Courtney Ferguson
Special to The Union

Eco inspired life

Feels a little like walking through a model train village, I thought as I followed the path to Stu and Mags Matthews’ home in the Nevada City Cohousing neighborhood.

Colorful homes – some yellow, blue and terracotta – lined the walkway. The scent of freshly cut grass filled the air with nostalgia. The day I visited, the daffodils were in full bloom. Children were playing and laughing. Neighbors greeted each other, completing the idyllic springtime scene.

Stu and Mags’ 1,700-square-foot townhouse is situated on a corner, so extra light and views are part of the floor plan.

With three bedrooms, a den/office, and two bathrooms, there’s just enough room for their lifestyle now as well as a family in the future.

Although they only moved to this area a year ago, the former San Francisco residents are already making a difference. Mags is a physical therapist, and has started her own wellness and rehabilitation practice, Alive Physical Therapy.

As a certified hula-hoop dance instructor, she volunteers with the Yuba River Charter School’s sixth-grade girls and with local Girl Scouts. She was a performer in the recent STARZ Concert.

Stu is dedicated to agriculture. His expertise is focused on developing the communal farm.

“This year we’ll produce organic veggies and berries on two-thirds of an acre. The longer-term plan is to create a fruit-and-nut orchard,” he explained.

He’s also involved in the Food Love Project that educates youngsters.

I met Stu and Mags through Toastmasters – an ideal way for them to share their health-and-lifestyle knowledge as well as their extensive travels to Taiwan, Mexico, Spain, Japan, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and throughout the U.S.

Mother Lode style with Victorian hints

Nevada City Cohousing comprises 34 homes, including flats and townhouses, with approximately 90 residents from children to seniors. For those of you familiar with cohousing, you’ll know that respect for the environment and each other are pillars. The homes are designed to offer just enough space for day-to-day living. A large activities building has extra rooms for guests – as well as a large, communal kitchen, dining and socializing area, and an imaginative children’s activity room. There’s also a large communal swimming pool. Everyone is encouraged to play a part in the enjoyment and maintenance. The architectural style is described as “Mother Lode,” with Victorian influences. I liked seeing so many bicycles on the front porches – reminiscent of a European lifestyle.

Large windows, some based on the old, sash style let in lots of natural light. Solar electricity (assisted by natural gas) and radiant heating for hot water conserve energy. The shades have thermal properties, and radiant heating and passive cooling keep utility bills low.

The exteriors feature Hardie Plank cement siding, painted with low VOC products with an estimated 20-year lifespan. Cars are parked in nearby spaces, reducing noise and exhaust issues. Another welcome benefit is the fact that you walk past other homes to reach your own.

En route people chat to each other in a friendly, connected way. Groceries and heavy items are transported by readily-available carts.

The chili-colored kitchen – and the recycled dog

Once inside the Matthews’ home, you cannot help but smile at the playful use of color. The turquoise entry area and the chili-red accent wall in the kitchen inspire an instant feeling of joy. Kirby – their Chihuahua mix from Scooter’s Pals – is there to greet you as well.

Although new to the household, he acts as if he’s been there forever, and makes you feel as if you’re his new BFF!

Mags and Stu warm to recycling.

“Our décor is eclectic, all right,” Mags laughed. “We’ve got older, family furniture – as well as items we’ve purchased from local thrift shops and Craigslist.”

A contemporary turquoise couch sits under an ornamental umbrella. Opposite is a 40-year-old mahogany bar.

The dining table is oak with two captain’s chairs and two black chairs from Stu’s Maryland family.

The kitchen’s spruce cabinets have been extended to the ceiling for maximum storage. The floor is marmoleum, a hardwearing, petrol-free surface. Many a healthful, organic meal is prepared here – and shared with neighbors and friends.

There is a den downstairs with an en-suite bathroom. Practical and easy-to-clean, the bathroom occupies the space under the stairs (much the way Harry Potter did). Upstairs there are three additional bedrooms, a bathroom, and a laundry closet. The master bedroom is purple, and the bedroom that Stu uses as his study is chartreuse green.

“Our goal was to build a life rich in ecological values, community ties, and professional opportunities, and Mags and I have made the perfect choice,” Stu said.

Courtney Ferguson has written home-and-lifestyle articles for many years, both in Nevada County and in England. Contact her at courtneycopy@gmail.com.


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The Union Updated Apr 16, 2014 12:37PM Published Apr 11, 2014 11:02PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.