Greener pastures at the Merriewold Morgan horse ranch in Huasna Valley

For Diana Wold, building a state-of-the-art, sustainable equine facility and two homes in the Huasna Valley was all about being kind to Mother Earth

rajuretic@sbcglobal.net October 23, 2013 

When Diana Wold first surveyed the 300 acres in Huasna Valley that would become Merriewold Morgan horse ranch, she knew that its rugged appearance was deceiving.

“A ranch, especially with horses, can be quite hard on the land,” said Wold. “Knowing how fragile California native land is, we tried to figure out how to have the least amount of impact and still have horses.”

To realize her vision for a sustainable horse ranch, she called on Mikel Robertson of Green Goods to assemble a team of professionals who specialize in green construction. That team included architect Thomas Brajkovich of Paragon Designs and Frank Cullen of Cullen Construction.

The plan was to build seven structures: stables, a covered arena, two pole barns, a combination hay barn/shop/ groom’s quarters, a home for horse trainer and caretaker Jackie Brittain, and a home for Wold and her husband.

The team chose to place the buildings on approximately 10 acres previously occupied by barns and fields used for crops.

“That area was already disturbed and the crop area was very depleted,” said Wold. “We decided to make our impact there so the rest of the property could remain more or less native and natural.”

The first phase involved building equestrian structures that would be state-of-the-art, yet sustainable. The barn structure was built with expanded polystyrene and light-gauge steel panels manufactured by Vitruvian of Arroyo Grande. The panels last longer than wood framing, do not release toxic fumes, are recyclable, and are also highly insulating. Other eco-friendly materials for this structure include natural cork and Marmoleum flooring, recycled porcelain tile, and FSC-certified, sustainably harvested wood cabinetry fabricated by Green Goods.

Aesthetics were equally important to Wold, even in the equestrian area. According to Frank Cullen, the entrance to the stable “looks more like an art museum or well-appointed visitor center.” The 10-stall stable wraps around a grand center fountain. Handsome stonework, exposed heavy timber trusses and ornate chandelier light fixtures add to the rustic elegance of the structure.

The second phase involved building residences for the caretaker and owners. The approximately 2,000-squarefoot homes were built with FSC-certified framing lumber. They are energy-efficient with blown-in cellulose insulation made from recycled newspa- per, concrete floors with radiant heating, LED light fixtures and tankless water heaters. Passive-solar orientation makes best use of the sun year-round to keep the homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and to make the most of natural light. The structures’ metal roofs are both long-lasting and recyclable.

With the assistance of Green Goods and interior designer Michele Fanning, Wold and Brittain chose many eco-friendly materials such as no-VOC paints, recycled glass tile, reclaimed wood furniture, and Caesarstone countertops that have some recycled content.

Finding green options was a simple process, according to Wold.

“There’s so much to choose from now, it’s almost as overwhelming as shopping for regular products,” she said. “You name it, you can find it in a green version.”

Wold wanted contemporary architecture as well as a strong connection with nature. Brajkovich designed angular rooflines to echo the steepness of the surrounding hillsides. Wold chose many natural materials and a palette of earth tones. In her own home, disappearing doors slide out of sight, connecting living areas with the pa tio. A palm tree set into the center of the living room has thrived, reaching its leaves up as far as the second story breezeway.

“It has become the focal point of the whole house,” she said.

Wold chose a modern approach for her home, while Brittain steered more toward traditional. Still, both are streamlined and contemporary. “We wanted everything very clean, very minimal with not a lot of furnishings, not a lot of places for knick-knacks,” she said.

Since construction wrapped up last March, the ranch continues to op erate in a sustainable manner. Wold and her husband decided to stop irrigating their pastures to conserve water. A graywater system reuses water from the stable offices, feed room and bathrooms to irrigate the droughttolerant landscaping.

A rainwater catchment system feeds a seasonal pond used by migratory birds and wildlife. The horses rest easy on mats filled with shreds of recycled rubber topped with a small amount of pine shavings — a cleaner and less wasteful alternative to straw.

Wold acknowledges that green options sometimes come with a higher price tag. Budget constraints did not allow Wold to accomplish her entire wish list of green features. For instance, she opted to forgo a solar electric system. Also, she did not extend the graywater system to the residences.

Still, she feels she has achieved her goal of caring for the land as much as she cares for her horses.

“We are just in love with the house, the property, the valley, the whole area,” she said. “It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. We couldn’t fathom doing anything that would leave a bad mark on the land.”

TIPS FROM DIANA WOLD

GRAYWATER OPTIONS A graywater system diverts water from washing machines and household drains to be used for irrigating landscaping. Green Goods sells a do-it-yourself laundry-to-landscape graywater kit for $150. It only works if your washing machine is against an exterior wall. Keep in mind that you will need to use special detergents and direct water containing bleach or other chemicals to the sewer or septic system.

GET DESIGN HELP An interior decorator can help with more than drapes and furniture. Diana Wold brought designer Michele Fanning in during the early phases of construction. She was able to work with the architect to suggest items like window placement and room size with the final design scheme in mind.

KNOW YOUR OPTIONS For nearly every standard home item or material, there is an eco-friendly alternative. This may mean it has recycled content, sustainable woods, a longer lifespan or fewer toxic chemicals. With the mainstreaming of green materials, these options are often competitively priced.

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