Diamond in the Rough (and Ready)

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photos by:
September 21, 2009
Originally published in Made in the USA

Architect Ken Meffan's ten-years-in-the-making home is in the tiny Northern California town of Rough and Ready—a term that might as aptly refer to the house itself.

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  Architect and builder Ken Meffan lives in Rough and Ready, California, a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. “Rough and ready” also describes his take on domestic bliss: Meffan, 56, is known for his rugged, modern houses in the High Sierra. But when it came to creating his own homestead, he, his wife, Sue, and their four kids roughed it for over a decade (two years in a tent and nine in a workshop) while he built his family’s home by hand.
    Architect and builder Ken Meffan lives in Rough and Ready, California, a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. “Rough and ready” also describes his take on domestic bliss: Meffan, 56, is known for his rugged, modern houses in the High Sierra. But when it came to creating his own homestead, he, his wife, Sue, and their four kids roughed it for over a decade (two years in a tent and nine in a workshop) while he built his family’s home by hand.
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  Though all the plants are mundane home-center varieties, they grow to uncanny heights in the moist, sunny environment.
    Though all the plants are mundane home-center varieties, they grow to uncanny heights in the moist, sunny environment.
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  Dylan, 10, and Zoe, 13, have a lazy float down the creek, Huck Finn–style, in a steel horse-watering tank.
    Dylan, 10, and Zoe, 13, have a lazy float down the creek, Huck Finn–style, in a steel horse-watering tank.
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  “In a regular house you can't hear the birds or feel the fresh air,” says Meffan, contrasting it with his greenhouse-within-a-house.
    “In a regular house you can't hear the birds or feel the fresh air,” says Meffan, contrasting it with his greenhouse-within-a-house.
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  Sue waters the indoor foliage with an industrial hose hung from the ceiling.
    Sue waters the indoor foliage with an industrial hose hung from the ceiling.
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  Rocks dug up during construction were saved and incorporated into the poured-concrete floors and walls. Hydronic heating coils in the floor are augmented by a wood stove during the damp winters.  Courtesy of Justin Reid.
    Rocks dug up during construction were saved and incorporated into the poured-concrete floors and walls. Hydronic heating coils in the floor are augmented by a wood stove during the damp winters. Courtesy of Justin Reid.
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  Cody, 17, and Dylan jam in the kitchen with Yogi, the Welsh corgi.
    Cody, 17, and Dylan jam in the kitchen with Yogi, the Welsh corgi.
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  The front door is made from re-milled old leftover beams. A custom pivot mechanism allows the weight of the massive door to rest on a tiny point, allowing for almost friction-free operation.
    The front door is made from re-milled old leftover beams. A custom pivot mechanism allows the weight of the massive door to rest on a tiny point, allowing for almost friction-free operation.
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  The showers are made from stock-watering tanks from the Ideal Stock Tank Co. and have waterproof canvas curtains. Less expensive than prefab shower-tub units, stock tanks are built of weatherproof galvanized steel and are sturdy enough for cows to drink from—–and, ergo, for you to bathe in.
    The showers are made from stock-watering tanks from the Ideal Stock Tank Co. and have waterproof canvas curtains. Less expensive than prefab shower-tub units, stock tanks are built of weatherproof galvanized steel and are sturdy enough for cows to drink from—–and, ergo, for you to bathe in.
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  The floorboards are lumberyard “culls” that had turned gray or cracked from being exposed to weather. Meffan had them re-milled into pristine planks with an old-world feel. Contractors typically pass up culls to get to the “good” wood below. Ask at your local home center, and you may be able to get them at a steep discount, or even for free.
    The floorboards are lumberyard “culls” that had turned gray or cracked from being exposed to weather. Meffan had them re-milled into pristine planks with an old-world feel. Contractors typically pass up culls to get to the “good” wood below. Ask at your local home center, and you may be able to get them at a steep discount, or even for free.
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  A media storage unit is made from a steel pivot welded to a heavy-duty tractor bearing by Sierra Metal Fabricators. The massive, smooth-spinning unit also serves as a room 
divider, to screen a desk and computer station from the main living area.
    A media storage unit is made from a steel pivot welded to a heavy-duty tractor bearing by Sierra Metal Fabricators. The massive, smooth-spinning unit also serves as a room divider, to screen a desk and computer station from the main living area.
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  As Meffan was hand-troweling the concrete floor, his daughter ran in with different leaf specimens from the property, like ferns and bamboo. Meffan pressed the leaves into the drying concrete and later swept the crumbling leaves away, leaving “fossil” impressions in the floor. The floor was then sealed with a nontoxic acrylic.
    As Meffan was hand-troweling the concrete floor, his daughter ran in with different leaf specimens from the property, like ferns and bamboo. Meffan pressed the leaves into the drying concrete and later swept the crumbling leaves away, leaving “fossil” impressions in the floor. The floor was then sealed with a nontoxic acrylic.
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  The young Meffans relish playing in the creek’s adjustable dam, made from poured concrete. The nutrient-rich silt that collects over the summer is dumped on the vegetable garden in the winter, when the creek flows freely.
    The young Meffans relish playing in the creek’s adjustable dam, made from poured concrete. The nutrient-rich silt that collects over the summer is dumped on the vegetable garden in the winter, when the creek flows freely.
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