dreamt about building our forever home, and a few months ago we finally broke ground on our DIY Dream Home. My family and I are building our custom 4000+-square-foot home ourselves and are documenting the entire process on YouTube, Instagram and the blog. I’ve been designing this home for years, and this is a total dream come true for us. We hope that in sharing our journey we can encourage and inspire others.
I have moved 29 times in my lifetime (17 times after Aaron and I got married)…and moving into our DIY Dream Home will make it 30. That’s a lot of homes! I’ve tacked countless DIY projects and for each project/home, I’ve always been on a major budget. But because I was willing to tackle DIY projects, I was able to transform each house into a “home” and not break the bank. I really believe that every home has potential and any home can be beautiful and functional no matter the budget, if you’re willing to get creative and get your hands a little (or a lot) dirty along the way!
Follow along with Dena online:
Victoria is the brand leader and editor of American Farmhouse Style. She shapes the editorial direction of the brand, both through the physical magazine and digitally on the brand’s website and social media platforms. As a home décor enthusiast and DIYer herself, she knows what a little paint and patience can do for a room! Victoria is also a wife and mom to two little ones: one on earth and one in heaven. With any (not so spare) time, she devours book and dabbles in fiction writing. You can follow her on Instagram @victoriavanvlear