Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Questions and Answers

Innermost House to me is a marriage between Place on the outside and the Conversation on the inside.  There might be Place without the house, as there might be Conversation.  But I feel their marriage fulfilled in the house as their union.

I am not a practical person, but the practical facts of Innermost House are important to me.  Whatever it is that I am, I have a mind and a body, and I think that must be significant.  I have been given a mind and body for a reason.

And I have been given a house, even if a house for homeleaving and home seeking. Today I want to try to answer as simply as I can some of your questions about the house and how it was made.

"Did you use an architect to help them draw up the plans so they knew what kind of materials to buy and how much?"

Innermost House is a very simple building, and it required only very simple plans.  Michael drew them.  He is a natural design artist, and without any training has drawn up all our houses and rooms and gardens and clothes and furnishings and graphics through the years.  The building only grew more complex as it developed inwardly.  It also gained a kind of life force with which detailed plans would probably have interfered.  We ordered our materials as we needed them with the help of our handyman.

"How long did it take for the actual construction of IH?"

The primary part of the work took a little more than half a year for two men working part time, then we were months in finishing it after we moved in.  Of course it was twenty years in coming.  It would have been impossible to build it in a hundred years were it not for those twenty years of trying to find it first.  It all began more than two decades ago when we tried and failed to build a city to solve what was to us the problem of Place.  In a real way Innermost House is the city we were searching for. 

"Is Innermost house heavily insulated and, if so, with what?"

There is nothing unusual about our insulation, though the house is very well insulated.  To begin with we used ordinary batting insulation in the six-inch wall cavities, then of course there was the inch of plaster inside and the inch of redwood board on the outside.  We used heavier batting between the eight-inch floor joists and finally closed it underneath with a kind of wire netting called "hardware cloth."  (We learned the hard way that if it is left unclosed during construction it is irresistible to the local rodent population.)  In the roof we used rigid board insulation.  All the year round the house seems to have a natural body temperature of around 55 degrees, which is about the temperature of a cave.

"How long did it take to heat Innermost House back up in the morning when it was 40 degrees in there?"

I think the lowest temperature we ever recorded inside the house was about 42 degrees, and that was on the night of a frost when we returned home late from travel and didn't burn a fire until morning.  Of course when we awoke it was pretty chilly!  But even then it only took an hour's fire to make it comfortable in our chairs.  I must say though that we do not struggle against the cold, and that helps.  And among other places, we have lived before in a 19th century log cabin in the Alleghenieswhich was a good deal colder where water would sometimes freeze indoors.  In cold weather we wear heavy, full length dressing gowns, and I use a lap blanket, and we stay by the fire.  We don't have modern expectations of comfort.  

"Diana, I keep thinking about your comment: "The wood is warm like my husband. The walls are cool like me." Could you talk a little bit more about this? By cool, do you mean impersonal and introverted"

This is not exactly about construction, but it is intimately related.  My husband runs warm, I run cool.  In winter he would warm my side of the bed with his body every night before I came up the ladder, and still have enough warmth left for himself!  He is positive, I am negative.  In a way it is really that simple.  In another way he and I are so woven into one fabric that, like the wood and the walls, we hold each other up and complete each other so that our structure is inseparable.  We and the house are alike in that.  There is no object or element in the house that does not somehow partake in that relationship.  I can no more say just where I end and he begins than I can separate the elements that comprise the house together.  The house is the whole of its elements.  Nothing about it exists independently.  It is its wholeness. 

"What are the dimensions of the kitchen, bathroom and office?"

The three small rooms are each about three-and-a-half feet across by four-and-a-half feet deep.  The study is a little deeper.  Like the rest of the house, their size was determined by their use.  Making them much largerparticularly the studywould have made them considerably less useful to our purposes.

"Did you and Michael leave your thumbprints anywhere in the plaster to seal your intimate connection with the building of the home?"

That is an interesting question that I am almost sorry to answer briefly.  But I promised!  The simple answer is that we didn't.  The strange thing is that nothing like that ever occurred to us.  I think the reason is that we both felt so strongly that the house was not ours or anyone's, but that it was we who belonged to the house.  I suppose I should say that it left its thumbprint on us.

"How did you manage the plumbing in the bathroom for the toilet and shower head. Is it a composting toilet?"

The plumbing is a very simply contrived, gravity-fed system.  Water is pumped from an agricultural well to a cistern on the hilltop above, and from there it is piped underground to us.  The shower head turned out to be wishful thinking!  The toilet is an ordinary, low-water model of the kind required in California.  It empties into a small septic tank and from there into a leach field, according to code.  We were advised that a composting toilet would not vent satisfactorily without an electric fan in our building site's situation, we are so close to a steeply rising hill and tall trees. 
"Would you like to replicate IH somewhere else or start with a new design, perhaps to better accommodate older age (I’m thinkin’ stairs instead of a ladder here!)?"

Well as you know now I expect to largely replicate the interior of Innermost House.  And it is a funny thing about the ladder.   When visitors want to climb up to see the loft, some have said how very uncomfortable they find the round rungs on stockinged feet.  And I realize I found them so at first, but I haven't even thought about it for years.  It is remarkable what you can get used to if it is for a good reason.  My spartan mother is in her middle eighties and I have no doubt she could easily handle the ladder.  Still we have thought about sickness or disability, and in that case I think we would build a sleeping porch onto the back, much as traditional people have often done.

"Are the kitchen cupboards custom-made? (It looks like they might have been because the depth of the countertop doesn’t look like a standard size).  Are the chests in the main room antiques?"

Most everything wooden in Innermost House we either made or designed.  We made the kitchen cabinets and countertop; the cabinet doors we had made at a mill.  We made the bookshelves.  Michael designed the free standing cabinets in the living room and had them made by the same mill.  

"Where did you get the terrific standing candlestick holder next to the chair (it looks like it came from a church)?"

It was given to us by friends we have since lost.  It is the only piece of furniture that survived our move to Europe, the only thing that remains from our old days.  I think of our friends when we use it, and we use it every day.  This candlestand was made by a blacksmith in Virginia half a century ago.  

"You once wrote of "taking a bath, even a luxurious bath..." How does a luxurious bath proceed, if you don't mind telling it?"

I suppose luxury is in the eye of the beholder.  Innermost House is normal for me, so cold is normal.  Baths in our home are not luxurious by any ordinary standard, but they are to me.  It is a luxury to build your own fire of sticks from the land around you.  It is a luxury to sit by the fire while the water comes to a boil over the coals.  It is a luxury to stand in the light of one candle and mix the hot with the cool into a loved pewter pitcher.  It is a luxury to feel warm water on my skin in a house where water is only cold.  It is a luxury to have my husband pour warm water over my head while he rubs my back and talks to me to keep me warm.  This is what I mean by luxury.

Shea and Julie have asked questions that I'll answer next time.  And I hope you'll feel welcome to ask any other questions.  For now, good night!


  1. Delightful to read, and full of such interesting detail - thank you so much, Diana!

    "We do not struggle against the cold . . . We don't have modern expectations of comfort." Wise words, wise living - a key to open a door of possibility!

    1. Amen, Ember. A key. You and I are, I think, joyously simple ladies. We might be "happy campers" anywhere.

      I love to sleep in a nice cold room under good covers, and I enjoy the cold house on a winter's morning, and the gentle time spent before the stove waiting for things to heat up a bit. It's prayer time then. I would love to use the fireplace instead, however my housemate, my husband, won' have it. He struggles, you see, against the cold and everything else in the world. He's really a colicky somebody. Something is always "wrong". In the winter, he wants the house kept at 85 degrees! That is a lot of wood burned, even in the stove. I had thought perhaps it is my "time of life" that makes me abhor so much heat. I feel I'm going to burst into flames any moment and will have to spend the days outside now that he is home all the time. but honestly, 85 degrees is just inhumane and unnatural.

      Diana and Michael have been obviously made for one another, and gladly insist upon "doing without" most of the things modern folks think they MUST have to be comfortable. Honestly, I doubt that the average person these days knows what comfort is--what it means. It always requires more and more. A key. Diana and Michael have a key.

  2. The luxurious bath brought a smile to my face that is still there. Yes that is luxury!

    1. That is what I mean by luxury too. My own baths proceed in much the same way as Diana's. The only thing that could possibly make them more wonderful is someone dear to share them with.

  3. "It is a luxury to build your own fire of sticks from the land around you. It is a luxury to sit by the fire while the water comes to a boil over the coals. It is a luxury to stand in the light of one candle and mix the hot with the cool into a loved pewter pitcher. It is a luxury to feel warm water on my skin in a house where water is only cold. It is a luxury to have my husband pour warm water over my head while he rubs my back and talks to me to keep me warm. This is what I mean by luxury."

    It's also luxury to have the time to make bathing into such a detailed ritual. Sounds like a bath could take a good half hour at your house! I'm in and out of the shower every morning in 7 or 8 minutes. Daily showering at night is not a good solution for me since my baby fine hair needs to be washed every morning or it looks lank even with my best effort at styling.

    1. Pam, I think you've touched on an important feature of an innermost life. If we strip away all the time-wasting distractions in everyday modern life, there is plenty of time for things like the simple pleasures of a savored meal, a good book, a walk in the woods, writing, art, conversation and an intimate bath shared with one you love.

    2. I agree with you totally, Mojoman! I have a year and a half to go before I can retire and then my days will have the luxury of open-endedness and unregulated spans of time. Unfortunately, for most of us, earning a living is an imperative which will consume vast quantities of time for the majority of our adult lives and will structure our days in ways that may curtail our natural impulse to slow down and savor the moment.

  4. "The house is the whole of its elements. Nothing about it exists independently. It is its wholeness."

    How lovely to experience the inter-penetration of all objects and experiences as one seamless whole!

  5. So, Diana, I have four more questions for you about your relationship to the world:
    1. If you are seeing the world through the lens of time before memory, do you perceive the entire world as yourself?
    2. From the undifferentiated perspective of time before memory, are you able to perceive others' thoughts?
    3. Do you identify yourself as being a solid 'self' or do you feel yourself to be nowhere and everywhere all at the same time--as simple perception?
    4. In your relationship with Michael do you both have the experience of loving each other as no different from your own selves because you are indistinguishable from the Self of all?

    1. Great questions, Pam! Are you suggesting God Consciousness.. or perhaps even Unity Consciousness?

  6. What wonderful descriptions, Diana! Thank you for giving us such detail. I will share that my husband also runs hot and I cold. He also warms my spot and in turn, I cool him with my cool skin.

    I would like to discuss another point you made about bathing. You mention that bathing is "luxury." I would like to suggest that simple bathing is no more a luxury than is having simple, wholesome food available and basic, aesthetically pleasing housing. It seems to me we NEED these things for health -- physical, mental and emotional. Bathing has a lot of therapeutic effects. There is much literature to read about bathing but here is short snippet along with the site it came from:

    Baths play one of the most important parts as far as body care is concerned. Water not only washes away the dirt and sweat, it also gives us energy, kills the fatigue, tonisizes, invigorates, gives the feeling of freshness, comfort and renewal. Water makes skin smoother, more elastic and velvety. And together with herbal extracts, aroma oils and other useful additives it simply works wonders! Healing effects of the bath are due to the fact that useful elements get through our skin into the blood and bodily liquids that bring these useful elements to all the organs.

    Luxury goods are products and services that are not considered essential and are associated with affluence. By your description, it sounds like your type of bathing is quite simple (and obviously delightful!) and is not luxury, but rather necessary for your life. Would you say you could live comfortably and healthfully without it? To have a wonderful husband there to rub your back is definitely luxury, but could he also do that with the room a little warmer (larger fire in the fireplace) or with you in a little tub with more heated water?

    These are simply rhetorical questions. Ultimately, I know you are choosing the right system for you. I wanted to discuss these points here with all our friends. Perhaps there are other simple solutions to bathing that would keep it "feeling" luxurious even if simple and necessary: Like a tiny room or alcove next to the fireplace where a tub sits and the fireplace is designed to have the heat transfer into water that runs or sits in a tank next to it. There are probably as many possibilities as there are people to think of them :)

    Bathing can be very meditative and healing. I enjoy 5-8 minute showers in the morning like Pam, to get presentable looking (I am not blessed with wash and go hair as well :) ) but I enjoy long baths on occasion for the inner healing and outer exfoliation... followed by a short cold shower to bring me back to the here and now.

  7. What I'm reading here is more that Diana luxuriates in the simple necessities of life than that they are luxuries! I remember my friend Avice once saying to me, when I bemoaned my lack of artistic talent, that living is in itself an art, and that simple things like mindfully slicing a tomato picked sun-warmed from one's garden is artistic creation on many levels. This is what I would like for myself; to live with that mindfulness, that beingness in the moment, in which I am in harmony with my body, mind, and the universe.

    I do like my bath. Currently I have a 30 gallon plastic tub, and I luxuriate in it. I use about 15 gallons of water and, when I have done with it, it is used for flushing the toilet and watering the backyard, so my conscience is fairly clear.

    I too am perfectly happy to live without HVAC and, in fact, I have never had it; there is something profoundly right about living in synch with the seasons and the surroundings. There is something deeply satisfying about shivering up to the stove, and starting a little fire going, then cosying up to the warmth.

    1. Marvelous, Susanne! I also love a bit of shivery-ness of a cold morning. I feel so alive and happy. What you've said about "living in synch with the seasons and the surroundings" is right on. I've found that when I've been able to do so, my body will naturally put on an extra layer of about three pounds for the winter--just like the critters of the woods.

      I read in an article some time ago that, because of our insistence upon indoor climate control, that many Americans have made themselves "heat intolerant", and have thrown off their natural thermo-regulation. When the hypothalamus and thyroid glands are thrown off their games, it causes a domino effect in the entire system affecting every gland and system in the body. So this is considered a factor in many instances of poor health, as our bodies are completely regulated by hormones. We are heartier and experience a better sense of well being when we stay in tune with nature as, of course, we were meant to do...just like the critters of the woods.

    2. I love that freshness of a cool room in the morning as well and of increasing awareness the simple pleasures in life. I guess what I was trying to articulate was the idea that we each need to decide what is tolerable and what is desirable. I want to make sure we are not glorifying "doing without". Doing without electricity and hot water would be stressful to some.. while being healthful and desirable for someone like Diana. My goal is to try to think outside of the box. For example, it may be possible for someone to have her home without electricity..but still have a larger, or more convenient supply of hot water (ONLY IF that would make her living more enjoyable). Similarly, there may be ways for someone who enjoys a full bath to generate hot water and find space in a small home (if desirable) while still reducing or eliminating their use of grid electricity. Essentially, our "Place" definition and requirements can and should vary from person to person. I enjoy learning from the ideas and successes of other people's custom designs for healthy, ecological building.

      Julie, I have read similar articles about the health benefits of living with the seasonal weather cycles. I would like to have a home that changes with the season.. but not as drastically as the average timber home most people live in. The technology does exists to build homes that maintain temperatures around 65-75 degrees..

      These are a few ideas. I personally like and dislike elements of each of these concepts, but choose to optimistically believe, with a little bit of study and a lot of help from others, that I can come up with an ideal home for me:


      Sacred Geometry

      Straw Bale Homes

      Maharishi Shephatyaved

      And finally, of course, the Innermost House! I have learned from this site of the successful elements contained within the IH and hope to be able to use them to find my own "Place".

    3. Suzanne I am forever misspelling your name I'm afraid...

    4. Leah, I agree with you that it's important for each person to decide how 'natural' they want their lifestyle to be. I must be too much of a sensualist--I want electricity, hot water, indoor plumbing, a stove and a refrigerator, a washer and dryer and a reliable heating source. While I love the romantic notion of living off the grid and can appreciate the importance of energy conservation and clean fuel (I'd be happy with solar panels or a small home windmill to generate electricity as well as a woodstove or working fireplace to supplement conventional heating sources), I have no need or desire to revert back to a more rigorous, labor-intensive lifestyle. I know that doing without modern conveniences would make me grumpy, not happy, although if push came to shove I could do it. I also want access to the latest medical interventions and have no desire to go back to an era in which penicillin was a novelty and serious illnesses were treated soley with hope and a prayer. I feel that what's most important for me is to realize that giving up the use of the above items themselves is not the issue, but rather giving up my attachment to them (just as one can get too attached to roughing it). In that respect, I'm clearly still a work in progress.

    5. I'm not exactly into roughing it to the extreme; I'm very much attached to my spectacles, migraine abortives, computer, and books. My vision for a tiny house includes a variety of appropriate technologies; nice composting toilet, solar powered freezer - I could do without a fridge if I had an evaporation-cooler and ice; hot water provided by solar heating in summer and run through a coil wrapped around the chimney of the woodstove in the winter; and plenty of light. For lights, I toy with the idea of solar-powered lamps that could be hung in a south facing window during the day, then placed wherever needed in the evening. Again, in northern regions, this would be more a summer strategy, so I might use a feed from the solar panel charging the freezer battery for LED lamps throughout the house. Candles, however, have a very special allure - the softness of the glow, and the softness of the scent of a good beeswax candle are soothing to my soul. I also think the woodstove should be an integral part of a masonry or cob stove, which would provide an oven, a nice warm seat, radiant heating, and hot water, all with one small fire - that is so like magic, or like the loaves-and-fishes. I love experiences like racing under my duvet on chilly nights and cuddling up to my hotwater bottle, or the pleasure of pouring cool water from a jug over my head on a hot day; the gorgeous yeasty aroma of bread hot from the oven never fails to fill me with happiness. I certainly don't want to do the grit-your-teeth and aim at rugged self-sufficiency!

  8. I'm with you in everything you aid there Suzanne, except that our house has evolved a chimney that cannot be used for a fire without a lot of alteration, so I understand :(

  9. I meant, "everything you said Suzanne"


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