Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Changing Places, Part One

Diana, do you think you would like to replicate IH in a new location in the East, or do you feel as though your new home will have a different feel to it in keeping with the East's landscapes and unique energy?

Pam you present two very simple and sensible alternatives.  The answer is a little more complicated.  To the first alternative the answer is yes.  To the second the answer is also yes. 

To say more draws me so near to the heart of Innermost House that is difficult to answer all at once.  We have spoken of skin and bone.  These to me are inseparable from the heart that keeps them alive and the soul that gives them life.  

Tonight I want to try to speak a little about the second yesthe way that the skin and bone of Innermost House knit it together with Place.  Then Friday I'll return to your question and try to say a little more about the first yesthe unchanging soul of the house.

For many years my husband and I sought what we called "Place."  We followed it like a scent from locality to locality, always learning as we went, growing ever nearer to its nature but never resolving it into something more than it is in essencea mystery.

Place to me is a whole relation.  I cannot come at that whole in parts.  That was the reason for our many moves I think.  With each move we reconstituted the whole of our life, the whole of our relation to each other, to the world, and to the soul.  We were still ourselves in some sense of course, and our houses were still houses.  But in another sense that even others recognized, something was wholly new with each move.  Our moves were more like moults.  We were moulting from whole life to whole life.

We were moulting toward a whole relation with the whole of things.  With every move we reached a stage where a deepening relation with the larger whole required us to move again.  Until we reached Innermost House.  I think it is no coincidence that Innermost House is the smallest of all our small houses.  It was only there that everything finally touched and wed together.  It is different from all that came before.  

Nature as it is constituted in any one Place is the first aspect of that wholeness.  The climate, the seasons, the sun and the rain, the length of the day, all give rise naturally to a living world of trees and bushes, of beasts and birds and fishes, of insects and all the unseen things. 

History is the other aspect of Place.  In traditional times the form of things made by hand was inseparable from Place.  Food, clothes and shelter were not so much "in style" as they were "in Place."  

The kitchen garden and the cooking pot, fields of flax and the dressmaker's tools, grazing sheep and the tailor's bench, forests of wood and the carpenter's shop all were negotiations between bodily nature and the human mind in a way that became part of the whole of Place. 

The hill and the tree had their part in first determining the position of Innermost House, as our bodily persons determined its size.  The exterior walls are of redwood because of the redwoods that grow in the shade of our hill, and board and batten because that is what they were in that part of the world before there was a thought of "style." 

The walls are as thick as they have always been wherever six inch posts support the beams.  Our interior walls are plain white plaster for the same reason that a pioneer continent of women wanted plaster over their logs or postsbecause they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer and easy to keep clean.  Such walls brought civilization to the frontier.

Our porch to the south was built by the sun.  The pitch of our roof was built by the rain.  Our windows are small as they have always been in such simple structures as ours, and though ours are fine works of craft they are directly descended from windows meant for barns.

The fir and the pine of our interior loft and ceiling and cabinets are of the kind that grow on the land.  The modest fire with which we heat the house is formed to be sufficient against the mild, half-dozen frosts we have each winter.  The stone of our chimney face is the manner of stone on which the house stands.

When we rebuild Innermost House here in the East some things will certainly change according to the climate and history of our new home.  In every locality Nature forms the earthen foundation or there can be no living Place.  In every Place there is History or there can be no houses raised for books and fires.  The house will naturally assume the material character of its Place. 

So the answer is, yes, the house will change.  That is the second yes.  On Friday I will try to say how, yes, it will not change.


  1. Diana, What a beautiful post! My heart swelled as I read it and felt how IH was birthed out of the earth and sky and became a reflection of the natural womb from which it arose. Diana, I am learning so much from your posts about how to view my own life as an integral part of the whole and to wait for that unspoken, silent question to form itself in my heart as the day opens itself to the sun. I envy your capacity to mold yourself around the life all about you so that the edges of where you begin and end stretch expansively to encompass everything around you. What a glorious way to encounter the mystery that is life, and how priceless is your ability to live in the fulcrum point of conscious awareness that is also effortless.

  2. A fascinating post, full of truth and lyrically written. Thank you so much, Diana x

  3. I've always loved the idea of building a house that's in tune with local conditions and traditions. It annoys me to see a house that looks out of place. I'm not sure what bothers me more: natural materials that are transported from very far away, or fake materials. Stone comes to mind. Around here (Boston area) I often see stone walls being built with flat sedimentary rocks (New England is all about granite.) and plywood 'chimneys' veneered with fake rocks. As I said before, it's all about lack of skills and saving labor.

    It's getting very difficult to use traditional materials because globalization, corporatization and the decline of local industries has made it hard to find materials from close to home.

    One of my favorite commentators, James Howard Kunstler, says we are building cartoon houses and, further, cartoon communities. Everything is gussied up and fake, trying to look like something it's not. Houses today are all about square footage and looks, but they have no souls. I hope the spirit of Innermost House inspires more and more people to truly think about what they're building.

  4. Beautiful post, Diana. You continue to inspire me to look closely at my living choices. I endeavour to lead by example with my next home purchase or design/build.

    Our building industry has certainly lost its way..although these businesses are simply responding to the people's demand for larger and cheaper houses.

    Thank goodness for the small home movement and sites like this one for reminding us of the nurturing space a well designed and well constructed home can provide.

  5. Diana, I am so inspired by your comments, especially about a house naturally assuming the material character of its Place. Oh, my.

    In my neck of the woods, all the the old homes were built of pine, either boards or logs. The nearest lady to me is refurbishing a very big old farmhouse. The walls were covered with cheap paneling so she needed to get that off to see what was under there. It turned out that there was a layer of plaster in poor condition and, under that, were horizontal pine boards like those I liked yesterday. She checked with other folks who were doing the same thing and that is what they also invariably found. Evidently, though most people ASPIRED to wonderful plastered walls, they built originally with the plain board walls and then later, when they became a little more prosperous, they had the boards plastered over! Well. That is exactly my own situation. It doesn't look like I can afford the plaster, but I can have my humble but pretty painted boards and then, LATER if I like, I can do them up with the plaster...all within the vernacular and custom of my local area. YAY! My friend loved the wooden walls so much that she just kept them and painted them. Just so lovely.

    1. I have read that it may be more environmentally friendly to refurbish existing homes, although it often turns out more expensive to do so because renovation surprise problems can end up pushing the budget upwards :)

      I personally stopped enjoying the challenge of doing-it-myself (renovations) years ago after my 14th move (I am currently on my 17th with these last three being rentals). Perhaps this is the reason I so admire 'handymen'! So you can be sure that for my next move I will be designing tiny home that someone else with the skills and patience will build for me :)

      And Julie, I do feel that plaster is only one of many beautiful ways to finish walls in a home. Your painted pine boards will be very charming, I am sure. I love the 'cottage look' of white or neutral throughout with splashes of color here and there with accessories. The plaster, when combined with other energy saving design concepts, does provide better heating and cooling in the home, as Diana has mentioned, but there are other ways to tackle your heating and cooling efficiency as well. I wish you success in finding/creating your 'Place'.

  6. Dear Diana,

    I have lived in old homes most of my adult life, and I can say, that their beauty and history speaks to everyone that enters.

    Reading your words tonight has brought such an appreciation for my own home. The affection I have for this humble cottage, made of lathe and mortar, has given me such a comfort. Replicating will not be easy, but yet, I don't want to that. I want to allow the spirit of these walls to maintain, to exist, to be what is supposed to be.

    When you describe how the tree was so important to the design, you accepted the changes that nature brings on a daily basis. Both you and your husband accepted this, and chose to live close to this rhythm. Now that you have experienced this embrace, you will look for something similar in your next Place. I am sure of it. But yet, you will accept a new rhythm, I am sure of it.

    Thank you for opening this space where we can share ourselves and lift each other through this transition. Because it is not only Diana's physical transition, but ours also. Since Ember introduced the Innermost House in her space, a change has begun to happen. Small, quiet, but enormous in its consistency.

    Thank you Ember for introducing Diana to me my friend :)



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