Leon Willoughby has vision. As a writer, reader and art collector, this retired aeronautical engineer saw potential in the overgrown, terraced lot in Medford's Griffin Creek area.
Now a fit, 81-year-old wearing a purple T-shirt emblazoned with an Asian motif, Willoughby was living and working in Southern California when he lost his wife to cancer in 1976. The loss prompted his decision to move then-2-year-old daughter Karen north to the land that had captured his parents' hearts back in 1937 and had always stayed with him.
"I said, 'Come on, Karen, we're going to rent a truck and move to Oregon!' " recalls Willoughby. "It was a fun adventure."
When his current property came up for sale in 1983, its location sealed the deal.
"Karen is the youngest of my three kids, and Griffin Creek school was really noted for being good," says Willoughby. "That was the primary reason I bought this place, plus I liked that I could pack my little girl off to school, jump in the car to go skiing and be back in time to meet her at the bus."
Father and daughter moved into a pre-existing log home on the lot while Willoughby focused on design. He envisioned a "simple, solar home" situated on a flat swath of land at the top of the property, overlooking pastoral meadows surrounded by the Siskiyou foothills.
"I guess it was when people were first starting to really talk seriously about solar homes, and when the county found out I was building this, one of the main inspectors would just come by to see what we were doing next," says Willoughby, who built most of the house himself with the help of several books, strong neighbors and Fred Gant, longtime Rogue Valley solar-industry advocate who now works for Earth Advantage.
"It's a good example of how passive solar, active solar and great design aesthetics are not dated," says Willoughby. "It's still exactly what we have been preaching about all these years — practical with great features."
Ingress to the 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath, redwood house is through an air-lock entry — two doors that help keep in wintertime heat and cool, summertime air. An open floor plan welcomes guests into the great room, artistically lit by clerestory windows along the top of the home's soaring, east-to-west cathedral ceiling.
The cream-colored, tile inset of the brown, Swedish tile floor defines an L-shaped kitchen. Custom oak cabinets with Shaker-style doors, ceramic countertops and backsplash, and an open "pantry" that displays Willoughby's commitment to healthy eating create a warm environment while the island adds function. An oak table and chairs in the cedar-paneled dining nook soak up the sun and provide a stage for one of Willoughby's many handcrafted light fixtures; he made the chandelier from random wood pieces and glass globes.
A wood stove placed in front of a lava-rock wall dominates the large, central space while banks of huge windows along the living area's south wall allow for passive solar gain. Insulated cloth shades, known as Warm Windows, can be drawn across the glass for privacy and protection from too much sun.
Willoughby refers to his Asian-inspired, hand-painted design of cherry blossoms and blue birds on the shades as "my Chinese artistic stuff." This aesthetic can be found throughout Willoughby's house in the forms of statuary, sculpture and other artwork. "The Chinese block monogram on the shade says: The warm rays of the sun bring spring eternal," translates the world traveler.
Farther along the home's south side is Willoughby's master suite. An angled, plaster fireplace with a redwood mantle is flanked by Grecian pillars and two bronze statues he scored at an auction in Grants Pass. Sliding glass doors lead out to the front yard; they can be covered with an inch-and-a-half-thick, folding, wooden screen with foam insulation. The bath consists of a private shower and privy and an open vanity.
Two guest rooms, Willoughby's study and the main bath with sauna are housed along the home's northern exposure, which is earth-bermed.
"I've got earth almost right up to the roof," says Willoughby, who finished the interior walls on the north side in mauve-dyed, concrete plaster accented with pieces of straw. "It's almost like a basement, so I get good cooling, and that's a real green effect."
Other green features built into this one-of-a-kind home include a tile roof that stays 30 to 35 degrees cooler than other materials in summer, a well-vented solarium, solar hot water, ceiling fans and the highest R-value insulation available.
"It's designed for summer cooling and winter heating, but it's also a really fun house," enthuses Willoughby, who enjoys entertaining family and friends, both inside and on the expansive outdoor "party deck" with grape arbor.
"It was fun to see it start taking shape, and it's still fun to live in "… an ideal setting where you can let your imagination run wild."
With Willoughby's imagination and commitment to environmental stewardship, it seems the sun's the limit.