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 Alleghenies—which 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 larger—particularly the study—would 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!