Diamond in the Rough (and Ready)

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By David A. Greene / Published by Dwell
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.

This was a really difficult site to build on, because there’s so much water. A creek runs through it, and there are springs all over the place. But we love the water, and so do the kids. They dam the creek up every summer for swimming, and it collects silt in the winter, which makes great compost for the garden. Last year, we grew sunflowers that must have been 12 feet tall.

Diamond in the Rough (and Ready) - Photo 1 of 13 - 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.

There are two structures on the property: the little workshop, where we lived for almost ten years, and the main house. Before the workshop, we lived in a tent. We were very poor, but we were having an adventure, like the Swiss Family Robinson—–until a giant, once-every-20-years rainstorm pretty much blew us away. The morning after the storm was over, the kids came to me and said, "Dad, this isn’t so much fun anymore."

Diamond in the Rough (and Ready) - Photo 2 of 13 - 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.

We only had two of the four kids when I started building the main house, and as the family grew, we kept adding bedrooms. Officially, it’s 3,400 square feet, but half of that is a greenhouse. When I was a young architect in Malibu, I hired a landscaper who took me to a greenhouse tucked back in one of the canyons. It was crammed full of plants, and when we squeezed down one aisle, he said, "Just take a deep breath." And when I breathed that pure, oxygen-fortified air, I knew that I wanted to build a house just like that.

Diamond in the Rough (and Ready) - Photo 3 of 13 - 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.

Regular houses are full of barriers. Even windows are psychological barriers. Here, we slide open the walls and live in direct contact with nature. You can feel the weather in here. I was on a business call once when it was raining; it was this tremendous downpour, where the sky just opened up, and I couldn’t hear or talk. That’s what this house is all about.