"Breaking through the ice" of traditional design is how Sara Walker describes her approach to remodeling a 1984 contemporary home perched on a rocky slope in south Ashland.
Purchased in 2004, the 2200-square-foot, three-bedroom house was ripe for a creative, eco-conscious makeover. Sara, a real estate agent who isn't afraid of unconventional solutions, embraced the challenge.
Sara Walker was moving into a new house and new phase of her life. While remodeling, she decided to take into account her own and the planet's well-being by going green wherever possible.
That meant repairing existing solar panels, adding new solar tubes for light and warmth, opting out of a hydrocarbon heater and applying non-toxic paint on every vertical surface.
"At first I insisted on paint with no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) for the health of the painter," says Walker. "Then I thought about it and decided I just like the whole idea of going green."
Choosing slate, glass and ceramic tiles for flooring, backsplashes and accents added to the green profile of Sara's home. Not only do these materials require fewer natural resources for processing, they contribute to the home's feng shui.
"Tiles made from the earth — which is energetic and healing — opposed to a fake tile is just totally different," says Ashland architect Joyce Ward. It's about getting back into the organic rather than everything being highly technological."
Sara also looked beyond typical granite for stone-like surfaces. Quartzite — a natural stone composite that's formulated into shapes — doesn't need to be sealed, further reducing toxins in her home's environment.
Opting for natural elements — and looking for local sources to cut down on transportation costs — keeps the home clean and healthy.
"What's healthy for the earth is healthy for us and better for the economy," Ward says.
"I was awed by the soaring fir ceilings and huge skylights, the views and the amazing terraced rock garden," says Sara. "My vision was to have much more light and openness, to use green materials and products, to reflect my tastes, and to be a welcoming place for guests to come and enjoy themselves."
Knowing she wanted to approach the remodel from a place of imagination and personal style, Sara hired feng shui-trained architect Joyce Ward of Ashland.
"We wanted to quiet an exciting house where there's a lot going on — lots of angles, the stairway coming up in the middle, the center fireplace," says Ward. "Feng shui says your home ought to be a very quiet place energetically where you can rest and restore."
To assure that balance and nourishing energy were plentiful in the otherwise dynamic home, Ward first suggested liberating the entry.
New steps were built and a custom door with leaded glass panels was installed. The interior entry now features plastered walls, a built-in niche ensconced by a mirrored Balinese hanging and a stunning fountain. Slate tiles cover the floors and lotus-shaped sconces provide a gentle glow.
In the circular living area, Ward removed some recessed shelves and repositioned several stepped half walls on either side of the fireplace. The fireplace grill was lowered, a gas igniter and wooden mantel were added and the same green slate that was used in the entry now surrounds the cozy space.
Mythical touches abound, from griffins and a wooden dragon on the mantel to the goddess statues flanking the fireplace.
"I wanted some Tibetan/Moroccan/Thai elements and to make this contemporary house have reminders of goddesses, yet not to overdo it," says Sara. "I also want it to be comfortable and appealing to men: a balance of yin and yang."
To lighten the goddess theme, Sara turned to 1940s Hollywood. A custom-made chaise lounge and ottoman are retro-chic, a style that continues with ornate crystal and gold-finished metal sconces and chandeliers throughout the house. She also hung dramatic close-ups of flowers, photographed by her partner, Ashland artist Patrick Boterf.
Periwinkle walls meet true purple at the ceiling, while the stovepipe and fireplace walls are shades of dusky gray-green. The floor is Santos Mahogany, a non-photosensitive hardwood that stretches through the home, warmed with Asian rugs.
A major kitchen redesign includes natural, formaldehyde-free cherry cabinetry and island, both with Cambrian natural quartz counters and glass tile backsplashes. Lavender and black cherry walls continue Sara's affair with color, as do red glass drawer pulls.
The master suite, accessed by climbing three steps off the kitchen, was softened with dusty rose walls, a rich merlot faux-painted accent wall and romantic textiles. A standard closet was removed from the entry area and the adjoining bath was popped out about four feet.
Electric radiant heat warms charcoal gray slate floors and shower in the bathroom and attached walk-in closet. The soaking tub, which overlooks the lush gardens, is hugged by gold and brown glass tiles. The whole room is boldly painted in glazed red walls with gold ceiling.
Down the hall and three more steps is Sara's media room. A custom-built cabinet hides stereo components that control the home's built-in speaker system. A 1920s plantation settee and chairs were recovered to further the homeowner's bold taste in patterns.
"Many times I said why couldn't I have bought a Craftsman and then my choice of furniture and decor would be so easy — I'd have a built-in style to follow," laments Sara with a laugh. "But buying this contemporary house propelled me to get out of my European country/Art Nouveau niche and stretch myself."
This green goddess Ashland home certainly stretches into the future of sensible design mixed with personal style.