Story and photos by MARIAH HENRY
Five minutes into their first tour of the house on Bluff Drive, Karen Dwyer and her husband, Buddy Hardwick, knew it was the right one for them. They moved from Louisiana in 2004 in search of a four-season year, some hills and an escape from the giant cockroaches of the south. They decided on Missouri because of its central location — Columbia specifically because Buddy wanted to live in a town with a large university.
“Colleges add so much culture and enthusiasm,” Karen says. In particular, she said, they love Ragtag Cinema, Uprise Bakery and the Root Cellar.
Finding their dream home
Although the couple loved the town immediately, it was extremely hard for them to find a house. Karen and Buddy’s sons Daniel and Colin live with them, and Colin uses a motorized wheelchair. He needs an extra room for therapy space. So they needed at least four bedrooms, ideally an entire ground floor for Colin with no stairs and easy access to the outside.
They toured more than 20 houses. Most were either too small or the ground floor (normally the basement of the ranch-style houses in the area) was too dark and gloomy. Karen and Buddy didn’t want Colin’s space to seem like a cave.
When they first found their home on Bluff Drive, the asking price was initially a deal breaker for them, but after a few more failed tours they decided to check it out. As soon as they walked around back, Karen just knew she had to have the house.
The spacious main deck and the whole back of the house have no steps, making the space perfect for Colin. Also, the entire back wall is made of windows, flooding his floor with natural light.
“We didn’t even need to build a ramp back there for him to be able to get in and out,” Karen says. “He can drive out to the deck and up the driveway, and all over, if he wants to.”
But the asking price, she says, was so high. It had been on the market for a while, so the real estate agent thought they could bargain a bit, but Karen wasn’t completely hopeful until the next morning. Buddy got up early and went out by himself for coffee. When he came back, he said: “I have been crunching numbers. I think we can do it.”
They did do it, and they don’t plan on ever moving again. “When I moved in here, I said they are going to have to carry me out,” Karen says from the comfort of her shaded front porch.
Portrait of a home
The house on Bluff Drive was built in 1977. Like many of the nontraditional houses in the Shepard neighborhood, it was designed by the architect Pon Chinn. All of his houses have modern designs that incorporate geometric shapes and lots of windows, though they still seem to fit seamlessly into the natural landscape around them. Karen and Buddy’s house is special, however, even among Pon Chinn’s designs. This is because he built it to live in himself, and he owned it until Karen and Buddy closed in 2004.
The house on Bluff Drive has many novel characteristics. The bedrooms are equipped with sliding door-style windows that are each fitted with two clean, waist-high horizontal bars on the outside to remind visitors that there are no decks out there. The kitchen, living-room and dining room areas have high vaulted ceilings with wooden rafters and bright skylights. The foyer, open from the waist up, hangs over Colin’s ground-floor living space, and climbing plants decorate a functional wrought-iron spiral staircase that connects the two levels. In fact, Karen and Buddy have decorated the whole house with plants and books. She says they have more than 1,000 books. But their favorite aspects of the property are the decks and yard.
“I love, love the back decks,” Karen says. “They are marvelous. I love the woods and the birds.”
The home sits atop a hill overlooking the now flowing creek and wetlands that used to be Moon Valley Lake, before the dam burst. The view from any one of their four back decks is as close to spectacular as views get in Columbia. The yard slopes steeply down, speckled with large rocks and small trees that create a dappling effect on the ground where the light fights its way through.
From the back, each of the decks is situated next to and above another in a way that is slightly reminiscent of an M.C. Escher tessellation. Karen explains that each deck has a purpose. The lone second-story deck (accessed from the dining area) is perfect for grilling. The deck directly below is for storage and diverting the elements away from the house’s foundation. Jutting out above the yard a bit further is Karen’s meditation and yoga deck. Behind that, spanning the entire back of the house, is the main deck. Right now it is home to a small greenhouse that Karen and Buddy just set up this year. Already it has helped her sprout lettuce, peppers and loofah plants. (Yes, they grow the glorious exfoliating sponge-things.)
There could even be a fifth deck, if you count the medium-sized platform in front of the satellite sauna building. Karen says that she doesn’t use the sauna as often as she should because of the somewhat hazardous unpaved path out to it. But she always gets a bit of use out of it when her sisters are in town visiting from Pennsylvania.
Enjoying the exterior
Karen says she prefers to spend her time gardening. In April and May she spends about 30 hours a week gardening in her own yard and in community gardens. Walking around the grounds, she points out all of the beds where barely discernible sprouts will soon be veggies and flowers.
Strawberries, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, leeks and an array of lettuces will soon be ripening to their peak in their yard. Buddy has even made a teepee and a trellis for the string beans and loofah plants to climb.
Between the two sits an upright stone fountain made of rectangles toggled together, one atop the another.
“It’s almost time to start that up again,” Buddy says, pointing at the fountain. It’s getting warm and sunny again. Karen will be moving the houseplants onto the front porch and transplanting her veggie sprouts into the flowerbeds.
In the next couple months they will begin to reap the benefits of the time and energy they spend on their home and yard all year long. Something tells me that Buddy, Karen, Colin and Daniel are going to have an especially beautiful yard this summer to compliment their dream home.