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Salvage heaven – Couple builds dream home using others’ leftovers

If Sally Peterson had a title, it would be queen of salvage. This 35-year-old woman knows where and how to get practically everything at a bargain.

Good thing, too, because when it came time for her and husband, David, a school counselor, to design and build the house of their dreams on Big Star Ranch in Nevada City, they wanted more than their pocketbook would allow. Just as important, this enterprising couple wanted to do the recycle trip to help the environment.

A tour of their two-story house, into which they moved last April, shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that recycling doesn’t have to be weird. Indeed their house is spacious, airy, nicely appointed, and fun to be in. In every room, Peterson points out several things that came from Swap Shop, a yard sale or a salvage house in Berkeley. This sink, that door, those windows, that dresser. Each has a story behind it, too.



Like the unpainted plank door with the lovely ironwork on it. It came from the house of a blacksmith, a squatter, who, after living illegally on public land for more than 25 years, was found out and had to watch as his house was demolished. Or the bookshelf that opens into a large closet, an idea, she says, that came from a childhood TV program.

Despite a lot in the house having been pre-owned, it all hangs together, mostly because Peterson has “the eye” – a sense of color, proportion and possibility, a talent she expresses in her business Fine and Funky Design Consultation.




Take colors, for example. Yellow, she says, is invigorating, so the living room is yellow up to its 28-foot-high ceiling. Red stimulates appetite, she continues, so guess what color the kitchen is painted? Modern art from local artists adds more playful splashes of color.

This can-do woman, who reminds one of the pioneer women of yore, actually designed her house on graph paper.

Yes, she said, that’s legal. “You don’t need an architect. The county will be sure to let you know what is missing on your plans and will send it back (sometimes more than once or twice) with what you need on it, then you just resubmit. Sometimes the process could take longer as a novice, but it is much cheaper if you already know what you want in your design. I figured a house is really just a serious of small and large boxes, so why not draw it myself?”

The $500 they ended up paying to a structural engineer for his stamp of approval after necessary changes were made was well spent.

“I wanted a barn-like feeling,” Peterson said, “an agricultural feeling that would match the land.”

The house, after all, sits on 28 acres, some of which they lease to a man who raises organic beef, and all of which has a view that seems to go on forever. The locally milled outdoor wood siding, its great room for living and eating, and its slate-like concrete floor all add to this barn-like flavor.

Furthermore, the 1,700-square-foot house has as much square footage devoted to roofed outdoor decking that practically encircles the house as it does to indoor floor space – the better to live outside, yet another goal of the Petersons. Not only do they sit on straw bales at a table on the deck to eat, not only do they cook on the deck in the outside kitchen that is complete with stove and sink, but they also sleep in a screened-in room on the deck for at least half the year. Last summer this family if three and a half (they have a 4-year-old, and the next one is expected in February) was often found splashing around in their 20-foot deep pond, complete with the sandy beach they created.

Peterson not only scrounges bargains and makes trades, she also makes her own furniture, such as the bed that was a wedding present to her husband 9 years ago. Or the wood and metal picnic table in their dining room. Or the concrete slab table on the porch.

Another option is to gracefully accept castoffs, which Peterson readily admits she does, like the $6,000 refrigerator her sister was done with. She’s also found a shop in Santa Rosa, from which she gets affordable furniture made in Mexico, like the hulking armoire that dominates the living room.

Besides using salvage, the Petersons’ commitment to the environment has included appliances like their dryer, which costs less than $12 a year to operate, soon-to-come solar heated water, and normal-looking composting toilets. Not only does the toilet lighten the load on the leach field, she says, it also provides “beautiful, odorless, loose black, fluffy soil” for their fruit trees and some of their garden.

“We don’t put that compost on edibles that are close to the ground, such as tomatoes, beans, and leafy greens. I have a feeling that our friends would start to decline our dinner invitations.”

And entertain they do, what with their big family (five siblings between them) and lots of friends. On festive occasions, they light the 48 votive candles on their chandelier and hoist it up with a pulley. Dances in the barn across the way with the big metal rooster on it are also fun affairs.

Biodiesel is another passion of the Petersons; their 1996 Passat station wagon runs on it. They brew it up with friends, an undertaking that is as easy as making chocolate chip cookies, some say. Not interested in selling the stuff, they are out to form a neighborhood co-op and perhaps to convince many more people in this county to try it. At 85 cents a gallon, that shouldn’t be hard to do. A how-to video may be in the works soon.

After all is said and done, how much does the queen of salvage figure they saved by being creative? About $40,000 is all.

Sally Peterson can be reached at Fine & Funky Design Consultation, 272-8253.


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