SpiriTaos: In harmony with Mother Nature

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The entry courtyard soothes the senses with a trickling channel of water surrounded by blooming flowers in a myriad of colors. The flowing water comes from captured rainwater. There is a sense of harmony and peace here. The courtyard leads to gardens, greenhouses and a small, extremely energy-efficient and beautiful home.

This is “SpiriTaos” – the home of Dan Jones in El Prado. The home was designed according to a vision that Jones had for sustainable living. When asked how he named the house SpiriTaos, he says the idea just came to him while hiking high in the mountains. He likes that when you say it quickly, it sounds like “spirit house.” “Life in Taos is all about spirit,” he says.

Outdoor spaces

Every part of the home and garden is connected to nature. From the entry courtyard, a path leads to an expansive garden in the back of the home that features hollyhocks and other flowers along with vegetables. The acre and a half of land is covered in sustainable beauty.

In the garden, a raised antique palette creates a special place for weddings celebrated by Jones through his business, Embracing Ceremony. The spot is framed by views of Taos Mountain; appropriately, an annual blue-and-white flower called “love in the mist” grows nearby. The purple Rocky Mountain bee plant climbs high over a wall and hollyhocks bloom near the tiny hummingbird bath. A centerpiece of the garden is a raised outdoor bathtub with views to the mountains. “For eight months, I use hot water from the solar panels on the house, but in the winter, I build a fire under the tub,” says Jones. 

The path around the home leads to an outside porch and an extensive greenhouse that features tomatoes, eggplants and peppers that have been growing since April in the protected space. The plants grow all year, warmed by the radiant floors. “It is important that the heat be in the soil; the roots benefit from the warmth,” says Jones.

An attached cold frame holds cantaloupes and cucumbers that are ready to harvest. Outside, raspberry and currant bushes, along with an orchard of fruit trees, grow. A trial garden nearby allows him to try out new plants and see which ones thrive in low water conditions. 

Jones is a professional landscape designer. The driving force behind his whole approach to design is to emulate Mother Nature. “She is my inspiration,” he says. Working in harmony with  nature influences his use of wood and rock and the positioning of all elements in the garden. He tries to choose plant materials that thrive with little additional water in our dry climate and looks for long-blooming flowers that will be successful here, using perennial plants that return year after year.

Jones offers his expertise to help others design their landscape in a sustainable way through his business, Beyond Wild Flowers. At his home and with his clients, he tries to buy plants locally.

Designing with nature

The house was completed in 2012 and Jones began the landscaping that fall. In five years, the garden has flourished. Jones is a vegetarian and grows most of his own food in the garden. He uses blue corn to make his own masa for cornbread and other dishes.

This is the only house that Jones has ever built and he hopes to live out his days here. He was born and raised on a fifth-generation farm in Connecticut and spent six years at Michigan State studying landscape horticulture. He lived in Denver, Colorado, for 30 years, where he managed a garden center and ran his own nature and garden gift shop. He came to Taos to help rebuild the garden of a casita. “I was here less than a month before I fell in love with Taos and bought land,” he says.

The vision for his home was influenced by the small casita he lived in while rebuilding its garden. It was small, measuring only 650 square feet, and that inspired Jones to think about a small footprint for his house. He found designer Joaquin Karcher through a network of friends. Karcher suggested Ben van Willigen of BVW Builders as the contractor. The two had worked together in the past and remained friends. And after the SpiriTaos house construction, Jones also considers them both good friends. 

Karcher of Zero E Design says that Jones wanted to live close to nature. Karcher recognized that Jones was a gifted landscape designer and worked to incorporate Jones’ environmental knowledge and sensitivity into the project. He wanted a small, functional home with a zero carbon footprint. “This is the type of design I do,” says Karcher.

He adds, “The house was designed around the floorplan – fromthe inside out. There were no preconceived ideas for how it would look from the outside. We did pay attention to the views, the location, the prevailing winds and patterns of the sunlight. Those factors always played in the back of my mind.”

There is no wasted space in the house; every square foot was reviewed for efficiency. In addition to cutting out hallways, an effort was made to overlay spaces so that one area could serve more than one purpose. The ceilings are tall and the oversized windows make the house feel expansive. “This approach creates a house that feels much bigger than it really is,” says Karcher.

After studying highly energy-efficient design in Germany, Karcher brought his knowledge to Taos, where he refined it to address the climate and available construction materials. He says, “With these approaches, it is possible to slash heating and cooling needs by 90 percent. We don’t have to rely only on the Earthship design. We can live sustainably using regular materials in regular houses. We need to build on the environmental legacy of Taos.” 

SpiriTaos house

Inside the 980-square-foot home, the attention to energy efficiency and beauty is evident. The mud-plastered green walls are thick and 2 feet deep. The house is super insulated and heated by passive and active solar. The backup is the wood stove used for heating water that circulates in the radiant floor. The house is so airtight that he has to open a window to light the stove. “I didn’t need to light the stove last winter until the second week of January and it never got below 70 degrees in the house, just relying on the solar energy,” says Jones.

The living room is the heart of the house. In addition to a comfortable couch and chair, this is where books line the walls near Jones’ spectacular desk. It is built from a curved piece of salvaged glass and sheltered by a large piece of selenite crystal – the mother of crystals – a gift from a friend. An aspen tree that had fallen adorns the wall, along with pieces of alpine spruce bark and old barn wood, giving the room the texture of outdoors.

The living room opens to an elegant kitchen with a center raised bar area; all of the surfaces are made of dark granite. The sink, cutting board and induction cook top are aligned for maximum efficiency. Facing east, the windows frame Taos Mountain and El Salto. The metal dining chairs are adorned with cut-out leaf patterns, which cast their shadows on the floor.

“With the big windows, I am very aware of the patterns of the moon and what the sun does. I love the sense of connection with the cycles of the day and the seasons. I can watch the aspens turn in the fall and observe the garden as it fades. Part of me wants to clean it up. But I just leave it to feed the birds with the seeds. The fallen plants help hold the snow, which makes interesting shapes, shadows and patterns on the fallen stalks. Again, here I attempt to emulate Mother Nature and let it be. By March, I’m ready to get out and clean it up and begin again.

For more information on creative landscape design by Jones at Beyond Wild Flowers or inspired wedding celebrations, call 720 849 5967 or visit beyondwildflowers.com or embracingceremony.com. Contact Karcher of Zero E Design at 575 758 9741 or visit zeroEdesign.com.

 

 

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