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Since Duane and I envision continuing to research and write after we retire, we wanted a weekend place where we could work and relax both now and later. But we also wanted a fun place that would be a real magnet for large family gatherings. Oxnard fit all of our needs: It’s near a gorgeous beach just an hour from Los Angeles; there’s a train station here, so my brother and sister-in-law in San Diego don’t have to drive; the community has lots of wonderful farmers’ markets that sell locally grown fruits and vegetables; and it’s still affordable.
Once we decided to build instead of remodel, we told Dan Garness our priorities were a modern house, a workspace for each of us and our books, a kitchen where we could cook together comfortably, and the ability to accommodate a crowd for holidays and vacations. Somehow we started discussing Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s home in Mexico designed by Juan O’Gorman and how the two had adjacent houses with a studio in each and a bridge between. That was the concept that informed this design. Dan thought of it as castles in the sand: One tower would be Duane’s study in the rear and another would be mine in the front, and linking these two would be a hallway lined with bookcases in the common area.
We have a pair of studies, two bedrooms–—one on the ground floor for when my mother, who is in her 90s, comes to visit and because we will get old, too–—and three bathrooms on two floors in 2,500 square feet. The spaces benefit from high ceilings and feel much larger than they are. Part of the reason was so Dan could create vantage points where people can see one another. A balcony in my study overlooks the garden, while the one in Duane’s overlooks the great room and kitchen so that, though we may be in different rooms, everybody’s connected.
We can sleep at least 12 people thanks to the sofa bed in each of our studies and a sleeping loft in Duane’s. The benches around the entertainment center downstairs and on the second- floor deck have cushions that stack to make beds, too. The kids love climbing the ladder up to the loft, and they can’t wait to sleep overnight on the deck. We make s’mores with them at the fireplace in the dining room. From the roof deck, we get a 360-degree view of Fourth of July fireworks on the beach, in the harbor, and in Ventura.
When we began this project, we didn’t say we wanted an artistic gem, but as the house was being built it became clear that it was going to be beautiful beyond our imagining. We didn’t want to mess it up afterward, so Dan designed much of the furniture, and he proposed the brighter colors and different fabrics and patterns for the pillows. The result is harmonious, with a feeling of joyfulness and spontaneity.
The key to the kitchen is that there are two sinks, two trash cans, and a big island in the middle. Duane and I can chop and prep and not be in each other’s way. The counter is long enough for us to have assembly lines with the kids as sous chefs. It’s amazing how preparing good food makes even teenagers eager to spend time with you.
Neighbors cautioned that we might need forced air part of the year, but Dan ensured good ventilation by installing large sliding doors on both sides of the house, high windows, and an operable skylight that allows hot air to escape. Cedar louvers and a redwood pergola over the deck provide shade and produce these fabulous shifting shadows as the sun moves through the sky. In winter, there’s radiant heat in the concrete pad. I was excited about that because I grew up in Chicago in the 1950s with radiant heat and remembered having nice warm floors.
We have three water heaters for the house (two tankless and one solar); one of the tankless units is solely for the radiant floor and the other is used as backup for the solar hot-water unit, which is the main source of hot water for regular household use. Our location is great for the solar panels on the roof. On really sunny days, I occasionally spy Duane standing in front of the electric meter, fondly watching it roll backward.