Custom home designer Fred Lawless and his wife Hilomi, a Tokyo native, wandered into the Williams Valley over 30 years ago and decided 'this was it.' They purchased a hilltop property with stunning vistas where he built a small cabin perched at exactly 2,000 feet altitude.
Over the next two decades, they dreamed, designed, and re-designed their retirement home, although Fred insists it's not a new house. "What you're looking at here is a remodel," he says with a teasing twinkle in his eye. The cabin retains the original peaked ceiling but then the sense of "remodel" disappears. Marvelous details of thick, round-edged walls, custom cabinets, a hand-tooled madrone floor, the mint condition Hot Blast Florence potbelly stove, and countless other touches now span some 2,700 square feet of open, airy living space.
A fusion of architectural styles and a bold insistence on paying homage to the valley's past drove the Lawless design to its unique, yet unpretentious ambiance. "Basically, we wanted a more relaxed, earthy feeling and one that was indigenous to this area "¦While we were building, we kept hearing this little voice saying, 'How would they have built this 150 years ago?' I've come to describe the style as 'perfect imperfection.'"
Spanning four and a half years, Fred and his two-man crew spent thousands of hours wire brushing or sandblasting individual planks to raise their grain. Then they applied a custom mix of ferrous sulfate to stain and aged not only the wood, but also the concrete floors, various copper fixtures, plus appliance and cabinet door surfaces.
Except for the eco-conscious FasWall"¢ composite blocks from Arkansas, most other materials are native. Nearly all the wood, including hand-peeled, exposed log beams came from a Ruch mill specializing in reclaimed timber. A defunct Wolf Creek mill produced raw redwood planks, 36 inches wide, three and a half inches thick. They now serve as counter tops and an impressive front door.
Whimsy abounds, like the bronze alligator swimming in concrete beside the front door. The ultimate, though, has to be a cranberry-red madrone trunk "growing" between the kitchen and dining room. Long, gracefully winding branches reach over the dining table. With more of his deadpan delivery, Fred suggests the sturdy madrone section may actually be supporting the entire roof. Given other masterful design tweaks, you can't help being taken in for a moment.
The kitchen side of that madrone features a four-burner, Wolf industrial gas range and double-oven. Energy Star rated Monogram appliances lack finished front panels because Fred treated galvanized sheets with his custom acid solution for more of that rustically handsome, aged effect.
When Hilomi uses the deep copper sink mounted in a finished redwood countertop, she doesn't need to reach for the faucet. Foot pedals do the trick, a feature Hilomi loves.
Employing at least three sources of natural light wherever possible, Fred designed an open floor plan for the main level. Walk into the spacious main floor, look through the outside wall of glass across the valley and you'll feel like you're standing on air. "Wow," is a common reaction.
Expanding on the theme, the master bedroom commands its own corner like an eagle's nest. Its Japanese-influenced, uncluttered design invites the eye once more to the marvelous vistas. "We figured window coverings wouldn't be necessary," Fred notes. Only a bird can disturb their privacy.
A southwest corner wing encloses the "garden room," looking out as it does over Hilomi's colorful rock garden. Sporting a wet bar and open floor space, the room invites leisurely conversation over cocktails and maybe a dance or two later on.
Throughout the interior, creamy smooth plaster coats most walls in a striking sandstone pigment mimicking the earthy adobe interiors the couple fell in love with while in Taos, New Mexico. A commitment to build green led them to choose liquid pigmentation rather than paint. Guessing at the mix, Hilomi watched with some trepidation as the plaster slowly dried through wild coloring swings.
Finished now with slight variations, room to room, the tint is perfectly imperfect in her eyes. "It looks natural, doesn't it?" she asks.
Indeed it does, fitting this distinctive, perfectly imperfect hilltop abode — the manifestation of a lifelong dream and a fitting capstone to a distinguished career in design.