EVERSON, Wash. — Nate Kronenberg remembers a time before environmentalism, when green was just a color, not a lifestyle statement.
But everything changed during the 1970s energy crisis. That economic low point inspired him to consume less and become more environmentally friendly. And if he wanted to live a greener life, he was going to have to build a greener house.
"That's when I started getting interested in doing a green house, making sure it was environmentally safe and sound," says Kronenberg, 83, who lives with his wife, Phyllis, 82, just outside of Everson, northeast of Bellingham. "My wife and I are environmental people, and building a house had to be part of that whole caring for the environment."
Naturally, the idea for the design of this house came from the environment itself, in particular a sea creature that resides in a spiral, snail-like shell.
"I designed it in the shape of a chambered nautilus," he says of the house. "It's totally curvilinear. There are no boxes in there."
The main house is circular in shape, with a carport and spare room opening off from the center. The bulk of the interior comprises the wall-less space of the kitchen, dining and living rooms, as well as the almost completely open bedroom the couple shares.
A curve of thick, rustic posts sits in the center of the rooms, looking more like art than functional supports for the roof. There are 65 such support posts throughout the home, and Phyllis says that before the rest of the house was built around them, people said the spot looked like an elephant corral.
The house is shored up with grassy berms that nearly reach the windows. The berms keep the house slightly underground and allow it to stay cooler in the summer and retain warmth in the winter. "I wanted it to grow out of the ground," he says of the house.
Kronenberg sited the house so the majority of the windows would face south to get more light and let in more warmth. The windows and skylights mean the couple relies less on electricity, and they also keep them at eye level with nature.
"When the shades are up we're at one with the environment, everything," he says. "It's like sitting in the middle of this space surrounded by trees and a view and openness."
The building process for the home took more than eight years while the couple lived in Bellingham and worked on the house on weekends. Nate was his own contractor, but he hired architect Robert Ross to help with the design and to keep his ideas out of the clouds and on the ground.
"My imagination kind of took over," Nate says. "He kept me in line."
To keep the project green, Kronenberg focused on using salvaged materials wherever possible.
Walkways around the home are done in natural stone from Alger, and the smooth stones that form the stream-like floor running through the home are from Shuksan, reducing the materials' transportation impact. The siding for the home was made from salvaged wood, and the kitchen floor was made from trees that had blown down in a storm. He even used the leftover ends of posts to frame the deck.
"Everything we did, planted, built or designed, we did it with an eye toward being environmentally friendly," he says.
Now decades after the house was built, the couple still enjoys the home's curving, natural embrace. Though they're worried about the direction the environment is going, they know that if enough people could live just a little bit smaller, it could make a difference.
"I don't feel like I have a big role to play," he says of his place in the environment, "aside from setting an example to show people how you can live more simply and less punishing to the environment."
Information from: The Bellingham Herald, http:www.bellinghamherald.com