Most homeowners want dwellings that reflect their personalities.
Ashland builder Clay Colley went deeper, summoning his spiritual side, translating it into functional, yet fanciful, form and rendering it in eclectic materials for all to see.
"It was a passion," says Colley, who spent more than four years building his "Spirit House" on Pompadour Drive across Interstate 5 from Ashland.
The design and decor combine elements seen in several Asian traditions — Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Tibetan, Thai — viewed through Colley's lens of Buddhist faith and validated by the desire to distance himself from a fondness for Victorian embellishments.
"I wanted this to be as Zen as I could," says the 60-year-old, who has practiced Buddhism for 20 years. He completed the "Spirit House" in 2005 before finally taking his first pilgrimage for several months to Asia.
"It's so different than what I really perceived," he says of Asian architecture, even the continent's new structures. Some people, he adds, say his house reminds them of the Pacific Northwest's tribal icons, such as totem poles.
Recognized by its flared roofline reminiscent of pagodas, the 4,700-square-foot house sits on nearly seven acres of pastureland dotted with native oaks. Separating the Spirit House's entrance from the landscape is a wooden, Japanese-style "torii," or gate, framing an arched, red bridge that traverses a dry, man-made creekbed of river cobbles and evergreen shrubs. Two cast-bronze "fu dogs," a mythical marriage of dragons and dogs, guard either side of the reclaimed, redwood door.
The door opens to a low, timbered-ceiling hall with cork flooring underfoot. After passing through a round portal into the living area, one sees the circular entry echoed in a second-story window that frames Mount Ashland, its peak repeated in the ceiling's vault.
"The mountain is reflected about five times here in the design," says Colley.
"I always wanted to have a moon gate," he says of the entryway. "I love the proportion of it."
Although the "Spirit House" has a large footprint, there are plenty of details that draw the eye. The moon gate is ringed in slate, as are other doorways that also recall Japanese gates, wider at the base and narrower at the top.
The bathroom is surfaced in so much rock that it's practically a cavern. The slate-tiled shower, with its slanted ceiling, suggests a grotto. Similarly outfitted, a bathroom niche for a Buddhist alter occupies a void under the stairwell that most people would have turned into a linen closet, says Colley.
"There are art niches all over the house."
Many accommodate Buddha statues, from laughing to meditative. Colley says he doesn't know their exact number, but one guest counted 60 around the house, including a cross-legged sage over the refrigerator.
"I always knew that he would be sitting there," says Colley.
The kitchen blends industrial and organic aesthetics with custom cabinets of wooden slats trimmed in black Formica. Black granite tiles the countertops, bullnosed with smaller, iridescent tiles. Stainless-steel appliances and fixtures include a Jenn-Air range and two sinks crowned with black faucets.
Colley takes an unconventional approach to finishes, tearing up paper grocery bags and plastering them on a bedroom wall, wrapping dining-room columns in papier mache instead of wood veneer and cutting a mirror frame from fiberboard, then covering it in metallic-gold and black paper. Before becoming a builder 35 years ago, Colley hung wallpaper commercially. He also hangs artwork throughout the house in frames of bamboo cut from the property.
"It's kind of a compulsion," says Colley. "I enjoy decorating."
The penchant fit perfectly with his first love: Victorian architecture. He transplanted the preference from his hometown of Oklahoma City to Brookings, where he lived for 14 years, raised a family and built his first house entirely with reclaimed materials assembled around windows from a stately dwelling in Eureka, Calif.
"Everything I owned was Victorian."
It's a past Colley hasn't completely left behind, as he's moved an antique, stained-glass window between his last four homes. The "Spirit House" is its final resting place, where it separates the master bath's walk-in, tiled showed from the bedroom. And the redwood front door, with its hand-carved, fan pattern, is from one of San Francisco's grand Victorian dames.
Paying homage to the Pacific Northwest, most interior woodwork is clear Douglas fir, some certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, says Colley. Living-room paneling is cedar that Colley reclaimed from a house in Ashland and sanded to remove white paint. Perhaps incongruously, the fireplace mantel is a gray, weathered fence post Colley found on the property; woodpeckers had inlaid it with acorns.
Setting out "to create something that was a little bit different," Colley focused more on tangible features than energy efficiency. But he dug a geothermal loop on the property that provides heat, namely to the radiant system in all the floors, even the master-bath shower and benches around the fireplace. Designed to passively capture solar energy, the house otherwise runs on electricity.
The "Spirit House" makes about a dozen homes Colley has constructed in Ashland. After taking about two years off, he started building again over the summer. For more information, email email@example.com or call 541-621-0038.