Finishing Touches: OUTSIDE

September 27, 2021: Flowers and vegetables run riot right outside the back door captures the essence of the way I want to live. I gave my long-time neighbor and friend Lew Lama of Wood & Stone Works free reign—but for a few flags stuck in the ground where I envisioned a walled garden. It all started when a dump truck off-loaded a few boulders found on a farm in nearby Ridgeway. Then, salvaged barn foundation stones and other stones of mixed provenance snagged on the cheap as overage from Lew’s other projects. These were sorted and stacked for bottom layer, middle layer and cap layer. Loads of crushed limestone, washed river stone, and assorted fill material stood at the ready.

The wall rose steadily, battered back and keyed together to reach a string line set at house grade. The boulders anchored the corners and mid-points, only later revealing themselves to be steps. Large stones were set on the diagonal. Smaller stones filled in and arched over.

Chunks of old lime mortar and patches of lime-wash told the story. Shell fossils were found. Finally, the cap—a rhythm of cut stones and rough stones—a handy walkway from one end of riotous garden to the other. Thank you Lew for this sublime creation that may very well outlast the house!

I wondered how we might use up some long and stout but too-wavy pine boards—left-overs from the loft build. After I over-filled the garden with topsoil, I needed a way to contain it on the house side. My friend Marken D’elene of Savanna SG figured out a fast, simple, cheap, and reversible way to hold back the soil—he simply set the boards on edge, ran a few screws down, and anchored them with 3 foot long steel form stakes (already black). He charred the back side of the boards with a blow torch, an ancient Japanese method of preserving wood called Shou sugi ban. There’s a pleasing unity of form and material as you gaze out to the garden while tucked into the loft. You see knotty pine and you see black bars.

When I was planning the house, I hadn’t fully appreciated how much we would end up using the north facing breezeway. Sitting there and even walking back and forth from garage to house felt too exposed to the neighboring house. I had intentionally set the garage wall close to the north setback line to maximize my south yard and to extend views from my mostly south-facing windows—-but now it felt like a mistake.


My solution was a 1×4 pine board privacy screen, gapped to match the roof soffit. Little did I realize how bouncy and insubstantial the boards would be when spanning the 10 feet between posts nor how my carefully planned gaps disappeared when one board bowed down and the next one bowed up. I called my good friend Mark Morgan of Bearpaw Design and Construction in a semi-panic, but he had a solution right away: get a strip of screen molding and weave it through the boards.

Like magic, the whole thing stiffened and the inconsistent gaps became lost in the overall pattern. The screen has become one of our favorite features of the house—it gives privacy while still offering ground-views and sky-peaks, it adds a subtle texture, and it feels enclosed in a breezy-like way. Thank you Mark for always having a good idea!

The last and final project for Poem Homes 2020 was a shade trellis over the patio door. The design was worked out between me and Bob Rowen of Rowen Electric before the walls were enclosed. We knew we had to get some blocking between the studs at the appropriate height.

The idea was to use steel for the structure and boards for the shade in a way that the boards could be switched out when they eventually rotted. Bob devised a simple scheme using angle iron and flat bars that uses a minimal amount of material—stainless steel is expensive but worth it because it will never rust. The design repeats several features found in the loft—suspending a structure from above and the use of angle iron.

I doodled iterations in SketchUp until we had something we liked. The steel was cut, drilled, and installed by Mark and Joel Morgan of Bearpaw Design and Construction. Luscious lengths of 2×6 cedar were spaced and bolted to the bottom flange of the steel brackets. When the sun shines, a lovely pattern of stripes are cast on the Living Room slab. Really beautiful!

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