Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Between the Lines


We meet as friends in emptiness at Innermost House.  Time moves in a circle to enclose us.  But that circle is enclosed by something else it took me years to see.

We have left Innermost House twice, the first time four years ago this autumn.  That last night the house was all packed away and empty, but for only the three porch chairs we brought inside.  

We had a guest that evening, visiting from the plains of the upper middle west, that low land of broad horizons and big skies.  He had looked forward a long time to his visit, and we to receiving him.  When he sat down he looked around at the emptiness in silence and finally said, "All these lines!"

It took a plains-dweller in an empty house to see it, but ever since that night I have enjoyed more consciously the lines of Innermost House. 

The house is a monochrome of browns and black and white.  Everywhere I look, light and dark are meeting.  And everywhere they meet in a straight line.  I helped most every day during the months of finishing the house, and there is not a line I cannot still feel in my hands.

In the walls the windows are so simple—so nearly the “wind-eyes” of their early namesake and nothing more—that I see in them what I am distracted from seeing in other windows, that they are simply lines forming a box around a hole in the wall.  And the doors:  simple posts and stiles over standing planks of wood.

I look at the posts on the hearth wall, and the mantle that crosses them, and then the beam that crosses them above to support the roof.  I turn opposite the hearth and see a bookcase formed by simple uprights of wood, divided horizontally by six simple lines of shelves. 

Above the bookshelves a simple barge board runs the whole depth of the house, and just behind it run the square joists that support the loft platform of broad boards that form the loft floor.

From there the lines rise to the ceiling and its complex of lines.  The ridge beam forms a spine the length of the house from east to west, flaring its rafters north and south like ribs of some great leviathan.  I look down and even the floor boards beneath my feet are plainly just lengths of wooden board.

The study and the kitchen are, in their way, the most densely linear rooms of all.  They are just simple shelves, cabinets, and cases—no color, no elaboration at all.  Everywhere just lines.

Lines, lines, lines!  Do I live in a such a woodland that it takes a plainsman to see the forest for these trees?  All these lines!

It is an innermost house in which I live.  The house has nothing you could call a "style."  The lines are of the structure, and the house is all structure.  What is structure but the bones beneath the flesh of things?  Perhaps structure is the form through which we have our being.

I have heard my husband say that structure is to architecture as necessity is to everything:  the food we eat, the things we read, the way we spend our time.  Where structure is visible in a building, architecture is speaking the language of necessity, and necessity is the language of the Innermost Life.

The pot of food over the coals is its own kind of structure—my structure, the food I need to feed the structure of what I am.  All our guests can recognize necessity in this plain food, prepared in one iron pot over the fire. 

The fire itself—our only source of light and heat—is a kind of structure, a fire in the mind without which I do not feel fully human, and guests can sense that it too is necessary.  In the chill of the advancing autumn, you can feel its necessity.

The books that seem so remote from obvious use—guests have sometimes remarked on their austere inapproachability—you would have to need to read them to read them at all!  Yet they belong to the kind of reading we do because it makes the difference, not of pleasure but of being—of understanding what life means and why it is worth living.  For me it is a difference of survival in the soul.

It is strange to think that the Conversation that is the spirit of the house, moving forever round in circles, exists in some inseparable relationship to lines.  It is as though the two were met in the house, and now live in one married union.

Everything about Innermost House, from the structure that is visible upon its surfaces, to what we drink and eat and read, from the things we do to the words we speak to the silence that we live amidst, all bear the mark of beautiful necessity.   

It is the first thing I see now, even before I know what it means.  I feel the spirit always, enclosed by time.  But now I see it between the lines.


61 comments:

  1. "The ridge beam forms a spine the length of the house from east to west, flaring its rafters north and south like ribs of some great leviathan.

    This description made me think of Noah's Ark (upside down, of course!) and his faith and obedience to the inner prompting of his spirit and the passengers he collected for his journey across the waters of the great flood. We, too, have been collected by Diana to be a part of her Ark that is Innermost House, and we are journeying together to reach the shores of silent wisdom.

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    1. Oh yes, Pam! Let's get inside and shut the doors and let it rain, rain, rain.

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  2. I've not really appreciated sharp edges and lines before I came upon Innermost House. I've always wanted to soften the corners and make 'square' 'round'. Now I see the joy of simplicity and the highlighting of natural materials I'm starting to hanker after 'square' and 'rectangle'. I haven't quite got into lines yet though. I'm sure I shall. Thanks Diana :D

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  4. "Everything about Innermost House, from the structure that is visible upon its surfaces, to what we drink and eat and read, from the things we do to the words we speak to the silence that we live amidst, all bear the mark of beautiful necessity."

    Yes indeed - that is what I love so much about it. I think (and the lines themselves do this too) it speaks to me of discipline, which I find very beautiful.

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    1. Beautiful necessity. There really is no need for a thing to be anything beyond what it is. (This includes people too.) Coco Chanel said "Elegance is refusal". Discipline is needed. And lines are essential in design, I think.

      When we got our little cabin, it was really not much more than a plain wooden box, at least compared to anything I had seen before. But the LINES were just right. The windows, the logs, the tongue and groove ceilings--all were in balanced relationship to each other. AND when I got our things in here, they fell into line effortlessly. Nothing else was needed and nothing was discarded. All is calm and orderly and sweet...as long as I keep it that way, and Diana has said that she has to be diligent about this too. Necessity is beautiful and beauty is necessary. But ours really is just a plain wooden box. Not a grand bone in its body.

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  5. I tend to be a 'line' in my approach to life. I can be a circle, but eventually I get tired (and bored!) of circling 'round and 'round with no final conclusion. Too much dissecting and playing around with endless points of view with no definitve answer ends up beginning to feel like a waste of time and a chore to me. I'm more a bottom-liner type of a gal--while I enjoy the journey and can have fun playing with ideas for a short time with the best of 'em, I feel most comfortable when I think that there's a final useful end purpose to my conversations. Otherwise, I start to feel like I'm just making small talk and am just stirring up my own inner discursive thought processes that go nowhere. I confess that even here in this blog I do sometimes feel like I'm a long, straight peg trying to fit into the round hole that is IH!

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    1. Dear, dear Pam. You are a straight arrow. And (like God) your words do not return to you void but accomplish the things that you have sent them to do. I promise. It may seem that you are going round and round to you, but that is because you can't always see where your arrows have landed. They have come to their final conclusion in my heart, and the hearts of our friends here. Don't be discouraged, but encouraged. xxx

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    2. Thanks, Julie. You're so sweet to say such a lovely thing; I guess the reason I wrote what I did is because I really have no clue where this is all supposed to be going (or if there even IS some underlying purpose at all other than to revel in the exchange of ideas). I'm thoroughly enjoying everyone's posts and am gleaning some great insights along the way, but a part of me is still questioning if there's a point to all this conversation in how it relates to embodying the qualities of IH. Somehow I seem to be missing some subtle component of all this that feels like it's the missing link to understanding the Conversation. I usually am an internal processor and don't typically share most of what I'm contemplating, so this feels somewhat discombobulating to me. Here's one thing I HAVE noticed about myself in our discussions: I seem to post a lot of self-referential comments as opposed to just general expositions on a topic, and I also have to make a concerted effort to remember to comment on other people's posts which leads me to believe that I'm quite self-absorbed and more introverted that I thought. Oy vay!

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    3. Haha. (Me too Pam.) Diana spoke of the Conversation always coming back around upon itself. (It always brings us back to doe...) I noticed that we do tend to end up back where we started, but "smarter" now...Should we perhaps go around again getting higher and higher? Not in a circle, but like the spiral you mentioned once? And it may be that each of us is beginning to embody the essential qualities of Innermost House in very personal ways. I believe I'm observing this in everyone who has joined us here. We are hound dogs on the trail of a very compelling scent! If we keep seeking, we will find. If we have asked for a fish, we won't be handed a stone.

      You mentioned on the facebook page something to the effect that you don't feel that we have "finished" sometimes. Of course you are right about that. But in our going round about, I feel sure that we are bound to come around to the matter again, what ever it is, and that we will even have new friends to join us the next time.

      Ember said something so comforting to me yesterday in the Conversation: "The compost is in the lily but the lily is in the compost-it is always only a matter of watching and waiting." Let's watch and wait together.

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  6. For me, the perfect angles and straight lines represent fine craftsmanship and care that do not not distract my eye from the natural beauty of Innermost House. I find myself drawn to the beautiful grain of the wood and the very human way the plaster was applied to the walls by hand.

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    1. Well said. Yes, I agree.

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    2. Amen, Al. The plaster-work especially blows my mind.

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    3. I'm drawn to the dappled light through the vertical lines of the bamboo shades.

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  7. Diana, you wrote: "The house has nothing you could call a "style." I beg to differ! Your home (and notice I say 'home' rather than 'house') had more style than the most elaborately designed houses one could imagine! Perhaps it didn't have a traditional style that could be named, like 'Colonial', or 'Cape Cod bungalow', or 'Tudor' or 'Georgian', but it had a unique style all its own that was special unto itself. Could it be called 'Fireglow Spartan' perhaps? 'Simple Sanctuary'? 'Shadowy Simplicity'? 'Organic Woodland'? 'Time out of Time'? No, wait--it is definitely 'Presence Personified'!!

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    1. I like it, Pam!

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    2. For now, I think I'll stick with "Innermost style."

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    1. I had re-entered the above post (I just corrected the verb tenses) and it showed up in this list of postings and then it disappeared. Where did it go, and IH, can you get it back?

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    2. Aah, Louis at IH had it stored and was able to send it back to me. Here it is:

      What I like most about all the visible lines in the home is the sense of order it conveys. Every line has its stationary place in the home--'a place for everything and everything in its place'--and no line seems superfluous. The precision and regularity of the parallel lines have a very grounding effect, allowing one to sink into a sense of the Divine Order of life in general. The lines also have a feeling of the bars of a cage, containing the energy that throbs in the main room so that it won't escape into the night air. When so much of life is unpredictable, to say the least, the geometry of the straight line can be very comforting.

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    3. P.S. Many thanks to our 'rescue' dog!!

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  9. Okay, this is a silly question, Diana, but did you and Michael leave your thumbprints anywhere in the plaster to seal your intimate connection with the building of the home?

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  10. Friends, I know it is Diana and Michael's Innermost House we are thinking of here, and I apologise for going a bit off-topic, but I thought you might be interested in this book I have recently discovered - I have read only the Amazon "look-inside" pages, but I thought it looked really good, and have ordered a copy which I am eagerly awaiting.

    http://www.amazon.com/Twelve-One-Room-Cabin-Beyond-American/dp/1577318978/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346337033&sr=1-1&keywords=12+by+12+%2Bwilliam+powers

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    1. Oh this is exciting Ember! The author doesn't identify the exact location of this place, but it must be quite near me. Thanks for passing this on.

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    3. The book looks good, and I liked what I read of it, but I think I'm mainly interested in the doctor lady the book is partly about, and her house, more than William Powers. I took a look at his blog but it's very masculine/organisational/political and does my head in a bit - not the kind of thing I can easily relate to - a very robust, solar-plexus-y energy.

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    4. Ember, You're going to enjoy Twelve by Twelve. The doctor is my "who I want to be when I grow up" ever since my mate and I read the book. She's splendid!

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    5. I know what you mean about the website, Ember. Not my thing. But, Rapunzel, after reading the available excepts from the book, I was struck by the heroic nature of the lady doctor. I'll be saving my pennies for that book.

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  11. Ember, I've had this book on my Amazon wish list for a couple of years. I just checked on my public library website and it's now available so I placed a request that they hold a copy for me. I also think the author has a website.

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  12. According to Feng Shui there needs to be a good balance of yin (round) and yang (lines). Even if a person doesn't understand the basics of this practice, he/she can usually feel the energy whether high or low. I tend to like circles for the womb-like feeling they give. For some reason IH seems to defy this principle. Usually this much wood would be overpowering, but it represents good health and growth. Perhaps by keeping a fire going all the time the wood energy doesn't take over.

    I had never even though of IH in this manner. I am going back to look it all over again and figure out why it pulls us all in!

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    1. I hadn't thought of it either, Sherry, but what you say makes perfect sense. I know that in the summer, I feel a bit stifled by all of the wood in our log cabin--it is all wood EVERYWHERE. But in the winter, with the fires going, it is just so wonderful and I have felt 20 years younger at times.

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    2. Sword energy (male) and cauldron energy (female). The structure of the house has the lines, but what was in the house had the circles - the lovely Japanese pots, the iron stewpot, the tripod it sat on, the kettle etc. Because there were so few things in the house (and it is itself so small) they assumed a greater proportional importance than things usually do, becoming iconic and ever archetypal, thus balancing the energy with the strong structure. Diana always speaks of the house as having been designed and made *by Michael* but *for her* - which is the same balance of energy - the structure contributed by Michael but the "angel of the house" being Diana. Just a thought.

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    3. Tut - I meant "even archetypal" not "ever archetypal" - sorry I should read things through more carefully. x

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    4. Good observation, Ember, about fewer things assuming greater proportional importance. I tend to prefer linear things as my backdrop with softer items having texture and round shapes as accents in my decor. But more than anything, I need to feel a lot of space around items so that they each have their own place in the overall scheme of things without crowding. I absolutely love, love, love the whole ambience of Diana's placement of her functional objects. There is a deliberateness in the location of each item that is very pleasing to the eye, and to me it makes each item shine as it stands alone. It's as though each item has equal importance and no one thing overshadows the other items.

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    5. Space around things - absolutely.

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    6. Julie, I know what you mean about the stifling quality of too much wood in your log home. When I went to look at that log cabin that was for sale last month, I loved it and thought it quite charming, but one of my first thoughts was "Gee, how can I lighten this interior up?" The logs had been stained a very deep walnut/ebony brown and I prefer a lighter palate so that I don't feel claustrophobic. Diana's house had just the right blend of light and dark so that the home felt cozy rather than oppressive.

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    7. Mine are a lighter color of log but Diana's plaster can't be beat. Most men won't believe this, but you can go overboard with the wood...If my husband would allow it, I'd paint these walls.

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  13. Here I am. I'm sorry just to appear out of the blue, but I have so loved reading your comments of these past days.

    When Michael and I stayed at Mont La Salle monastery for a few months years ago, I sang with the small choir of brothers and staff. We would stand in the choir loft behind the small gathering and look out over the lovely chapel of white plaster walls and old beamed ceiling. There were very few of us, and we sang out with all our hearts. We felt like angels. Anyway, I did!

    I am uncertain about joining my voice to yours here. I love the beautiful strains of harmony you have all been developing, and feel that to speak here among your comments is a little bit of an intrusion. I have the feeling that to chime in might be to stop the music, and that's the last thing I want to do. Please don't let me do that.

    Pam, you wondered whether the Conversation is going somewhere, and if perhaps you are missing something. If you are then I am! The Conversation in my experience is always going somewhere, but it doesn't really get anywhere. It is strange though, because it is very different from just an exchange of ideas, however much it requires such an exchange.

    Julie, you describe it so perfectly here that I just had to speak up. The Conversation is an experience, an in-dwelling, a holy feeling. It is communion. I experience that feeling with you all as the Conversation gathers life here. We have shared so much since we began.

    Lori quoted from that lovely poem by T. S. Eliot a couple of weeks ago--

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    That is how it has always seemed to me. We shall not cease from Conversation, but the end to which we are forever returning is our beginning again.

    We aren't exactly getting anywhere, I know. But we are experiencing something together that to me is the circle of life itself. And coming around somehow we know it for the first time. And we are changed. We sing of what we have seen together. You sound like angels to me!

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    1. Welcome, Diana. I love to see your smiling face here with us!

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    2. Thanks, Diana. I think I'm starting to get it now. We can converse all we want thinking that it will lead us to a greater understanding in some near or distant future, but ultimately there is no place to arrive at and no deeper understanding to extract from the Conversation than the realization that there is only the ever new NOW in which we experience the Conversation, and this NOW is the ever present silent stillness of our innermost being. So, in reality, the Conversation is the 'finger pointing at the moon' of our essential emptiness that is timelessness itself.

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    3. Diana, I for one would not think your added voice an intrusion at all. Far from it, I would appreciate your input within our dialogues as a subtle grounding force. I don't think you could ever disturb our harmonizing even if your tried! You could be like our steady musical one note drone pitch (a 'D' perhaps), much like the drone of an Indian instrument called a tamboura to which many use as a backdrop to meditation... :-)

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    4. The conversation is like the cycle of life....going some somewhere, but no where. Its kind of like our lives, maybe its the dialect of how we get there or (no where)

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  14. Just my thoughts: Lines form the structure that contains energy and substance within the space, but lines are also the structure that keeps the other stuff out. Lines also focus our attention. We go out into the wild spaces and our minds drift.. we come back inside and our thoughts focus in on the tasks at hand, of family and of responsibilities.

    Pam, I too like parallel lines.

    I love the IH structure and lines, but I was initially surprised by the small windows. It is vogue these days to have oversize windows to "bring the outdoors in". But then I thought, this fits; Diana and Michael likely have plenty of time to be out doors. Their time spent indoors is sitting in their living room space with windows that are either covered or too high to allow their gaze to exit the room while sitting, there by assuring that their gaze and attention are on each other. Lines help direct the Conversation.

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    1. Wow, Leah. I hadn't thought of that. I am trying to design a little house on the computer and it is all about my lines, lines, lines. I have put in fairly large windows. I'm going to try them smaller and see how they look. I think you're on to something.

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    2. Julie, your comments made me think about how small our eyes (the windows) are in relation to our entire body (the structure of the house). When I think of IH, the fire in relation to the entire house is proportional to the human heart, the windows are in proportion to the eyes, the library and office are in proportion to the actual power of the brain that manages the body, and the kitchen is the proportional size of the appetite (both physical and mental). The lines of the house are as Diana mentioned, the skeletal bones.

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    3. OMGOSH, Pam! Of course! When describing the building of their home, Diana wrote about starting with a soul and then building a body around it. Imagine me, a nurse knowledgeable about anatomy, failing to make this connection--duh.

      Who knows if I will ever get to build my tiny house, but in the interest of moving in the direction of my dream, I am going ahead and designing one. Looking at it with a fresh eye, I see that I am including some important anatomical features, though. For example, I am including both a front and back door. This can be a nod toward digestion, a means of taking in and letting go, and I must say this has been an issue, both physically and spiritually for me. The tiny house will sit upon a tiny cellar, not only for keeping my food cool, but to provide a deep foundation and solid footing beneath me--I fall down a lot. I can sleep there, if need be, in the hot summer and there is my cool, dark "yin". As Leah suggested, as a kindness to my poor eyes, I made the windows smaller. I have said for many years that the only song I could think of to play at my funeral would be "Doctor My Eyes". I'm happier with those windows now. I'm using a gambrel style roof as an arch over myself--a skull, and it will provide more room for my mind to wander in. In my present situation, I have felt that my thoughts have been held down and too much discouraged. And I've incorporated a cupola on top for excess heat and energy to escape through. I see now that this will allow "chi" to run up through my "chakras" and flow up. Yes, I do tend to consider them to be anatomical elements. This will send my prayers straight up to God. I'll have flow in both dimensions, vertically and horizontally. But the most important thing that I see I'm providing for myself is that I absolutely had to allow for my chimney to rise up through the interior of the house with it's foundation in the cellar and its top going out through the roof. My goodness. Here is the backbone I have been needing! The practical intention here is to let the chimney store its heat and release it over a longer period of time but, AHA! it will also maintain the energy of my heart, both physically and spiritually. It will preserve for me the use of myself for myself. Now, I had to extend my little footprint to 16x16 to incorporate the chimney and a small staircase. People who fall down a lot must necessarily shun ladders. My final cozy living area is still the same as Innermost house.

      Oh, my Innermost friends! You have inspired me so much that I am very likely to BUST!

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    4. I'm building myself a better body.

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    5. This is all sounding very good Julie. I love it.

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    6. Oh, Julie, how wonderful it all sounds! You've really thought a lot about the form of your future sanctuary! I would LOVE to see a .pdf of your finished design. What kind of computer program are you using to design it?

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    7. I am just using Google's Autodesk Homestyler. It doesn't give me a way to work on the outside elements of the house, just floorplans though. I got it all down "just so" last night and the program failed to save it for me. So if any of you have a better program to suggest that a MONKEY can do, I'd be happy to try it.

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    8. Julie, I have a neat book called Compact Cabins that gives lots of floorplan ideas for various sized cabins, but unfortunately, no blueprints. You may be able to get it from your local library. Here's the Amazon.com link: http://www.amazon.com/Compact-Cabins-Simple-Living-Square/dp/1603424628/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346435472&sr=8-1&keywords=compact+cabins+by+gerald+rowan

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    9. Inspiring ideas, Julie. I have similar plans, including the stairs :)
      I also think there is a valid theory that people will feel better in houses that take the owners size in mind. In other words, I believe there is no one perfect small home.. the magic formula is personal to the inhabitants.

      In my dream tiny home, I hope to have a little more seating room for Conversation in front of the fire, and therefore my challenge will be maintaining the intimacy of a smaller space by keeping the decor, furniture and room lines work at focusing the energy towards this central spot -- the center of our seating area and the Conversation.

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    10. I think I might include a central fireplace with seating all around. Like the Knights of the round table. Everyone would feel equal. I would have a difficult time sitting in those IH chairs because I am so short.

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    11. Thank you for the link, Pam. I believe I checked that one out from the library many years ago. I have been strumming this same string for a long time. Haha. Leah, I agree about taking peoples sizes into account and also how many visitors one hopes to have at a time. So, with the itty bitty thing I'm considering, when the family comes we'll have to picnic outside, but there should be plenty of room in the upstairs area for everyone to sleep slumber party style. I can't really afford to build a bigger house for "just in case" someone comes, you know? Sherry, it looks like you are starting first. I can't wait to hear about what you come up with for yourself.

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    13. Sorry for the deletion above; editing issues again.

      You're right about considering the amount of company one expects to have at any one time when planning the size of your cabin. Both of my daughters and their families live out of town so when they'd come to visit it would have to be a hotel room for them at night! When I survey the space in my current living room (sized about 12x23) I'm sure it would be more than enough room for me even with a bed on the main floor in a sleeping nook. I would like my living room space to be a little bit bigger in the sitting area than Diana had at IH, maybe the size of a 9x12 bedroom. To Diana, that would probably feel like a 'great room'! But, oh my yes, I would definitely want a fireplace for heating and dreaming by. I'm more inclined to want an under-the-counter mini refrigerator and a small 2 burner cookstove top like something you'd get in an RV for the kitchen, even though I understand and can appreciate Diana's more organic, unelectrified lifestyle. As for the furniture, I'd prefer tailored recliner chairs with high backs rather than the straight-backed ones Diana used, just because I'd like to be able to nestle in front of the toasty fire on a cold winter evening with my feet up, and wrapped up in a comfy afghan with a contented cat on my lap, a cup of chai tea resting on my chest, and an inspiring book on the side table. If I don't stay in Western NY, my older daughter and her husband own a wooded lot next to their home on Long Island, and it's my hope that zoning code space clearances needed between houses will still allow me to build something small and efficient next to their house.

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    14. I have been batting around the idea of a sleeping nook on the lower level for myself too. There is something so womb-like and safe about them. Then the upper area would be free for company.

      I had considered a little fridge, but as I have wanted to go without electricity since I was a kid, I thought I would five it a go. Diana and Michael have done well without it, and at this time, it is doubtful that I could afford such wonders in any case. I have often been poor but happy. I think that even if I were to win the lottery today, I would pursue this lifestyle. Rather than considering my possible impending poverty as a detriment, I'm thinking of it as my reality finally lining up with the desires of my heart. An artist defines his/her art by its limitations, after all. Art is as much about what is omitted as it is about what is included, I think. If I can fix a tiny abode for myself and have it paid for, I will require very little money, and at last I can sit and pray into the fire. Those prayers don't pray themselves, and the Lord knows, the praying needs doing.

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