Monday, March 18, 2013

A Cliff May is both a home and a way of life

We bought our house in 2007 when it was at it's lowest point. We're architects, so we didn't judge it for that. We knew what we could do and we saw what it could be. (I'm working hard to track down pictures of the way it used to be, but that'll hopefully be another story.) Anyway, we would never have bought a house that had to be completely reinvented and turned into something it never was. We wanted to fix up a place that already had that special something. This house had it. It came with a way of life.

Cliff May is often dubbed the Father of the Ranch Style. If you understand what makes these designs so special, you wouldn't have to be told that they were invented in California. Windows go from the floor to the ceiling and there are as many of them as possible. They were painted the same color as the walls so the frame of the window would not stand out, but rather the visual opening. Even the doors have panes of glass like the windows and there are as many of those as possible as well. The most important thing about this house is that when you are inside, you still feel like you're outside. You cannot escape the daylight when it arrives in the morning and you cannot convince your children to sleep before it sets. It is also a very efficient home, leaving a small 1,300sf footprint in my yard that makes you realize how much more less really is.

This house is everything we ever hoped our home could be, except more. This house makes me want to go outside. A morning of clear sunshine after the gloomy winters we call "gray death" puts you in a mood to just grab your bike and take off. This house makes me want vegetable and flower gardens or to throw parties large enough that not everyone even has to fit inside to still feel like they're all at the same party. It's changed us. We even listen to bossa nova from time to time because it feels so right in this house.

The problem is that we've spent so much time working on the house, it hasn't left us much time to grow a garden or take off biking on the weekends, on the occasions when we actually have weather appropriate for either. The smell of spring doesn't remind me of lazing around in my hammock, but it strongly reminds me of the first two springs we owned this house when we worked all day long together from early in the morning until we had just enough energy left to change into pajamas at night. In that way, our house is a tease because we are now addicted to a lifestyle or at least this idea of a lifestyle that we haven't really been able to achieve. Of course we're so close to finishing, but I have the most wonderful child and now I'd just so much rather have another and maybe another than replace windows, though I will admit that the days when Zack and I used to do that together were some of my favorite days.

We are thinking of selling our house because of this. We at least know what we want if and when we move on. We have developed an irrational need for windows and as many of them as possible. We also know what it takes to feel like your outside when you're stuck inside and what the value of a well placed garden might be if we were ever blessed with time enough to have one. I don't want to stop living here, but I think this house has taught us everything it knows and changed us entirely. We now know what it takes to live happy and we want the opportunity to do it. Unfortunately, this means changing our situation from one where we work on the house to one where we simply enjoy a house where we can have more children and less projects.

The strange thing is that thinking of letting it go is less scary than I thought it would be. This house has defined us for so long that people are shocked to hear that we'd ever sell it, but the thing that we've most appreciated is the thing that can never be sold. It's the Cliff May Way of Life.

4 comments:

Atom said...

Hear hear! I live in the Cliff May tract here in Denver, and me and many of my neighbors feel the same way. We often find ourselves asking “why do we put up with living in this tiny old house?” We often consider moving; resigning ourselves to something less designed, but bigger (my wife and I even looking at moving to Kansas City, where my wife is from, so we can get more space for us and our toddler).

But the thing that always stops us in our tracks is the fear that we may not find the Cliff May way of life in any other home. How will we live without walls of glass, glass gables, an indoor/outdoor connection, vaulted ceilings throughout... and common in Denver’s tract, a private courtyard. A house designed around the notions of fun and informality. I know that there is life after owning a Cliff May home . . . but I feel your pain!

Bogo Mipps said...

Just wanted to thank you for posting your experiences online - a wonderful way to connect globally on such a niche topic.

We are currently building in NZ to a design inspired by local post-WW2 innovations, which touches on many of the concepts you clearly admire about Cliff May's work.

http://tematukupoint.com/build_inspiration.html

http://tematukupoint.com/build_graham_road.html

These 2 pages may not make a lot of sense out of context but you will recognise the Californian influence.

Rusty P said...

Great home and blog, would love to see more!

Rusty P said...

Great home and blog, would love to see more!