Kiva Style: Former Tipi Residents Build a Rammed-Earth Home

Working with earth, wood, glass and crystals, Tom and Flame Lutes have created a truly sacred space in the Colorado high country.

| January/February 2001

When Tom and Flame Lutes moved into a tipi on the 160 acres near Bayfield, Colorado, that they had just purchased with twelve friends, they had no idea that they would stay in the tipi for more than four years or that it would prove inspirational as they designed their dream home. But they found that the direct connection with nature and the way sound, light, and heat moved through the tipi space were pleasures they weren't willing to give up when they moved to a permanent abode.

"The tipi as a structure was an interesting thing to pursue,'' Tom says. "It's a cone. The energy in that kind of structure is so different from a square or a rectangle, where the energy is constantly getting trapped in the corners. If you think of energy as heat, sound, or vibration, it all moves much better in a circle, all the way from playing the stereo system to circulating heat.''

During the four-and-a-half years that the couple lived under canvas, they reveled in feeling the movement and sounds of the wind, of rain changing to sleet or sleet to snow. They knew, to the hour, when the migratory birds had returned to their piece of the mountain. "And I thought,'' Tom says, "so now I'm going to spend a lot of money, go into debt, and work my butt off for many years to live behind thick walls and be removed from nature?''

But Tom and Flame needed permanence, a sense that they were truly planted in the community they had set about creating with their longtime friends. So they took cues from their tipi and designed a round living space with vast expanses of glass that let sunshine pour in and open up to 180-degree mountain views. Bancos, sculptured adobe benches, rim the perimeter of the open room, and a radiant-heat fireplace anchors the southeast corner.

From this space, Tom and Flame can watch as an ominous hank of steel-gray clouds arrives to spit flurries of snow at their ridge. They can linger with the Colorado sun on a long June day. They can bask in the awakening orange sunrise or the low golden sunset. "We have an outside experience while we're inside,'' Tom says. "I don't have that experience of being removed from nature.''

Earth and wood 

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