Sweet Harmony: An Off-the-Grid Home in Idaho

This home proves that natural, healthy building can be as grand as your dreams (and your pocketbook) will allow.

| September/October 2001

  • Perched atop a high, open meadow, the home faces south/southeast for maximum solar gain. Insect-proof, fireproof Hardiplank panels were individually treated with Livos light and dark stains, then randomly installed so that they look like wood.
    Photography By J.K. Lawrence
  • Koa, Andrea’s favorite wood, was used in the master bathroom. A soft fiberglass tub, of the kind often used in retirement homes, provides an inviting space for the bather and keeps water hot longer.
    Photography By J.K. Lawrence
  • Originally created as a place to watch lightning storms, this lofty space atop the house became known as the sky room. With walls painted in graduated shades of blue Bioshield pigment, it now provides family members with a retreat and is a particular favorite of children.
    Photography By J.K. Lawrence
  • Standing in one of the art studios is a pine, which Andrea calls the cactus tree; it had to be cut down to make way for the road. “We thought, what cool thing can we do with that? We just wanted to honor it because it’s such a great tree.’’ Peeled, lightly sanded, and oiled, the tree is not structural but serves as a visual anchor. A Kal-Wall skylight provides “fabulous light—so bright, yet completely diffused,’’ Andrea says.
    Photography By J.K. Lawrence
  • Andrea inherited this kitchen hutch from her grandmother and remembers what was kept in every drawer when she was young. (The gingersnaps were in the lower righthand drawer.) An antique lover, she began collecting rolling pins when she discovered one with a patina that stops dough from sticking to it. “It’s the stories that I love—whose birthday celebration pie was made using this?’’ she says. The kitchen walls are hand-rubbed in mango and cantaloupe shades. “To me, these are kitchen colors—warm and earthy, very alive,’’ Andrea says.
    Photography By J.K. Lawrence
  • The moon marches through its phases, from new to full, in these wood insets laid into the stairs from the main level to the second floor. Occasionally, balustrades carved into spritely figures make an appearance. “Wood is such a living thing,’’ Andrea says. “I wanted the wood nymph spirits to show themselves once in a while.’’
    Photography By J.K. Lawrence
  • Andrea Lyman-Pinchera, Muir Lyman, Jarré Lyman, and Michael Pinchera enjoy the ­serenity of their home and land.
    Photography By J.K. Lawrence

It’s big, and it’s expensive. And while not everyone has the means (or even the desire) to spend five years and a bundle building a 6,500-square-foot home, this self-sufficient family sanctuary in Sagle, Idaho, proves that size and money don’t have to eclipse conscience and soul.

When musician and artist Andrea Lyman-Pinchera and her late husband, wilderness artist Stephen Lyman, set out to build their dream home on 104 pristine acres in 1988, green building was far from mainstream. “Because we were both very active environmentally, we really wanted to create a house that was gentle on the land, environmentally and socially responsible,’’ Andrea says. “It was early in the green movement—and what we found initially was discouraging. It was a challenge just to locate alternative building materials, and they were almost always very expensive. But we were really able to spend a lot of our money on the house, so we made a commitment to use it for our health and the earth’s health, even though we knew it would be a relatively pioneering effort.’’

Unable to find an architect familiar with green building techniques, Andrea and Stephen did much of the design and materials specification themselves. They called in a local architect to help them pull together the home’s various pieces: two art studios, five bedrooms, four and a half baths, two root cellars (wet and dry), a garden room, a mechanical and battery room, and a sky room for watching lightning storms. “We tried to keep down the size, but the house just kept getting bigger, taking on a life of its own,’’ Andrea says.

They built a foam-core model of the home and carried it to the top of a wide meadow at different times of day throughout the seasons. They turned it to catch the light, found the spot where sun would spill into the kitchen and where the front windows would capture the strong southern rays. They asked the land to guide them in siting the house, the pond, the gardens, and the road leading to them. “We’ve always felt that our house and the land it sits on is far more than where we live—it’s something we have a relationship with,’’ Andrea explains. “Everybody who comes out here has found these qualities of healing—more than physical beauty, it’s a deep beauty, a manifestation of what’s going on energetically.’’

A Learning Experience

Before it was even complete, the home demanded a name. Anavo, the Celtic word for harmony, stood out as the embodiment of the goals Andrea and Stephen sought to achieve. “In a word, it’s how we want everything to be here—not only for ourselves, but also so we can share with other people and prove it can be done.’’

While the builder they hired in May 1992 was open to the idea of green building, he had no experience in it. “Oh, those Lymans’’ was often a refrain among the crew who spent five years on a job that required custom fitting jams for salvaged doors, installing Hardiplank siding, crafting cabinetry out of antique heart pine. “By and large, most of the workers on this house were very interested in and willing to work with all of the alternative things,’’ Andrea reports. “And early on, when builders started to say ‘it can’t be done,’ I said, ‘Don’t ever, ever tell me it can’t be done.’ I feel like if I can think it up, it can be done.

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