Sustainable Design Meets Art | Claudia Reese | Central Texas Gardener


– On a rocky hilltop, artist Claudia Reese
punctuated her compressed earth house and rainwater collection with signature mosaic
designs and sculptures. On a rocky hilltop in west Austin, artist
Claudia Reese sculpted a home and garden tied into the land with the intricacy she brings
to her mosaics, tiles, and sculptures. Inspired by Pliny Fisk of the Center for Maximum
Potential Building Systems, she designed resourceful living, from rainwater collection to a compressed
earth house. It all started in 1987 with her studio Cera-Mix. – It happened organically and it happened
as I had funds, and so the first thing we built was a studio. I had a great architect who lived in Boston
who had been a good friend of mine forever and she designed the studio and then she designed
the second building which is now the kitchen. – [Narrator] Claudia’s renowned for public
art installations, custom made residential tile designs, sculpture, and dinnerware. – It really enhances peoples’ lives to have
beautiful dinnerware, a beautiful cup to put in their hands. We moved in the studio in 1992 and built this
house in 2008. I wanted it to be as sustainable as possible. We decided to use a version of rammed earth,
compressed earth blocks and the earth block is like 14 inches by 11 inches by 3.5 inches. Outside is covered with something called lime
plaster. It has to breathe, the walls have to breathe. Moisture has to go in and it has to go out
and so what happens is the house stays at a pretty even temperature a lot of the year. I also have enough solar panels, to- if I’m
not running my kilns- they will take care of all my electric needs. I put in wind turbines and that was one thing
that didn’t work. I don’t have enough wind here. But they’re friendly things, and they twirl
around and they put shadows everywhere as the blades go around. – [Narrator] She built rain water collection
into the infrastructure, underground pumps and 22,000 gallons of runoff into three cisterns. – [Claudia] I could put a little garden there,
and I could put a little garden over here. That is going to take water. And it doesn’t do any good to plant anything
unless you’ve got a water system figured out. – [Narrator] The collection tubes prompted
her to combine mosaic with her first love, sculpture. – [Claudia] And The roof feeds into these
two caryatids that I have out here and I’ve always loved the Grecian caryatids of women
holding up the roof. There’s a structure inside them holding them
and they were built around the structure. And the water goes into the birds and dow
through a column inside the sculpture and into the pump tank. – [Narrator] Her first collection system drains
into a repurposed metal disk atop a mosaic-wrapped tube. It funnels roof runoff into fourteen linked
55 gallon drums buried into her sculpture garden. Then she focused on exterior decorating: both
broad views and intimate details. – [Claudia] I would do one thing and then
it would kind of demand that something else get done, and so when we built the house,
being made out of clay, basically, it’s a big pot. It just called for a decoration, and when
I was starting to build the house, I wanted to use my tile and my architectural elements
like the chimney pots. – [Narrator] Another bit of architecture encloses
an outdoor shower. – [Claudia] And of course, I had to tile it. It gives me another surface. So any surface I can find to tile, it would
make sense to do and it made your experience of being in that space more pleasurable and
joyful, then that’s what I wanted to do. I just call that the flower porch, because
there’s– on the back wall, underneath that archway, there are big flowers. When we were building it, they just said okay,
well you want to put tiles here, yeah? And then they would put lime plaster around
it, and so that it looks like it’s integral with the wall. – [Narrator] Her love of sculpting took her
to China to learn more about their technique for large sculptures. One warrior couldn’t resist moving to Austin. She kicks around ideas on her daily laps. One was a sun deck, furnished with a deep
lounging bench complete with tiled drink platforms. A round mosaic table offsets rectangular lines. After I got that done, we were sitting there
and we we’re looking down the length of the pool all the time, and I’m going, gee, I need
some punctuation at the end of the pool. I need something to finish it. And I wanted it to be on the same level as
the pool, but the terrain goes up there, and I didn’t want to dig into the terrain. I had beautiful oaks back there and I didn’t
want to hurt the oaks so we had to go up. I made it as small as possible to still be
useful, but it’s not going to ever have a roof on it. It’s just a drawing in space. We put four columns ’cause I wanna do- I love
column, and they’re partially tiled right now. They’re gonna be tiled all the way up. But I’ve made capitals, I’ve made three capitals
so far. There’s two up. One is artichoke agave, one is palm leaves
that are sprawled like that but they are flopping over. And then the third one is Nopalitos, the little
cactus. The fourth one is going to be water lilies
because I’ve got ponds here with water lilies in them. It’s just a beautiful thing to have a wall,
and it’s got a big shelf on it where I can put sculptures of my birds up later. I just love the color turquoise. It can be so beautiful. It has such depth to it depending on how you
apply the glaze and how much glaze you put on it and now much copper carbonate is in
the glaze and how much cobalt. – [Narrator] She values the emotional chemistry
of plants, too, as long as they get along. – [Claudia] It’s more like I’ll plant something,
if it survives, great, I’ll plant more of that. If it doesn’t survive, I’ll look for something
else. – [Narrator] Near the living areas, she cultivates
for amiable presentation. – [Claudia] I wanted to have wild areas and
then a few kind of cultivated, but I’m kind of a messy cultivator. The idea was to leave it as natural as possible
as wild as possible– – [Narrator] She cultivated a natural look
in the cove beyond the kitchen. In fact, many of the plants seeded the rock
ledge design themselves. – [Claudia] There were a lot of rocks just
sitting around here because of all the construction. So I found this really great guy, this guy
who is only 16 and he made that whole wall for me. And it was one of his first jobs and he put
his heart into this thing. – [Narrator] The levels make perfect pedestals
for Claudia’s own sculptures. – [Claudia] Some of those sculptures are 25
years old. – [Narrator] Others tell their stories along
the porches wrapping the kitchen and studio. Sculptures greet visitors in the front island
bed that directs cars around to parking. – [Claudia] We put a little wall around it
to start to define where the cars should go. And then I called the fire department and
had them come up here, and say, can your truck get up here? He said well we can’t turn around. So I made– there’s like a half circle out
there that I planted thunder mix near the buffalo grass and the blue grama in there
and it’s flat enough. And the fire department says yeah, we can
back over this if we have too. I also keep trimming the trees in the driveway,
so– ’cause their trucks, they’re big. So you have to have access if you don’t want
your house to burn down. – [Narrator] They advised her about trees
near the house, too. For safety, many ashe junipers, called cedars,
were cut down and turned into furniture. – A lot of the cedars that are still here,
we’ve trimmed them up so that the needles are high and the trunk is exposed, and they
said that they are much better fire-wise that way. I tried to make a 30 foot space between where
a juniper or a cedar is and the house. Now I know I’ve got one out here, and it will
be replaced as soon as I get around to it. – [Narrator] Living companionably with the
land is an art of its own. – [Claudia] I really think architecture and
the environment you live in- that defines your life in a certain way. And if it’s not beautiful, then your experience
isn’t beautiful and you’re not feeling those really happy, wonderful thoughts all the time,
and so your life isn’t as good. I just try to make everything so beautiful
that you have a happy life, and anybody who comes here is happy. That’s why I call this place Casa Alegre. That’s the name of this house, Casa Alegre.

Comments

  1. Gorgeous house!! Every surface is a treasure!! Love that she combined sustainable design with her own artwork, mosaic, water conservation and flowers and plants!! Amazing!!

  2. Man! I love your home and you are so sweet and talented. I thank you for for sharing with us all. Just beautiful.

  3. Awesome ! Beautiful ! An oasis to keep the mind moving into other ideas and challenges! Extraordinarily brilliant !!!!! πŸ‘β€οΈπŸ¦‹πŸŒˆπŸ‘΅πŸ»πŸΆπŸ˜ΊπŸ’πŸ––πŸ‘½I live in Arizona and I am giving native plants to our area a place of refuge , a place to grow and flourish ! Including those wee dinosaurs known as Lizards 🦎 Blessing to all ,And May your days be happy and full of joy !

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