Shea asks, "Diana, the window placement of Innermost House and it's resulting lights/shadows is one of the first things that drew my attention. At first I thought it was a happy accident, but after joining the Facebook list I started to understand that there probablyweren't any accidents in creating your home.
"One conversation lead me to Christopher Alexander and his Pattern Language. Once I understood the practical, step-by-step method of the Language, it helped clarify and validate my own convoluted house planning up to that point. "Did his work influence you and Michael in creating the physical aspects of Innermost House? Simply put, did you think, "I want to experience the play of the sun's rays on that wall", and then plan a window placement to capture that - and other such aspects?"
This is a wonderful question, Shea, and I am so glad you asked it. Feeling my way toward an answer draws me very close to the mystery of Innermost House.
My husband and I met thirty years ago in the seaside village of Carmel, California. To me even then the sight and sound and scent of the place had all the magic about it of a beautiful memory.
The city of Carmel is about a mile square, with between three and four thousand residents. It was founded a century ago as an artists colony after a long Spanish and longer American Indian history.
The town gives way on all sides to surrounding ocean and bay and forests and hills and farms. A fully elaborated town center lies at its heart, with all the essential village services, along with a world of restaurants and galleries. Its narrow, forested streets form themselves into compact neighborhoods of small cottages of adobe or stone or redwood board, set in half-wild gardens. Its many churches are presided over by the 240 year-old Spanish Mission. People walk everywhere, and take their dogs with them to work, or out to early morning coffee, or along the beach. There are no highrises or electric signs or traffic lights or even streetlamps. There are no house addresses and no mail delivery. All seasons of the year the air is scented with woodsmoke and wild flowers and the sea.
Carmel is where Michael and I first shared our love of long daily walks together. As we walked we would talk about everything. We would talk about the places we walked passed. We wanted to know what made some things so alive where they were right—and in Carmel they were often right—and what made other things so unliving when they went wrong. The aliveness of a house or a shop—or of a door or a window, or the pitch of a roof or the turn of a garden path—seemed to belong to some organic quality, a sense of being whole with itself, its neighbors, its town, its history, its place in nature. Carmel is a kind of garden of plants and trees, and to me the best among its modest houses and buildings share in that living quality of natural wholeness. It would be a few years and a few moves before we discovered Christopher Alexander and his "quality without a name."
The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language were published about five years before Michael and I met. When we first discovered them those books were a revelation to us. Here was the first person we knew who felt what we felt, who suffered from the same sense of an undefinable something missing. It is hard to estimate the value of such a companion in our inwardly isolated lives. Five hundred and a thousand pages may look like a lot from the outside, but we were already in the darkness inside, and those pages shone for us like stained glass windows.
We would go on to make our own language of patterns built from observations wide of the world of architecture, from food and clothes to books and pictures to customs and manners. Christopher Alexander's idea of a language was liberating because it helped us find a way around the one thing most in our way everywhere we looked—the problem of "styles." It was simple enough to recognize the ways that industrial materials and methods were denaturing Place, but it was a much subtler matter to see through the attraction of expressing one's own "style."
We were not interested in styles, no more our own than anyone else's. Most others seemed to be interested in "their" place or "their" thing. Christopher Alexander was interested in the thing, the language. And in that subtle difference the mystery of Place began to open for us. The Place we were looking for had little to do with us personally, but everything to do with Place itself, the living language of wholeness and healing.
We kept those two books with us until we parted with all our books on architecture and towns. But we had absorbed them by then. They had become a part of the fabric of our life, an inseparable element in our search for the meaning of Place that finally ended in Innermost House.
It is strange to say now I know, but we never sought Innermost House. We sought a town for Place and a room for Conversation. We moved from town to town, and we made room after room. And each one satisfied a little more nearly our hunger for healing.
It would be difficult to exaggerate how surprised we were by Innermost House. I see what you see—the light, the shadows. In a very real sense it was entirely an accident, and we certainly did not consult our old books or plan the windows or anything else for effect. When that light first streamed in across the back wall against the darkness, it was like the light of grace. In no immediate sense can I say we earned it.
But in another sense Innermost House was designed and built by a lifetime of seeking and trying. It is the city that we sought. It is the rooms that we made. We only did not know to anticipate, through those long years, the trajectory of our intention.