“First the house, then the garden . . .” seems to be an inescapable truth of home ownership. Some folks pretend that the garden holds greater sway, pride of place or center stage. However, wake them at 3 A.M. with the question which is more important. They’ll confess their sins. When the kitchen, toilet, easy chair and bed find their way into the garden—that will be another story. But for the present, house rules.
I’ve drafted many dream houses over the years, from the fetishistic, carefully laid out tree houses and used brick fortresses and hovels of childhood through versions of one-man sailboats of puberty, and the aircraft, rockets and custom cars of adolescence. All were more than refuges or escape vehicles. They functioned also as headquarters for world takeovers, as long as there was ample sleeping room. I was obsessed with beds for some unknown reason.
As I crashed into adulthood, I drafted diagrams and pictures of extensions to the dormitory-like rocket ships, and eventually moved into the first of several urban apartments I was to occupy, and love, for nearly a decade. From that point, escapist fantasy naturally took the form of luxurious redoubts in rural settings in either Florida, Arizona or the oak-filled dream forests of childhood. But what would I build there? Oddly, I most often designed encampments, and in particular, colonial type military forts—still, in my twenties!—so that I’d be both protected and well-supplied. Thus, garden designs consisted of trees in narrow groves or palisades and crescent forms shielding my house, which was most often a Quonset Hut. In pleasant weather, I’d live in a large tent.
Soon I entered my late 20s and became serious about actually owning a tiny bungalow outside Palookaville. But the 80s business boom kept me moving through a succession of hotel apartments all over the world. Now, after many years, I have the opportunity—and competence—to walk away from the crash site and, finally, to build my dream house.
My vision quest centers on a massive old adobe one-room schoolhouse at the Orme School in Arizona. I shall have a central room and build on a couple of cells for beds and baths. The windows will be few and tiny; the walls thick; and a small, tight-fit clerestory poked through the roof to let daylight brighten the corners. The kitchen will be on a small porch, enclosed by screens, used mainly for boiling water.
No one will see inside. I shall attain the solitude of the high urban apartment but at ground floor—I fear heights. Inside will be no décor; I grew up in a middle-class home with fashionable things all around, such as bowls and knick knacks, and I grew to loathe them, especially the ornate furniture that demanded, and received, more attention than I did. No art around me or mine. And no basement. I’ll sleep on a bed of nails before I spend a night in a basement.
Nor do I want excessive color. In fact, I hate color painted all over a house. I want to feel as though I’m outside; dull grays, stones, and washed out browns are perfect. This stems from an adolescence in the desert. The fewer the rooms, the better, like a bright cave. Open and airy with long lines of sight. One door-like window and a hillbilly screened porch off the side. I shall walk into a sunny, dry and perfectly flat yard. Southern Spain, around Valencia or Western Ohio, south of the lakes. A vegetable plot and fruit trees, if not also olives and figs. The house design can be from a mail order catalog. In fact, I’d prefer it.