This article was in Maclean’s Magazine (courtesy of Peter Kulich) and tells the incredible tale of the van Hoogevests, who first lived in Vancouver in the 1960s. The duo dreamed of a home where they could grow their own food and nurture their creative spirits. They first laid eyes on their future castle grounds, located in Christina Lake, B.C., through an ad in the Vancouver Sun. They paid the site a visit in the wintertime, tromping through five feet of snow, before putting in an offer. Immediately, they looked at one another and said, “We’re home.” The quotes are from the author of the article, Isabel Slone.
The home slowly took shape—in the form of a castle. They didn’t plan it out. “It just came out of us,” says Dawn. Carl Jung, whose theory of the collective unconscious Harmen cites as an explanation for their impulse, was an influence.
When Harmen was growing up in Holland, he worked alongside his father, a master builder, who taught him his plastering techniques. To build the castle, the couple hand-mixed concrete in a wheelbarrow, layering it over wire mesh, insulation and paper barriers to create walls that are 18 inches thick in some places. The ultimate goal was longevity. “It can’t burn, it can’t rot and it can’t be eaten by insects,” says Harmen. “This is a house you could pass on to your great-great-great-grandchildren.”
The main portion of the three-bedroom house is a gothic arch, which encompasses the kitchen and living room. The result is a warm living space that might just be the ultimate cottage core fantasy come to life. In some places, the ceilings are 22 feet high to create a feeling of spaciousness; in the kitchen, they top out at eight feet.
The entire house is heated by a wood-burning fireplace, but the couple recently installed a heat pump to provide extra heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. A 30,000-gallon underground cistern pipes water into the house from a nearby creek.
Plastering the 18-inch cordwood with paper, wire, and a specially formulated plaster. [The plaster recipe was developed in Holland and is unknown to this writer.]
“Adjacent to the main building is a “meditation pod”; a small dome built from concrete; a pool filled with lily pads (and a colony of turtles); and a studio where Dawn makes stained glass and sculptures, as well as a 1,450-square-foot workshop where Harmen practices cello and builds furniture. There’s also a greenhouse, fruit trees, and plenty of garden space to grow vegetables.”
“The van Hoogevests feel bittersweet about selling the castle, but neither have any regrets about the ending—a happy one. “This has been a wonderful life and I would do it all over again if I had to,” Harmen says. Plus, he adds, “It’s a really fun place to live.”
T hey purchased the 22-acre plot in 1971 for $7,000. Now 82 and 74 respectively, the couple are looking to downsize: they’ve listed their enchanted castle for $1.65 million, ready to pass along their custom-built kingdom to another equally imaginative owner.
Should you wish to learn how to build a cordwood cottage, cabin, or home, please visit www.cordwoodconstruction.org While you are there, click on the pictures, read the brief articles, check out the latest workshops and newsletter, and if you are interested click on the book cover to see all the cordwood literature available in print and ebook format.
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Readers have requested a brief bio, so here goes:
“Richard & Becky Flatau built their mortgage-free cordwood home in 1979 in Merrill, Wisconsin. Since then, they have written books, conducted workshops, facilitated the 2005, 2011 and 2015 Cordwood Conferences and provided consultation for cordwood builders. Cordwood Construction: Best Practices DVD, Cordwood Construction Best Practices (print) and Cordwood Conference Papers 2015 are the newest publications available from their online cordwood bookstore.” www.cordwoodconstruction.org