Among the Trees
If Peggy Karman’s home were a poem, it would be When I Am Among the Trees by Mary Oliver. Perched high atop the tree canopy and overlooking a dry creek bed below, you wouldn’t fathom that this home was just minutes from downtown. From every room, stunning views of the forest below are all the eye sees. It is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of life outside this Mockingbird Valley home, and it is where Peggy feels at peace. She and her husband Rob refer to this space as their “nest,” and it is where she reflects on Oliver’s poignant poetry: “[to]…never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.”
“I get so distracted by these views that it is hard to get anything done,” Peggy says with a laugh. “It has been a year of discovery.” On a daily basis, Peggy ponders the deer outside her colossal picture windows, she examines the light and shadows as they play among the branches. Since moving into the house last April, she has been flabbergasted by the beauty of each season, each more spectacular than the one before.
Peggy and Rob raised their three boys in a home just a few houses down the street. It is where they lived for the last 22 years, so as each boy went away to college leaving the Karmans with an empty nest, the couple began to set their sights on this magical home that spoke to them at the end of the cul-de-sac — the “nest” that would be their next chapter in life. Peggy explains that they tried to buy the house twice, and couldn’t get it out of their minds. “We would have dreams about this house, so my husband wrote a letter to the previous owners and put it in their mailbox. The next day, there was a sign up for sale. We just couldn’t let it go.”
Built in 1971, and mirroring the design elements of Frank Lloyd Wright, the home sits below the street above. You must walk down a concrete set of stairs to enter the home that rests above the ravine below. An industrial concrete retaining wall covered with luscious ivy and peppered with topiaries and tiny lights creates a private entry to their treetop paradise. The shape of the home, an open C, allows for several entries from the outside creating a seamless segue between interior and exterior living spaces. This transterior design creates a top-level patio on the inside of the home that can be accessed from the dining room, the hallway, and seen from the living room windows. On the lower-level, an outdoor living space equipped with a fireplace/BBQ, a stunning view of the property, and next year, a TV for watching Sunday football, becomes an extension of the “boys’ rooms.”
Inside, a minimalist, midwest Americana backdrop helps to accentuate the prize: the surrounding trees. Peggy’s home reflects her life, a curation of experience — roadtrips in the family’s RV, the family’s stint in Minnesota as Rob finished medical school at the Mayo Clinic, Peggy’s paintings of their travels, animal hides that reflect Rob’s childhood in Wisconsin, vintage musical instruments, and antlers galore. This is the Americana of wide-open spaces, of cow pastures and roaming buffalo, of farmhands drinking from blue tin cups and grandmothers airing summertime laundry. “I had an art teacher who said my style was like Rockwell; I’m always trying to capture American nostalgia in my paintings,” Peggy says of these scenes that line the hallway. Like her collection of Gustav Stickley chairs and hand-painted highway road signs, nothing in the home overshadows the palette of nature outside. Instead of reds, whites, and blues, this Americana palette dazzles with clean lines, blacks and whites, and the natural elements of animal, wood, and birch patterns.
The original designers of the home also had three sons, so the above-grade lower level is dedicated to continuing the tradition of their similar families. Peggy said that after the first attempt to purchase the home failed, she had a dream where she was reading to her future grandson on the tiny couch below the “treehouse stairs” that wind around the giant oak outside. One of the three bedrooms that line the long hallway downstairs celebrates the American cowboy and Roy Rogers, and all throughout, collections of rocks and trinkets from their western road trips are displayed, an ode to American adventure.
When Peggy is among the trees in her new nest, she is able to ponder her own next steps. A constant artist, Peggy enjoys painting, writing, and design. Perhaps her next adventure is to help others design their ideal space, and she is thinking of launching a design firm. With the canvas of the forest around her, she listens as the trees say in her favorite poem, “…Stay awhile. The light flows from their branches. And they call again, “It’s simple, they say,” and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.” (From When I am Among the Trees.)