Thursday, February 24, 2005
On a quiet road off Highway 1 in Carmel Highlands sits an Asian-inspired home wrapped in a green canyon. Nine years ago, Joan and Terry McHenry built Water Fall House to incorporate views of a 70-foot private waterfall and the Pacific. The home was designed to take advantage of the tranquil setting and to welcome the elements that the owners love—art, landscape, animals—into every room.
“The house is seated in the ‘Lap of the Buddha,’” says Joan McHenry. “We’ve got canyon walls on three sides of the house, and it looks out at the sea. It’s an auspicious position, in Feng Shui terms.”
The open design of the home, based on a house the McHenrys previously owned in Sacramento, brings the natural world inside. Glass walls line the living room and dining room; reflective strips warning away birds flutter like kites against the windows. A mirror covers the one closed wall of the dining room so guests with their backs to the ocean can still enjoy the view.
Art and animals pervade the home without overwhelming the simple lines. A koi pond with bright orange fish is tucked underneath a floating staircase in the entryway. On a wall beside the stairs, a collection of carved Japanese figures is arranged in a wood and glass case.
An aviary inside the kitchen is home to two green and blue parrots. In the laundry room, a raised doggie bath allows McHenry to comfortably wash the three enormous dogs that she rescued from animal shelters.
In providing a space for everything that she loves into the home, McHenry says, she’s been able to form a sanctuary of sorts. “It creates a place of peace,” she says. “It inspires creativity, joy, a feeling of being part of nature and learning from it—learning to live with it rather than alter it.”
Upstairs, a circular entry known as a “Moon Gate” door, covered with Japanese screens leads, to the master suite. The design of the doorway encourages entrants to look down as they step over the threshold into
the bedroom. McHenry says that it’s similar to the design of Asian temple entryways.
“By looking down, it communicates that you are entering the room with reverence,” she says.
In an artist’s studio just behind the house, McHenry throws pottery.
A dirt trail next to the studio leads to flower beds where bright yellow daffodils and white calla lilies push through the dark brown soil. Weathered wooden birdhouses built by Terry McHenry line the path. Further down the trail, past bushes smelling of orange blossoms, a clearing hosts two benches, providing a place to sit and watch the ocean. Down the trail a bit more, the 70-foot waterfall runs down the canyon. Back at the house, McHenry can sit in her Jacuzzi tub and watch the falls.
Although she says the home has been a joy, the McHenrys are moving out to the Monterey-Salinas Highway area, where they will be rebuilding the same home design once again, this time on 26 acres.
“We want to grow our own herbs and vegetables, and my husband wants a vineyard,” McHenry says.
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While it’s not hard to imagine entering into a Zen-like state in a home with a personal waterfall, or its own vineyard, it seems much more difficult to create tranquility in more modest spaces.
According to home designer Scarlett Rogers, the idea of creating a personal sanctuary is more about intention than having a lot of space or spending a lot of money. She specializes in designing such spaces, sometimes as small as a comfortable chair next to a shelf filled with treasured books.
“Sanctuaries are an incredibly important thing in everyone’s life,” Rogers says. “It’s about giving yourself the thing you most need and love. When you provide a place or time for the thing you really love, you provide a place for yourself.”
Rogers acknowledges that the definition of sanctuary is rather vague, but defines it by how it is going to “serve someone to serve themselves.”
With most of her clients, Rogers finds that the first step is helping people to identify what it is they are lacking. “There’s a little bit of therapy involved in the way it unfolds,” she says.
She asks her clients to tell her which rooms in their homes are most important to them and why. Clients begin to note what causes them stress when they come home—like walking in the door and seeing things needing to beput away.
“It’s horrible to come home from work and have more work,” Rogers says. “If you’re not interacting with your rooms in a way that serve you, if you’re not comfortable, then you come to hate your things.” She instructs people to look at their home and ask, “Where am I?” in the design.
Upon reflection, sometimes even the most elegantly designed room is revealed to be cold and uninspiring if it doesn’t reflect the tastes of the owner. Rogers says she is more than willing to break design rules if it will allow a person to put their personal stamp on a home.
“Design plays a part,” she says, “but it isn’t the ultimate concern in creating a sanctuary.”
Next comes brainstorming ways in which the home can be transformed to accommodate these desires. It may be as simple as “warming up” a living room with cozy throws and pillows, some plants, and the addition of a tray of candles on the coffee table, or it may be as extensive as buying new furniture and rugs.
Realtor Lee Martin says it was more about identifying a love and making space for it. Martin spends a great deal of time writing thank you notes to her clients, so Rogers transformed Martin’s cherished family desk into a sanctuary.
“Lee loves to write notes,” she says. “We created a place for the desk with beautiful papers so she can sit and write.”
Sometimes Rogers suggests that people find their sanctuaries outside of the home. “Generally people think of it as a space, but it could be a place, like the ocean,” she says.
Rogers also explains that while she can make suggestions and shop for a client, she can’t force someone to take pleasure in their home. The workaholic who comes home and spends the rest of the evening paying bills and doing laundry may not ever sit in that plush chair by the fire.
“I can help you arrange furniture in an interesting and fun way,” Rogers says, “but I can’t help you enjoy it.”
But Rogers gently encourages clients to discover how to love their homes again—even if it’s uncomfortable to make the time to do so.
“Your house needs to be worth coming home to,” she says. “If we have spaces that elaborate on who we are… it’s coming home to one’s self.”