Story of a House

The Happy House in the Woods

A quiltist and master gardener custom-create their ideal home in the lively woods of Summerfield

By Annie Ferguson     photographs by Amy Freeman

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Think of Ken and Judi Bastion as two artists in the woods, living in a home that radiates with their love of design, surrounded by wild turkeys, foxes, deer, eagles and rabbits.

If you build it, they will (still) come. Truer words were never spoken when it comes to the animals that share the space around the custom home the Bastions created with love — from the inside out.

“It’s great for wildlife-viewing,” says Ken. “Every Memorial Day a snapping turtle lays her eggs, digging a very large hole,” says Judi.

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Ken, a retired environmental health and safety engineer who graduated from the Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design, volunteers as an extension master gardener at the Guilford County Cooperative Extension. With a bachelor’s degree in theater from State University of New York and a master’s in art administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Judi demonstrates her design talents in her quilting studio and in shows with Greensboro’s Gate City Quilt Guild and Cary’s Professional Art Quilters Alliance. Combining their love of the outdoors and their passion for art and design, the Bastions have created a haven for wildlife and a unique and colorful two-story house on a 2.5-acre wooded lot near the shores and walking trails of Lake Higgins. “We designed from the inside out, so it functioned the way we wanted it to,” says Judi, who spent two-and-a-half years designing the house with Ken.

As someone who has loved the outdoors ever since his mother took him out in the snow in a stroller, Ken knows you have to roll with the punches when it comes to nature and planning your landscape. The couple has had to take into account not only the water course that cuts across their land into the lake but also the climate in the South where the humidity and heat are more of an issue than in his native New England. To create a landscape you can enjoy in any season, Ken has selected a range of plants — red cone flowers (Echinacea purpurea in Sombrero Salsa Red), a hardy long flowering and easy to grow perennial flower; autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora in Brilliance), a large feathery evergreen fern with a beautiful copper tone in the spring; Raywood’s Weeping Blue Ice Cypress (Cupressus glabra in Raywood’s Weeping), an energetic wild and shaggy evergreen tree with a strong blue cast.

Ken’s volunteer work helping educate the public about planting and growing has helped inform his planning of the landscape: “It was really important to have the property be a blank canvas when we were scouting out places to build. Other things to consider are how you move through the spaces and how plants move through spaces. You have to be very good at imagining or drawing models to get an idea of how it’ll look,” he says. “Finding out what the deer like to eat was key, and we’re still in a running battle with raccoons,” Ken explains. “They dig for grubs creating a trench that makes it look as though a small bulldozer went through our garden.”

Ken and Judi point out some of their strategies for coexisting with nature as we walk along a long gravel driveway leading to a white-and-teal trimmed house and free-standing garden workshop with an attached pergola built with Cypress sourced from the North Carolina Coast.

As we enter the main entrance on the side of the house, a striking foyer gives the visitor a first glimpse of the kaleidoscope of colors on the walls of the home. “When I first walked in after the paint job, I thought it looked like a Jamaican restaurant! The painters called it ‘the happy house,’” Ken says. “But we only had to adjust the shade of one of the yellows to match the vision we had for the place.”

If you look up in the soaring foyer, you’ll see stained glass windows with a quilt-inspired design, one leading into a guest bedroom and one leading to Judi’s custom quilting studio.

As a quiltist (someone who blends art and quilting), Judi has been spending a lot of time recently in her studio, which is perfectly designed for of the three quilt production phases: design, construction and finishing. Each takes up different spaces, supplies and materials. The studio, featuring a custom table with a measuring grid atop and specially designed storage areas in addition to a large supply room, would be the envy of quilters, or any craftsperson for that matter.

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Hardwood floors throughout the house give it the rustic feeling befitting its location, but the abundance of light through the home’s many windows (in addition to the cheery colors) give it a beach house vibe, reminiscent of the house Judi’s family had along the Rhode Island coast. The couple also made sure they had plenty of wall space and built-in shelving to display art from family in Maine, as well as from local artists.

The Bastions bought a clawfoot tub, which sits in the master bath near a short wall inlaid with seashells and river stones. For the kitchen: A sink with porcelain surfaces on both sides makes dishwashing almost a pleasure. The pieces came from the Preservation Greensboro shop and add just the right amount of old-time character to this new construction. “Believe it or not, Ken, one day we’ll be old,” Judi says with a wry smile as she explains the kitchen design that includes deep drawers to store plates and pans. The drawer that holds plates has a strategic peg system, keeping the different size dishes in order.

“We’re already there.” Ken responds.

Thoughtful details and adornments from the Bastions’ life together appear throughout their home, such as a whale vertebra on the staircase landing. Washed up on the Rhode Island shore many years ago, it had been in Judi’s grandfather’s house ever since she could remember.

The house has an abundance of windows and a patio for viewing wildlife and Ken’s meticulously cared for garden.

Above a large window in the den hangs a panoramic photograph of single shots that were pieced together. Ken’s father, a U.S. Army photographer, took the photos from the top of the Eiffel Tower in 1945 and 1946. He’d originally joined as a paratrooper, but due to an injury was placed into the photographic corps. Ken’s father also photographed the Nuremberg trials. The younger Bastion recalls growing up among his father’s photos of infamous Nazis such as Hermann Göring and Rudolf Hess at the trials.

Also hanging in the den is a framed certificate that belonged to Judi’s father. Dated July 7, 1937 it commemorates his transition from lowly Pollywog to Shellback or Son of Neptune for crossing the Equator during his service on a destroyer — which, by the way, took part in the U.S. Navy’s search for Amelia Earhart.

As talented as Ken and Judi are, they did have help with the design and building of the house in 2009. They worked with Buck Nichols of E.S. Nichols Builder, who was very flexible and worked hand-in-hand with them as the house evolved. Nichols also encouraged the Bastions to keep an open mind as the house took shape, sensing that the couple might discover unexpected ways to use various aspects of their home.

“Buck is a real craftsman,” Judi says. “He was with us before the lot was even prepped. He and his crew are amazing workers, and they understand that it’s the details that make a difference. Buck’s homes are built well, and he works with local people and sources materials locally.”

Like many things in life, meeting Nichols seemed to be the work of providence. The Bastions were living in The Cardinal neighborhood after migrating to Greensboro from Maine in 2004 for the warmer weather and Judi’s teaching career. “The winter of our last year in Maine included two solid weeks of sub-zero temperatures during the day, 4-plus feet of snow and winds in excess of 50 mph.” Ken recalls. “It was the final straw debunking our belief that there was anything ‘romantic’ about long, cold, dark northern winters.”

Free of the harsh climate and living in Greensboro, the couple started searching for a secluded yet convenient lot to build on. Judi was working at a local Montessori school where she came to know Buck’s twins. First she met his wife and, eventually, Nichols himself. “The Bastions were so creative. We just had a really fun time with the whole process,” Nichols says. Judi bought stained glass pieces from Paynes [Stained] Glass, a company in Pittsboro that sources pieces from old churches in England. Buck’s team added the casement and installed them as two separate windows opening from the guest bedroom and Judi’s studio at the top of the two-story foyer. The builders also had Judy lay out the stones and shells in a pattern she wanted for the inlaid piece in the master bath. The builder and his crew fashioned all of the cabinetry throughout the house as well as the built-in shelving in the open living area. Nothing was production made. “We used as many honest materials as we could,” Nichols says, “like the metal roof and wood siding.”

The E.S. Nichols team is pretty small, and Buck says he has a love of history. “I really like to build in style whether it’s traditional, classical or vernacular. We try to keep the bones of our houses consistent with historical precedent. We don’t want to misappropriate detailing,” Nichols explains. “Most of what we try to do is actually editing. It’s a better idea is to edit a solid composition as you go along, as opposed to creating bits and pieces that don’t really form a cohesive composition.”

It’s all about being constantly conscious of design as the house takes shape and evolves, which only comes from a homeowner/building team appreciative of an artistic vision. As Judi works in her studio overlooking the woods, finishing up a twelve-quilt series based on photographs, she has a proposal out to several venues to house them. “My quilts travel more than I do,” she quips. (Her work can be seen on October 14 and 15 at Greensboro’s Gate City Quilt Guild show.) Her love of quilting started when she was living in Seattle thirty years ago. Judi’s sister gave her a box with quilting basics and supplies. “I signed up for a sampler class to see how it worked and haven’t looked back since,” she says. “The teacher was Marsha McCloskey, who is a very well-known quilter I ran into years later at an annual quilt show.”

Judi is also a photographer and is working on combining the two crafts more in the future. By the end of the year Judi plans to spend all of her time working on her art. She does, however, plan to take time off to attend the National Folk Festival this month in Greensboro.

“We went in 2015 and loved it, and we have friends from Maine joining us this year,” Judi says. “Many times my inspiration for quilts comes from folk music. I also enjoy that there’s such a rich history in quilting back to the Underground Railroad and the Civil War.”

Clearly, the Bastions’ have an affinity for the folksier things in life, as exemplified by their wooded retreat — where the two happily toil away on their beloved works of art.  OH

Talent in the folk arts skips a generation in Annie Ferguson’s family, but she won’t entirely have to do without — her mother promises to bequeath her handmade quilts to Annie and her siblings.

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