AAUW’s Home Tour Features a Trio of Vastly Different Houses Saturday

Gary and Lynn McCall's two-story, straw-bale home is one of three private residences featured on the AAUW Home Tour Saturday in Redding.

• Meet the residence of Gary and Lynn McCall: One 5,600-square-foot, solar-and-wind-powered straw bale house that took half a decade for a family to build; one of just a handful of North State straw bale homes, and an almost unheard-of example of a two-story straw bale residence.

• Meet the McConnell Foundation Guest House: One exclusive guest house, owned by the area’s most prominent philanthropic organization that granted an exclusive, first-time peek inside the 1,800-square-foot example of premiere craftsmanship, art and materials; a structure that’s had such notable visitors as Santiago Calatrava and Dianne Feinstein.

•  Meet the residence of Gregg and Barbara Nakao: One suburban-neighborhood home whose modest exterior barely hints at what’s behind the front door; proof that after decades of carefully researched remodeling, a couple could achieve a place that feels like a vacation get-away.

Three homes. Each supremely different from the next. All were selected by a team representing the American Association of University Women’s Redding Chapter for the 2011 Home Tour and Art Show. The event takes place Saturday.

For 41 years the Redding AAUW Chapter has hosted and presented its annual home tour, the organization’s biggest fundraiser, and a way to help provide scholarships to North State women. Thus far, 320 women have received AAUW scholarships. (Disclosure: This reporter was a 1992 AAUW scholarship recipient.)

It’s no small feat to scout out and choose homes for the annual tour, but guidelines help make the task easier. According to Janel Longnecker, retired schoolteacher and long-time veteran of the AAUW Home Tour selection committee, a working criteria includes: Is the home unique? Is it special? Does it reflect the owners’ personalities? Is it a show-stopper … mouth-opener? Do art and color and decoration work together? Are new ideas being used? Does it reflect a historical influence? Are the owners eager? Does the parking work? Will the traffic pattern within the house work? Can we find homes easy to access and fairly close to each other? Finally, said Longnecker, does it grab the committee with the “wow” factor?

The McConnell Foundation’s Guest House was perhaps one of the AAUW’s biggest surprises for this year’s home tour. Saturday’s tour of the McConnell guest house will be the first time it’s been open to the public, and there’s no telling if this opportunity will be repeated ever again.

Entrance into the gated McConnell Guest House is by invitation only, a place that primarily functions as another option for the organization’s meetings, or for the foundation’s guests who are there for special dinners or overnight stays.

Gifford Construction built the guest house, which was designed by the Seattle architectural firm NBBJ.

Inside and out, the McConnell Guest House is a study in understated quality. Individually, the materials look deceptively simple, such as the copper roof, the iron rain chains, the polished cedar exterior, and the stone floors, metal joinery and wood trim. However, the execution of the materials leaves visitors with the sense that they’re in a museum, or a smaller, more modern version of the famous Craftsman Gamble house. The overall impression is rich, classy and substantial, but with a minimalist feel. The result is that details stand out, whether it’s an entry table created by local woodworker Alice Poremski, or hand-blown glass lamps by artist Joe Clearman, or a dining room table and chair set by the renowned Berkeley Mills.

According to Sue Ralston of the McConnell Foundation, the guest house plans were initially intended as a private residence for Leah McConnell, the foundation’s namesake. But McConnell died in 1995, two years before the structure’s completion.

The guest house sits on the former Lema Ranch, which Ralston said was once a working mule ranch.

Below are photos by Mike Burke of the McConnell Foundation Guest House.

[nggallery id=27]

Not far from the McConnell Foundation Guest House is Gregg and Barbara Nakao’s home, a place they’ve lived for their entire marriage, a home they basically started changing before the home’s construction was finished in 1985.

For example, the Nakao home’s original plans called for a sunken living room that the Nakaos weren’t wild about, mainly because Barbara could picture herself falling into the sunken pit in the dark. So they nixed that detail. Then they asked the builder if it was possible to add more windows and bump out the back wall 2 feet.  The builders complied with the Nakaos’ wishes, and only later did some of the neighbors with similar house plans wish they’d made the same requests.

The Nakaos shrug.

“All you have to do is ask,” Gregg said with a laugh.

While they realize that many people move from house to house, usually getting a bigger house with each new acquisition, the Nakaos have worked with what they had; then took their home to the next level.

The couple, both of whom are educators, say that the key to their successful remodels is a combination of patience, research and editing – by which they mean to know what to keep and what to ditch.

Plus, they’re observant, such as when they visited their daughter in Australia and noticed a wall in a store that Gregg correctly guessed was hidden storage drawers. The couple incorporated that same system in their bedroom, which is among the most-commented aspects of their home. Well, and the art studio outside that looks like a Japanese tea house. (The Nakaos create glass bead jewelry. And Barbara is a painter.)

The outcome is a place that feels light, airy, uncluttered and creative. The Nakaos emphasize that their home is a product of hard work and imagination, not great wealth. In fact, they’ve rolled up their sleeves and done many of their improvements over the years themselves to help cut costs. Case in point was when they removed the carpet and filled in the gaping cracks to prepare for a hard flooring surface, a process that took so long (between their day-job commitments) that they ended up with a concrete-floored living room in a house damp from moisture wicking up from the concrete foundation. They propped up their TV on a wheelbarrow until the project was done.

They acknowledge that they do have a characteristic that seems to set them apart from many others.

“I think most people get in a house and they say, ‘That’s it,’ and they just leave it the way it is,” Gregg said.

Barbara agreed.

“I think at first I was happy with the house,” she said. “But then we just started adding things, and improving things. We did it in steps.”

Those stages include a swimming pool and koi pond that Gregg always wanted. And they enlarged windows in the living room and bedroom. They gutted their kitchen, and hired a cabinet company to create a shoji style of cabinetry, including sliding pantry doors that look more like a dressing room than a place for canned goods and kitchen equipment. They converted a catch-all second bedroom into a sleek, stylish office, something they are particularly proud of because they managed to transform that closet into an attractive desk space, sans the typical remove-the-closet-doors, insert-desk situation.

Now, the home they’ve created is a sanctuary of sorts. In fact, they say it’s so pleasing that they can’t help but compare their home to places they vacation, and when they do, their house is often the winner.

Below are photos taken by Mike Burke of Gregg and Barbara Nakao’s home.

[nggallery id=28]

Last, and the biggest home on the AAUW Home Tour, is the straw bale, two-story home owned by Gary and Lynn McCall and completed in 2005. The home was designed by architect Will Mertens, and built by Buffum Construction.

Lynn, whom, coincidentally, is a colleague of Gregg Nakao, said that at first, she didn’t exactly jump willingly on the straw-bale band wagon. She said her husband, Gary, was inspired to consider straw-bale construction after he saw a program about it.

But straw-bale construction is not typical construction, which meant that it took longer to build. Like many years longer. So long, in fact, that the the entire McCall family – Lynn, Gary, their three, then-young kids, a dog and two cats – stayed “temporarily” in a travel trailer on their property during construction. This went on for a few years, until Lynn had had enough, and insisted the family move into a rental until the house was built. But they jumped the gun and returned back to the property two years too soon … back to the trailer until construction was finally complete.

The McCalls no longer live in a cramped trailer. Rather, their straw bale home looms large and bold and has plenty of room for family, friends and entertaining.

Lynn hopes that the AAUW Home Tour visitors will notice the uniqueness of her home’s construction.

“Don’t forget to look into the ‘truth window’ and actually see the straw bales inside the walls,” she said.

“Notice the concrete counter tops and concrete flooring. Notice how we tried to get the house to be part of the earth it came from and how it rises up from stone; how the inside can move outside by just opening up the great room doors and how the tile flows from one room out to the back of the house.

Notice that the Bally mountains are perfectly captured in the three arched windows on the second floor. Notice how you can see the entire backyard (pool area) while standing by the kitchen window. Notice the wild indigenous environment outside and see if you can see the deer, bobcat, coyote, rabbits, turkeys, eagles, buzzards and occasional bear walking safely by. Notice the compass marking true north outside on the circular driveway pointing to Mount Shasta and marking our way home.”

Below are photos of Lynn and Gary McCall’s home taken by Lynn McCall.

[nggallery id=29]

The AAUW Home Tour & Art Show benefits the Redding Chapter’s scholarhip fund. The tour also features a contractor’s home by Palomar Builders, which will showcase art for sale by AAUW members.

The tour is Sat., Nov. 5  from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Home Tour tickets/maps cost $20 and are available at Enjoy the Store, Holiday Quality Foods at Placer, Jose Antonio’s, Marshall’s Florist & Fine Gifts, Palo Cedro Gift Gallery, Parmer’s Furniture and Design, That Kitchen Place, Wild Thyme and Garden. For more information call 221-2450 or 243-7955.


Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments