Saturday, May 20, 2017

Our last days living in Niwot …

Not in our house! So the expression goes; often times, within the context of one sporting event or another as the home team is about to enter the field of play! It’s a cry to colleagues not to let the other side intimidate or indeed embarrass the home team in front of their fans! But it’s also a reminder that it is our home that we hold most dear to our hearts – a place of refuge and cheer. A place where we are at ease! A place we can retreat to whenever the weather worsens or the worries of the day look are overwhelming us.

The house was built on an acre plus of land purchased towards the end of 1998. Margo and I were to marry in January, 1999, and we had separate homes at the time, with Margo living in a townhouse in Saratoga, California, while I had a cottage up in the foothills of Boulder, Colorado. Both homes were ideal for us each as they were close to where we were working at the time and yet, simply moving into existing premises didn’t seem to be what we should do. As a couple in the process of being married, we wanted our own house. A house that in time we could turn into our home!

Squeezed in between the days Margo spent planning the wedding, we worked with an architect and came up with a design we really liked and, shortly after we were married, they broke ground and construction began. Margo had kept her corsage from the wedding and following the drilling of numerous caissons, that wedding corsage found its way to the bottom of the easternmost caisson. And so the emotional connection between Margo and me and the house that would be built began to develop. 

The size and scale of the house didn’t really strike home until we saw the foundations after they had been poured. According to our architect, Steve, they looked like they were “Etruscan Ruins” or so he thought and that image stayed with us throughout the building process and ended up influencing many of the design decisions we were to make. No one had ever told us that moderation is a good thing but rather, we went for elegance and classical lines to the point whenever Steve roughed out a sketch of what something might look like, Margo always responded with “make sure you classify it!” Eventually, Steve caught on to what Margo really meant.

There were two major influences too on how we went about designing the house. The first influence of decisions we took had to do with when this all took place. A quick look at the calendar will tell you that between 1998 and early 2000 we all experienced the tech boom – what we all referred to as the boom. Having sold both of our houses and in the process of participating in the sale of the company we both worked for, we found ourselves in a position where we had cash to invest. And invest we did until early 2000 when Margo suggested, prior to a lengthy business trip to Europe, we should convert all of our stock into cash. Timing is often everything and while we were attending a conference in Vienna, the market completely tanked while we had move to an all-cash position at the time. The second influence was that after we were married we took every opportunity we had to spend time in the south of France and nearby northern Italy spending most of our time in Provence and Tuscany.
We loved the homes of Tuscany but we weren’t big fans of the small windows most Tuscany homes seemed to have. On the other hand, the homes of Provence, all featured beautiful windows that towered over the rooms that they graced. These homes too featured great rooms and more often than not, deployed massive three window sets that gave their owners a view across their backyards that just as often featured pools. Anyone who has visited the Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild (open to the public) in St Jean Cap Ferret, Provence, will see some of the elements we eventually incorporated into the house.

This really was a first for Margo and me as we had never participated in a project to build a house. Yes, we were new to the whole process and while we had friends and colleagues that had built houses in the past, we really wanted to put our own stamp on the house we envisioned emerging from the blueprints. Once the foundations had been poured and the framing started, we were struck by the magnitude of what we had initiated. And yes, intimidated – what were we thinking? Our neighbors homes were of the same size but as we had excavated under the four car garage (to house our offices), there was more than one neighbor left scratching their heads. What was this house going to look like? Certainly didn’t look very much like what the locals expected to see as  typical example of Colorado architecture!

One decision made early that was a key part of pursuing classical architectural lines was to ensure that the great room became a piece of art. Dramatic in its execution even as it projected a level of elegance we wanted to create. The centerpiece soon became the tear-drop, three-story staircase that ascended to the second floor even as it descended to the lower. The wrought iron handrail capped in mahogany had to provide a delicate, lace-like, accent that hid very little of the great room – it had to be a part of the great room but essentially be transparent.

In other words, it had to be over-the-top beautiful. And we succeeded even if it took months to execute and was among the last details to be completed in the house. Oh yes, when we finally priced the completed structure we could have bought a condo in downtown Palo Alto. It turned out that the staircase was just the beginning.  No chance of backing down – the theme of the home was becoming evident and drove all of the remaining decisions.

Perhaps the first place guests walk into as they leave the great room is the kitchen. At a time when so many protagonists were lobbying for completely open floor plans, the scale of our home leant itself to having some boundaries. This certainly was the case with the kitchen that became the heart of the home and being the size of my first condo could afford to have walls. Entering though through double doors that were frequently left wide open, the centerpiece was a 72” Viking Professional range. In blue, mind you, and trimmed in quality brass – the blue and yellow one could expect to see in any French kitchen. 

The original plan called for a large island, naturally enough. But as we set about embellishing the kitchen further the island became a “continent” even as a secondary island was added. This secondary island became a bar and on nearly every occasion when we entertained, guests would station themselves at the bar to watch as Margo and I continued with the preparation and cooking of the meal. Yes, both Margo and I liked to cook and there was more than enough room to accommodate us both. Apart from the ranges pair of gas ovens we added another two electric wall ovens and for major events, we had them all fired up and fully operational.

The main floor as well as the floor above continued the theme of elegance and what Margo often referred to as “the whiteness of being!” Yes, for the most part the walls were painted galley white and became the perfect backdrop to the paintings we hung around the rooms. Where the great room and kitchen projected a contrast in colors even as they continued with the same theme, we went to great pains to ensure light flowed in everywhere – one afternoon during construction we noticed that the center of the kitchen wasn’t well illuminated so, we added a substantial skylight / light well that opened above the kitchen, two stories up! 

In our house there would always be a wine cooler nearby, a wet bar adjacent to where guests might congregate and a minibar or two in the bedroom suites. For the most part these housed bottled water and sports drinks, but when requested there would be a bottle of wine or two present as well. As we worked through the details with the architect it became almost standard practice for all the bedrooms – en-suite bathrooms, a bar and storage area, and yes, somewhere to sit and relax.

At the time, we were anticipating looking after two sets of parents – one set coming up from Sydney each year, the other, Margo’s Mom, possibly staying for extended periods of time. While my Mon and Dad did frequent the house and became known to many of our business colleagues, Margo’s Mom took one look at the finished house and dismissed it immediately as being way too far from any bus line – she did not drive, macular degeneration preventing her from this activity. But perhaps more importantly, “Richard doesn’t even dream in Polish!” 

When it came to the master bedroom suite, a return to elegance dominated the conversations with the architect. Yes, there would be a television that would rise from the foot of the bed. There would be more than one seating area. And yes, there would be a wet bar and a fireplace. There would be electronics to manage it all modeled, as it turned out, on suites we had stayed at in hotels in Singapore. Deep into the project the master bedroom become one of only two places where we contracted with an interior decorator and she understood all too well our intentions and it became our home within a home.  

If the style of the house combined both elements from Provence and Tuscany, the lower level of the home was all Italy. Having excavated under the garages, we had a hundred feet of space to work with so we turned it into an Italian village. We broke perfectly good slate and embedded it into the walls over which we troweled mortar. We then hired an artist who treated the entire wall with acids and other fluids to age it all. And then we had the same artist paint vines rich with grapes over the tops of the wall. Entrance to the wine cellar was through a set of custom, squeaky iron gates that lent the scene with just the right amount of atmosphere.

On the other hand, all the artwork was of Australia. Whether it was scenes from the Australian outback, promotional posters for late 1970s and early 1980s Americas Cup sailing events, or paintings of Sydney harbor, the lower level of the house may have been Italian but it was Sydney Italian which didn’t surprise any of my family and friends from Sydney. After all, Sydney had become the destination for many immigrants from Italy in the 1950s. Margo perhaps summed it up best when she christened the area as “the bar down under!” Across from the bar we had built the only indoor / outdoor BBQ our architect had ever constructed. While we had an outdoor kitchen next to the pool, many months are spent inside during Colorado’s winter so we wanted to have a place where we continued to grill and it worked out really well.

As for the other room where our interior decorator leant a hand, it was the theater in the home. Far removed from a home theater, it really became the place to retreat to whenever an escape was in order. Housed in a separate concrete pour as part of the original foundations, it was a perfect 24’ x 18’ room designed for no other purpose than to serve as a theatre. In time, movies gave way to concerts and theater and many evenings ended quietly watching the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac or even Talking Heads depending on the tastes of those present. 

The house we built was a first for us but once we moved in, there were several other firsts that took place. No other house in North America entertained both the volunteer boards of HPE and IBM as both ITUG and SHARE board members celebrated one occasion or another. Another first? At a time when Insession Technologies and comForte were competing in the HPE NonStop marketplace with terminal emulation, there were functions for both Insession and comForte held and as it turned out, separated by just a few years didn’t mean that there weren’t some familiar faces attending both.

Unfortunately, this week marked another first that regrettably is also an end. The moving company arrived and in just a day, packed up many of our possessions into a moving van and departed early in the evening. The house we built and turned into our home, where so much was celebrated over nearly two decades, is no longer ours. The house has been sold. Shortly we will be following our possessions as we pack ourselves into our RV and await the completion of our next house. Will we be able to turn our new house into a home? Will we still enjoy as many features as we have in the house we are leaving? Here’s the rub and, in a significant way, the answer – houses are just houses until you do make them into a home and Margo and I have no regrets whatsoever about the home we created all those years ago.

These past few weeks as the reality has set in that we are finally leaving and that this will no longer be our home, we have both been overtaken with a 
sense of melancholy. Watching a team of lads from the moving company close the doors at the back of that truck and drive away was very hard to watch. And yet, Margo and I have never truly been about things or objects as much as we have been about people and relationships. Turning that page as it were and starting afresh is now something we are really looking forward to seeing unfold.     

As many of our friends remind us we are simply embarking on yet another chapter in our lives. The home we are leaving marked the beginning of our journey together and the new home will simply be a continuation of that journey as we begin to slow down. We have grandchildren. We have an RV. And yes, we have a track car – did I say, slow down? When we socialized these words with our friends all we heard was laughter. The good kind of laughter so no, perhaps it is not a complete slow down and yet, with this new chapter, much of what has always brought us joy will continue. A home, a good bottle of wine, a couple of nice cars and, most important of all, some really good friends! But no, no longer will any of this be in this house!


Anonymous said...

I remember so well your pride in the care you placed on the tiniest detail of this magical, whimsical, beautiful home you created. Go well, I know you will... and we'll catch up - maybe Christmas this year?

Kim Brebach said...

Looks better than most Beverly Hills mansions, Richard.
And grander.

Richard said...

Thank you Kim and Patty - I know you never saw the place, Kim but as Patty notes, there wasn't a single detail overlooked. As we now drive around the country in our RV we have passed the entrance to the estate more than once but have been somewhat reluctant to revisit. It's behind us. It was a work of art that we will never be able to reproduce. But in the end, it was for the times and somehow, Boulder was never ready for Beverly Hills!