A House Built With Love

The view out the kitchen window, looking over the roofs of downtown to the Sangre de Cristo Range in the distance.

As I gear up for another weekend of trim carpentry, I’ve been thinking about leaving this home Richard helped design and build for us. After moving ten times (and living in six different states) in our first 17 years together, this was to be our last house, the place where we would  live out our days.

We did that. We spent six years building the house, working on it whenever we had money and time and then moved in, never imagining that the “our” part would end so quickly. We had lived here for just three years when Richard saw the legions of birds that were the only indication of his brain tumor and the cancer that would kill him two years later.

The living/dining room on a winter day when the sun pouring in the bank of south-facing windows heats the concrete floor, keeping the house toasty.

In the year-plus since his death, I’ve realized that the house/guest cottage/shop complex that was perfect for the two of us is much too large for the one of me. Being the practical sort, and not having an abundance of money, I decided to “right-size” and build myself a much smaller place that would incorporate this house’s green features–the passive solar design that keeps the house warm in winter and cool in summer (for free), a photovoltaic system to generate clean electricity from the sun, and the feeling of an intimate connection to the out-of-doors.

Of course, to build that new, small house, I have to sell this place. (There’s always a catch.) And before selling it, I have to finish the major projects that my love, who could design and build anything with his natural sculptural aesthetic never got around to. (“Simple” projects like installing trim, baseboard or interior doors were not interesting enough to him.)

The “cliff” Richard designed for our bedroom, a cement-block wall for heat storage with a sandstone shelf like a sheltering overhang. (He built the simple bed platform too.)

Which is why I find myself ripping, milling, sanding, painting, and nailing trim in my spare time. Part-time Queen of the Pneumatic Nailer, that’s me!

As I work, I often find myself smiling, feeling connected to Richard as I learn the machines and tools that he used with such facility that they seemed extensions of his skilled hands and brilliant mind. And sometimes I find myself in tears, wondering what life will be like when I am no longer sheltered within the walls he built for us.

This house is full of his work, from the bathroom sinks he carved out of local boulders to that cliff in the bedroom, with its sandstone ledge-shelves, and the arching doorways, the cabinets with mortise-and-tenon face frames held together with mesquite pegs, the drawers in my office with pulls carved from beach cobbles we collected together….

I’ll take some of his free-standing work with me, but the house–which I realize now is his largest sculpture–will remain as he built it, “with love,” as he used to say.

Richard holding a bathroom sink carved from a pink and black gneiss boulder.

I take comfort from the idea that the beautiful and sustainable house we created together, and all the love that went into it, will be a nurturing and inspiring home for someone else.

It’s deeply satisfying to learn the skills that came so easily to him, and to complete some of the things he started.

It’s also painful, a reminder that our paths have diverged, and the “us” we imagined continuing for years to come is no longer. His death changed me in ways I am still only beginning to understand.

I’m still me, but being me without Richard is different. Sometimes I feel like this little folk art dragon I found at Books and Books last week at YoungArts, looking eagerly at life with ears and head up, stubby wings not quite big enough to fly. I hope by the time I finish this house and pass it on to others, my new wings will have grown enough to carry me onward….

My new mascot