It’s quiet in the house on the hill. We can look down on a busier part of town, but only when we walk out onto the deck in the evening can we hear the sounds of far off traffic and sirens. We also hear the sounds of wild turkeys, taking a dinner stroll with their poults, the crackle as their feet crush the leaves fallen from the majestic California oak trees
Each day, the ever present view is more stunning as the morning fog lifts to reveal the valley below, the Annadel Ridge and the Mayacama Mountains above. Mount Bennett rises to the Southeast exposing the seasonal green on green or green on brown of the oaks and grasses, a signature northern California landscape. It is panoramic, the flagship of our decor.
To us, the Holland House, named after our road, is like living in a tree, looking down upon the world or a terrarium, observing the daily changes to the local landscape through glass walls. We have awoken to pinkish-red skies contrasting the deep blue dawn off to the East. The afternoon sun illuminates the mountains, highlighting the portrait as a museum piece and the evenings, especially during a full moon, need no description.
The front of the mid-century house faces the Taylor Mountain Preserve with the stunning natural vegetation flowing downward, looking like it is about to devour us. During the spring, fresh peaches, picked from a tree outside the front door are added to a breakfast menu. Beneath the peach tree, ferns, fuchsias and rhododendrons are soaking up the shade, adding texture and color. Up the adjacent steep entry steps where the black lizards sun themselves, is a natural path that separates the front garden. Through the ivy archway, golden heather is interspersed with spikes of lavender, staring across the path at ghost lady ferns, Japanese painted ferns, azaleas and more rhododendrons. Natural vegetation lifts above the garden like a breaking wave.
Today, I came upon a grey and orange fox, laying on the gravel driveway, seemingly unbothered by my presence. Any sudden movement could startle him so I stood motionless as we watched each other closely for several minutes. He sat like a dog, with front paws extended and crossed, his rear legs protruding backwards. For a moment, he began to crawl forward on his belly, leading me instinctively to talk to him. “ Come here,” I said softly, “I won’t hurt you.” It didn’t work. Just as I thought we were about to bond, he stood and jumped through the old fence, running off through the dense natural vegetation on our lower property. This was my second encounter with a fox since we acquired the Holland House.
In December 2014, we purchased a view and this home with great potential, originally built in 1950, Initially, we saw a 1960s kitchen, divided rooms and small doorways that all needed to be opened up and modernized. Fearing to become too comfortable and complacent with the existing decor, we immediately consulted a young designer and began the process of truly making it our own. In April 2015, our kitchen
moved into a spare bedroom and bathroom, most of our furniture was put on consignment, the washing machine was relocated and re-
attached to the rear garden and, with the exception of the master bedroom, the house was emptied days before leaving on a pre-scheduled sixteen-day trip to Kyoto Provence in Japan. Shortly after our arrival in Kyoto, we received photos by text from our contractor displaying openings where walls once stood and exposed sub-flooring that was supporting worn linoleum. One photo showed a large pile of wood and trash with the caption: “This is your old kitchen.”
For the next three months, my desk was a makeshift counter, a hot plate was our stove, a microwave our only oven, and an old love seat gave us somewhere to sit. The kitchen sink was across the hall in the main bathroom. My outdoor laundromat was functional and the air-dry system involved draping our clothes over the deck railing. I hadn’t worn air-dried clothes since those that my mother hung on our backyard line during the 1950s. The clothes were naturally fresh and stiff. This new living arrangement was reminiscent of our early marriage and our college days.
Warned to expect delays and overruns, each one became less tolerable, especially the closer we were to completion. Perseverance and patience came easier with the completed design sketches, knowing that there was a pot-of-gold at the end of this huge, colorful, costly and time-consuming rainbow. The near completion of construction also reminded us that we did not have any furniture. In a crazy “start anew” moment, we sold it. However, the computer-generated sketches from our designer, Lauren, fresh from celebrating her 27th birthday, gave us a starting point to collaborate on the last furnishing decisions. Following our instincts while allowing Lauren to push us where we had never gone before, the final plan was approved and I began searching, not for another rainbow, but, literally, a pot of gold. The last furnishings were delivered in October 2015 and the first phase was complete. The new design fits our lifestyle and gives us, arguably, the best view from any laundry folding counter anywhere in the world.
The Holland House has given us a renewed sense of community, one that was much less evident in our Southern California neighborhood. There are 116 homes on the hill, connected through a mutual water district and an email alert system, warning of nearby thefts or occasional mountain lion sightings. Neighbors, immediate and nearby, have come to greet us and introduce themselves. Today, a bag of fresh vegetables arrived at our door, from a neighbor’s garden. We like the people on the hill. They make us feel we belong here. We do.
With the exception of our friendly neighbors, the Holland House is about privacy and serenity that connects us to the land. Completely private, our master bath and shower is open to the outside through a large glass window. Numerous times this season, while showering, I have observed an adult doe with her fawn during early survival training. Deer use our property as a connector path to the preserve and they jump a short, old country fence before loping up the hill. Instinctively aware that the fawn could not make the leap without practice, the doe would cross the fence, face away from the young fawn and wait patiently for the trial and error process to evolve. When the fawn would panic after failing time after time, the doe jumped back for comfort, then repeated the process. Today, the fawn, larger and more stable on its feet, conquers the fence, usually after a brief contemplative pause.
One hour away from San Francisco, our favorite city in the world, the birds are noisy and the squirrels are busy, leaping from tree to tree on a warm afternoon. The hawks are circling above while the hummingbirds hover at eye level. It is all ours to enjoy, breaking from the routine of the day, a continual reminder that we share this planet with many beautiful creatures and natural landscapes. The Holland House has brought us back to the land and re-energized our commitment to preserve and protect it for future generations.