Leaving Home

The house from outside, looking across my native bunchgrass/wildflower front yard.

I live in a house heated by the sun in winter, and cooled by the down-valley breezes in summer, a house designed to look unassuming from the outside as if it’s always been there, with an interior that elicits “Wow!”s.

Inside, the house is light and airy and colorful. Its many south-facing windows let in the winter sun, allowing that solar energy to heat the slab, providing warm floors and a cozy house. The windows also embrace a spectacular panorama of rocky peaks and forested ridges rising over the roofs of my small town. The walls are painted in colors that temper the abundant light, reflecting it back warmed or cooled, depending on the time of day and season.

The living room with light pouring in the south-facing windows, illuminating the polished concrete floor.

The east walls are painted warm terracota, lending the morning light a cozy feel; south walls are a rich buttery yellow, which keeps the light pouring into the house from becoming too harsh and glaring. West walls are a soft sage green to cool the hot late afternoon light on summer evenings, and north walls are a dark midnight blue, the color of the night sky just before it goes dark.

Those rich colors, plus the polished concrete floor tinted in mottled earthy shades by the stains of construction, dappled here and there with impressions of leaves that blew in when the slab was poured, give the house a natural feel. It is full of art from friends in Salida’s artist community; my late love’s “ambassadors of the earth,” the rocks he loved so, form sinks, shelves, and free-standing sculptures on tables and floors.

The restored native bunchgrass/wildflower grassland in summer

Outside, brilliant wildflowers dot the half-block of yard, a restored native bunchgrass grassland, architectural in its winter spareness and traffic-stopping in summer. An expansive kitchen garden flourishes in seating-height beds out the kitchen door; off the master bedroom is a flagstone patio Richard taught me how to build before he died.

The house, 2,400 square feet including attached guest cottage, plus Richard’s historic 1,700 square-foot sculpture studio/shop are powered by the sun too, thanks to an array of photovoltaic panels on the roof. The whole makes a beautiful and sustainable home with a strong connection to place and history. A home to inspire and be inspired by, truly “home” in all the senses of that complex word.

A home Richard and I imagined living in for the rest of our lives. Until brain cancer ended his life last November. Now that it’s me alone, the place is too big. So once I finish some of the interior projects that my brilliant but deliberate love didn’t–interior trim, master bath, and a few other details–I’m putting our home up for sale. (Interested in a sustainable and beautiful live-work space walking distance from the Arkansas River and downtown Salida? Let me know.)

My junky vacant lot at sunset. The boulders in the foreground are Richard’s “spare” sculpture materials; the chimney in the background is his historic studio.

And I’m beginning a whole new adventure: building my own tiny house on the piece of what we half-jokingly called our “decaying industrial empire” that Richard and I didn’t get around to restoring, an odd-shaped vacant lot just down the creek from the main house and studio complex.

I’ve been working with designer Tom Pokorny of Natural Habitats on my new space, and I’m excited about the resultant 725 square-foot passive solar house with a detached 380 square-foot second-story studio over the garage. Assuming the City of Salida okays the plans, I’ll be getting bids from builders after the holidays. While I’m teaching myself how to be a trim carpenter and finishing this house. And writing a memoir.

The tiny house-to-be with its small garage with studio above. Like the big house, it’s also passive solar and will be powered by a (much smaller) photovoltaic array.

It’s a lot to take on, but I think I’m ready. Richard’s brain cancer took us on a journey we never imagined walking, one we wouldn’t have chosen. Still, it was the journey life gave us, so we did our best to walk it well.

Now my path involves building a thoughtful, mindful, and sustainable new life for myself. (Sustainable in the environmental footprint sense, but also in terms of my finances and energy.) That means learning skills I never envisioned, like house design and trim carpentry.

I bought myself a canvas tool bag yesterday. Here I go…