Home & Garden

Fairfield farmhouse goes all natural with hyperlocal materials, earths energy

Off-the-grid & one-with-nature

After years spent building homes for others on the side, John Freeberg, 67, and Susan Walch, 61, decided they wanted to build a home of their own. But it wouldn’t be like any other.

In 2010, the couple — who both worked in the wind industry and came to Fairfield to practice meditation — discovered 54 acres of former farmland, now prairie meadow, ponds and woodland, for sale in Fairfield.

The land “had a lot of potential,” Freeberg said. “I didn’t want to be wooded in. I wanted to see the horizon in all directions.”

Body copy ragged right: Once the acreage was in their possession, it took at least a year for the couple to plot out where they would build their home. They wanted just the right spot, which took at least four tries, but when they did find it, the floor plan “effortlessly unfolded,” Freeberg said. In fact, “it basically designed itself,” he added.

Nestled into the meadow, with a pond out back and a view of the Cedar Creek Valley to the west, the 1,150-square-foot home blends into the landscape — likely because it’s hand built with materials from it, including whole trees from the woods, a soft earth floor and straw walls mixed with soil and clay from the land, for example. The living roof, populated by various succulents and other plants, makes the structure feel all the more natural.

The home is completely off-grid, drawing energy from 12 solar panels and water from the pond out back. Large south-facing windows flood the interior with natural light and warmth, while also offering an incredible view of the tree-lined valley, the couple’s colorful garden and grazing Zebu cattle. In the winter, warmth from the sun is supplemented with heat from pipes beneath the floor and a wood-burning fireplace in the center of the home.

When people visit the home, they feel “happy, protected and joyful,” Freeberg said. “That’s the trees smiling.”

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Body copy ragged right: Freeberg said the trees “had a very distinct role” and were active “participants” in the home’s design. For example, he specifically wanted curved ceilings, which posed a challenge when using whole trees. But when the couple went into the woods to search for curved beams, they found them, and like a giant puzzle, pieces of whole trees were fit together to form the home’s structure. Even wood used in the kitchen cabinetry and door handles, for example, were left “unfinished” with a natural edge.

Even the decor is thoughtfully planned with local touches. The headboard in the couple’s bedroom, for example, was created from a neighbor’s torn down chicken coop. Blue wine bottles are reused as bright lights on the wall, beaming light into the bedroom through a handmade telescope-like contraption in the wall. Curved slabs of cherry wood from a fallen tree across the street from their former home decorates the pantry and a fixture above the kitchen island.

While it took countless hours of labor and years of difficult decision-making — even now the home still is a work in progress — Freeberg said he wouldn’t have it any other way. If they’d tried to hire someone else to design or build the home, it wouldn’t be the same, he explained.

“People say local food tastes better, and I think it’s a similar kind of discussion with building local,” he said. “There’s a certain quality that comes forth when materials come from just down the road.”

“Frankly, we had no idea it would have this rich, powerful, comfortable, sheltering feeling,” he added. “All of those qualities come from these materials.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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