Retirement offered an endless horizon of possibilities for Nikki and Bruce Howell, as long as it stayed within their new, fixed-income budget. The couple's first vision was to remain in the 1,100-square foot subdivision home they bought over 30 years ago and raised their family in; with any extra cash, they'd continue exploring the world. Then things started to shift. While contemplating their future, the Howells asked each other, is this really where we want to spend the rest of our lives?

The answer became more clear when the possibility to buy acreage on the rural/residential fringe of Grants Pass surfaced. The pie-shaped, one and one-third acre, property is separated from the golf course by a stretch of woods, offering privacy as well as proximity to Nikki's father, who owns the lot next door.

If they bought the property, however, it would leave only $250,000 from the resale of their first home to build a new house and transform the on-site horse stables into a usable shop and studio. How to make this happen? By carefully watching every penny and taking on several large and dirty jobs themselves.

"We'd never dreamt of doing something like this — we're almost in our 60s and the sweat equity almost killed us, but we're very proud of it," says Nikki of the 2,600-square foot, three bedroom, two bath, open floor plan she designed.

Borrowing liberally from the Mediterranean villas they'd visited while vacationing in Ibiza, Spain and in Italy, Nikki created a home that makes the most of wide spaces and large, simple pieces.

"I really had a vision: I love the Tuscan look and we enjoy rooms that are big and big pieces but still, it's not totally Mediterranean, just hints of it," says Nikki.

Oversized, sage-green chenille living room furniture, heavy wooden tables, and a hand-tiled and stone fireplace built by Nikki and Bruce decorate the interior. In the great room's open kitchen,

the centerpiece island introduces the house's very rustic, gold-hued granite surfaces that reflect soft gold, plaster walls. An Italian travertine backsplash and grape-themed tile mural over the cooktop play up Nikki's desire for utilitarian richness.

On most other surfaces, including the wet bar off the eating nook, the bathrooms and the dining room, the granite reappears. So does the imported tile, which does double duty in both bathrooms. A blend of 18-inch by 18-inch and 12-inch by 12-inch tiles create a dramatically arched shower in the guest wing and an ultra-romantic platform with built-in fireplace and walk-in shower in the generously proportioned master bath.

In the master bedroom, Nikki and Bruce wake to nature views through carefully chosen, geometrically aligned windows and a door onto the back deck.

Despite these Italianate touches, it was important to Bruce and Nikki to stay true to their setting, which is pure wooded Pacific Northwest. Indeed, the backyard features a gently curving creek and an impenetrable stand of trees.

"We wanted you to be able to come in and enjoy floor-to-ceiling views of the woods and not be taken over by things in the house," shares Bruce.

To help establish the flowing line of vision from the entry to the facing windows, Nikki chose Pinnacle engineered hardwood floors, used in every room except the bedrooms which are carpeted in a plush neutral pile.

"'Sorel maple' is the design and it's called a 'country classic selection' because it's stressed with its divots and knots and grain showing," says Nikki of the hardwood. "But it's also dark with an Old World look that goes with my cabinetry."

One of the budget-saving devices was making harsh decisions about what would have to be sacrificed in order to get what they wanted. One example is choosing to lay the floor themselves in exchange for the top-of-the-line kitchen appliances.

"There are times I just have to pinch myself," Nikki admits, because sometimes they wonder how they did it all. "Thank goodness we went in so ignorant, because if we'd known, we may not have done it."