Muralist and illustrator Marcie Hawthorne sees a blank wall as a canvas, ripe with possibility. In the same spirit, she and husband Daniel Hawthorne have used their San Luis Obispo home as an avenue for artistic expression.
Like a painting, the home evolved one layer at a time over the course of 35 years. The Hawthornes purchased their 60-acre property overlooking the Cuesta Grade in 1975, in partnership with Steve and Jayne Devencenzi. The original owner of the land, believing it to be utterly barren, sold it for $1,000 an acre.
The couple lived in a mobile home for two years while underground utilities were installed and construction was completed. Their first architect was Donald Hoppen, an early student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Later phases were designed by architects Bob Easton of Santa Barbara and Jeff Lentz of Cambria. Daniel, who was a Cal Poly psychology professor at the time, was owner/builder and completed much of the construction himself, with the help of various subcontractors.
“We had no idea of what we were getting into, but we were young and energetic, and realized that sweat equity and patience would pay off,” noted Marcie.
The first phase of the project created a modest 800-square-foot home, set atop a barn for the couple’s horses. The post and beam house, as well as future additions, followed Hoppen’s vision of an open floor plan, post and beam construction, the use of largescale recycled materials, and a radius design with no square rooms. Windows are positioned to take advantage of views of the Cuesta Grade, surrounding gardens and adjacent ranch land. Wright’s influence is seen in the way the home’s levels step down the hillside, integrating the structure with its environment.
The 1980s brought the arrival of two children, along with additional bedrooms and living space for the growing family. The hub of the home, a round living room crowned with a circular skylight, was originally a walled circular courtyard. A studio was added to accommodate Marcie’s thriving illustration and mural business. The kitchen was upgraded two years ago.
Throughout the process, the couple used salvaged materials for character, as well as for thrift.
“The reclaimed materials were of a substantial size and weathered character that gives our house a natural, textured aesthetic, and were actually more affordable than new or manufactured,” said Marcie.
Framing members and floor sheathing came from barracks the couple dissembled from Camp Roberts. Roof sheathing was sourced from salvage yards in San Francisco, presumed to be originally from buildings at The Presidio. Structural members of the house and barn were formerly pier pilings from Pismo Beach. The den fireplace is made from an old sea buoy. Rocks and boulders used in the three interior fireplaces and outside landscaping bear pickaxe marks from when they were excavated from utility trenches on the property.
The interior of the home came together gradually over time. It is earthy and warm, with artful elements integrated throughout.
“As an artist, and Daniel as craftsman owner-builder, we enjoy unique and hand crafted items in our home that reflect an appreciation for fine craftsmanship, originality and function,” Marcie said.
The lamps in their living room were handcrafted by Clark Renfort from cherry wood with slumped glass shades. Stained glass lighting fixtures were made by Kathy Dusi, an artist from Templeton. Bathroom sinks are handmade pottery. The handcrafted front door is Honduran mahogany and stained glass in a Craftsman style that echoes the look of the cabinetry in the house.
Marcie’s work graces walls throughout the house, each mural telling its own story. Many scenes pay homage to wildlife on the property such as a living room wall mural of cavorting swallows, stylized metallicglazed butterflies in the dining room, and birds feasting on pomegranates on the living room wall.
Marcie created the stove backsplash — a carved bas-relief panel of nasturtiums on high-density foam, to represent the beds of nasturtiums growing in the garden. A kitchen mural of two magpies flying above a black and white cat commemorates a daily bird and cat interaction that delighted the couple many years ago. Subtle wall glazes bring an earthy, warm element to the house.
In addition to many pieces of art by Marcie, the couple displays their large collection of African art and textiles, acquired on their travels and during a year living in Tanzania, East Africa.
Although they are now empty-nesters, the Hawthornes have not stopped evolving their living space. They have begun work on their next project: a mosaic mural at the base of their exterior spiral staircase.
“The house is an artistic expression of who we are and our world travels,” said Marcie. “Our adult children love to come home — they call it their ‘beacon home.’ ”