Have you ever noticed how life takes you on a wild ride even when you’re certain you’re on the right path? It can almost feel like being tested to see if you’re really serious. And even though there are challenges along the way, there are also moments of pure elation and a depth of inspiration that floods your entire being, reinforcing the notion that you are, in fact, exactly where you’re meant to be.
This describes the period of life shortly after I graduated college.
In the second post of Pippin’s Inspired Life series, I share some of my more challenging life experiences that caused a drastic shift in perspective and inspired me to design more specific to the land and the people.
The Obvious Path
Having followed the path laid out before me by my Sizzler Steakhouse Angels mentioned in the previous blog I was very successful in finding employment before I even graduated, just as they told me would happen.
My very first job was a co-op working for Custom Home Designs of Raleigh. This small company only designed speculative houses (predesigned homes made for mass production also known as spec homes).
While finishing school and working my co-op job I also did some basic drafting work on the side for a landscape architect named Lamarr Bunn. He had designed the Master Plan for the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro which, at 2,000 acres total and over 500 acres developed is one of the world’s largest zoos.
He taught me how to do site plans and landscape mapping. Working with him opened my eyes to the importance of connecting with the land, preserving the natural ecology, and designing structures that harmoniously work with the natural surroundings.
Once I graduated, I transitioned to working full time for Roebuck Homes in Raleigh. They also only built spec homes which was fun for a little while till it began to get very repetitious.
These types of homes were commonly referred to as ‘Five, Four, and a Door’. They each had 5 windows on the top floor, 4 windows on the bottom floor, and a door in the middle. These were traditional Williamsburg style homes, which was a very popular style at the time, and I tried every creative way I could to design interesting floor plans around this basic architectural exterior pattern.
Ironically, just as I was feeling the need to expand, we were presented with a challenge that sparked inspiration and shifted my entire career.
Mother Nature Beckons for Help
One of our homes was planned to be built on a large lot with big beautiful old-growth trees. I took one look at the property and just knew I needed to save those wonderful trees.
In those days, and unfortunately still, it’s common practice to clear the entire development of all vegetation and then replant trees after the homes have been built. The results are always a desert wasteland for an extended period of time with tiny trees that provide no shade or character. I thought “there has GOT to be a better way”.
Roebuck gave me permission to work with a surveying firm to learn how to better design the homes to fit in with the existing trees on the development. I learned how to read the land and see the possibilities for working harmoniously with the planet. The designs that result from this practice are always far more beautiful than the designs predicated on force and dominating the natural environment.
My partnership with the survey firm blossomed. I was offered a part time position that I accepted in addition to my full-time position with Roebuck Homes. These two positions were beautifully mutually beneficial. I brought additional projects to the survey firm that in turn helped Roebuck design more benevolently with the land. It was a win-win!
I had tapped into a valuable resource and a love for this new highly creative and collaborative endeavor with Mother Nature. However, just as I started growing my wings something unforeseen happened that put a stop to all my work and nearly put a stop to my life.
Saved by Angels Again
In February of 1986, while on my way to work an oncoming car crossed over into my lane around a bend in the road. I veered sharply to the right shoulder to avoid hitting the car head on. As I hit the steep embankment, my car launched into the air, flipping end over end, jostling me around like a rag doll till I was ejected through the tiny window of my sunroof. My back was broken in two places.
I must have had angels watching over me again. This easily could have been the end of me, yet I miraculously survived the accident. It wasn’t my time to go, though it was an opportunity to gain clarity. The physical injuries I sustained alchemized into inspiration, leading me down my path of intentional design.
Needing Help from My Home
I was only 26 years old and had transitioned from a very active and fast-paced life to suddenly being restricted to a full body cast.
Fortunately, I had the support of my then husband, my parents, and a team of doctors and nurses who instructed me how to live my new life of temporary disability. However, one fundamental aspect of my life did NOT support my healing process whatsoever.
The small remote cabin in the woods I was renting at the time was anything but accessible and presented a tremendous challenge to my recovery. At this time Accessible and Universal Design had not yet become methods commonly practiced in residential design and the awareness around the way a home impacts daily life was still severely lacking.
The hallways of my home were very narrow and a sharp 90 degree turn into my bedroom wouldn’t allow room for a stretcher. Unable to gain access to my own room, I was forced to rent a hospital bed and have it placed in the main room by the front door. This bed is where I stayed 24/7 for four months. While stuck within the four walls of my home, laying on my back, my eyes climbed the narrow spiral staircase to my lofted office where I desperately desired to be back to work. Instead, I resolved myself to staring at the vaulted wood ceiling, refusing to count the number of boards up there out of frustrated retaliation.
Even once my body cast was removed and I was able to walk again, I still had a long way to go in my healing process. I had to wear a back brace for many more months which presented other mobility issues within my home.
Loading the dishwasher became an excruciating chore. Reaching up to access the tall cabinets was completely out of the question. Navigating the tiny bathroom shower with a cumbersome brace was beyond frustrating. And the spiral staircase to my coveted office may have been Everest.
I believed then as I believe now that your mental health can aid or hinder your physical health and well being. I could tell at the time that my frustration with my home was NOT helping me recover from my accident.
I imagined what it would be like to feel supported by my home. How great it would feel to sleep in my own room where I felt safe and comfortable next to my husband, instead of alone in the front room. I fantasized about my once overlooked ease in showering and how much better I might feel if only I could bathe myself more readily. I was frustrated by my home that didn’t take physical challenges into consideration.
Right then and there I understood the importance of including accessibility and functionality in ALL my home designs. It seemed so simple to me. Designing a home that is meant to be lived in, in all potential forms: healthy, ill, young, old, able bodied and physically challenged. Why weren’t all homes being designed this way?
Integration with Nature
To add insult to injury, the cabin was also built to be a passive solar home. A passive solar home includes some kind of solar mass, typically a concrete floor or vertical tubes of water, in direct line of the sun. The solar mass absorbs the heat from the sun, keeping the house cool during the day. At night, when the outdoor temperatures drop below the temperature of the solar mass, heat is emitted from the mass keeping the home warm at night.
I loved this concept! It was intriguing to live in a home that utilized such environmentally conscious technology…that is, till I realized it had not been designed properly. I quickly learned that the solar mass was not large enough and was not able to absorb the necessary amount of heat from the sun to keep the home cool. This resulted in a home that was WAY too hot during the day.
Once I finally was able to return to work and had healed enough to climb the spiral staircase up to my office, I was then faced with a near daily heat stroke. Standing at my drafting board, dressed in nothing but a bathing suit, I envisioned every design with environmentally friendly, economical, and effective measures to achieve comfort every day in the home.
I decided to act on my inspiration, so I went back to NC State to take classes in energy efficiency and solar design. This began my path of Green Building. I just knew I could no longer ethically design homes that did not at least offer these options to their homeowners. Eventually I obtained a Healthy Built Homes Certification and a Renewable Energy Technology & Solar Design Certificate (more on this in the next blog).
Held by Home
The true meaning of home was finally beginning to materialize. I now understood clearly how our homes can support our lives more fully, providing us with comfort, ease, accessibility, and joy.
Though these lessons came the hard way, they sure were effective. To this day I instinctively envision every home design I create to include Accessible and Universal Design, functionality, and high performance.
I tailor design each home to include as many or as few of these elements as the homeowner chooses, and I always take the time to educate about these options and the value they can add to the home.
I intend you open yourself up to the possibility of a home that can support your life in all your forms.
Inspired by you,
Jenny Pippin, CPBD, FAIBD, CGP
Pippin Home Designs
I am Jenny Pippin, founder of Pippin Home Designs and creator of my own inspired living. I grew up as an ordinary southern girl, working in the fields of my family’s tobacco farm. It didn’t take me long to realize I had greater gifts and so I chose to step into my power and create my own path in life, inspired by my heart’s true passion. (More on my personal story in future posts.Stay tuned!)