A Good Home: A California Couple Find Their Dream Home

A couple of California retirees lift bales and mix up plaster for a home so warm and nurturing that they rarely want to leave.

| March/April 2003


A large bank of windows washes the dining room in sunlight during winter and fall afternoons. At night, carefully placed lights create a soft glow on the clay walls. The room is furnished with an old Spanish-style dining set and curio cabinet, which is set into a recess in a lime-washed wall. The recess’s interior was washed with lime colored with Venetian red and French yellow natural mineral ochres.

Susan and Saul Frommer have a long and admirable track record as environmentalists. Susan established one of the first native plant nurseries in southern California and is a well-known designer of native and xeriscaped gardens. Saul was curator of one of the finest entomology collections in the world, at the University of California at Riverside.

Upon their semi-retirement, the Frommers undertook the creation of their dream home in the chaparral and oak woodland hills of Murrieta, California, just a stone’s throw from the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve and the Cleveland National Forest. Naturally, the couple wanted a house that would be both attractive and environmentally sound. 

A home for the house 

“We chose this property mainly for practical reasons,” says Susan. “We wanted a place that was out of the valley so it would be cooler. We wanted a place where we could be surrounded by people who cared about the way things look, who wouldn’t trash the environment, and someplace with lots of nice, existing, natural vegetation. But it also needed to be within a reasonable distance of the university.” Treading lightly on the environment was an extremely important consideration. “For one thing,” says Susan, “it just makes economic sense. If you have mature growth that is suitable for a domestic landscape, to clear it out and replant is just stupid. The plants that are here grow naturally, so I don’t have to pamper them. They can be pruned up and make lovely landscape specimens, and they provide food and shelter for the wildlife. The whole reason we’re up here is for the natural beauty, so why scrape it all away?”

The original owner of Susan and Saul’s land had already cleared an area for a house that was never built, so the couple simply had to enlarge it slightly for their own home. “I was on site when this work was being done, and I threatened them with death if they strayed even a bit too far,” Susan laughs, recounting her admonitions: “Don’t touch that oak! Don’t bury those rocks! Here, let me dig up that plant before you go there.” Even more clearing was required after construction was complete to meet local fire codes. This was done by hand so that the soil would not be disturbed, which would have made room for non-native, invasive weeds. 

Good bones 

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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