We didnt have a hill here and
I didnt want one, she said. With a hill, there is only
Instead, the Brusses dug down three
feet into the earth, built the house into that saucer, then
covered it with dirt. The house is situated so that the sun goes
over the top of the house in summer. When its path drops in the
fall, it shines through the expanse of glass doors on the south
side. The couple controls the temperature by strategically opening
and closing the doors. Wings on either side of the house
keep the wind from coming into the saucer. All of the underground
blocks are covered with layers of liquid rubber, insulation, sand,
gravel, then dirt. Its a strong house, Mercedes said. Theres
no way anything could take it.
One end of the sunroom was
originally a greenhouse but serves now as a cheerful breakfast
room. Painted a deep shade of blue, it features a working
wood-burning stove in the corner and a visible chimney pipe rising
through the ceiling. Its a great place to have a cup of
coffee in the morning, Hilbert said.
A narrow door leads to the adjacent
kitchen planned to be small at Mercedes request. I thought if
we made the kitchen small, but kept it open to the living room, I
could still be part of things without everyone having to sit
around in the kitchen, she said. But guess where they are
anyway? Theyre leaning against the cupboards.
Mercedes prefers small kitchens,
however, and designed this one with a lower level counter for
kneading bread as well as cupboards and drawers installed to take
advantage of every inch of space.
If the dishwasher is open and I
open this drawer, Ill get stuck, Mercedes said. If I put
on weight, Id have to move.
Walls are mostly concrete topped
with Spancrete and supported by extra wide beams. Every room has
openings in the walls to promote air flow which are functionally
well-placed without ruining the aesthetics of the design. The
kitchen, for example, has a pass-through to the breakfast room. In
other rooms, the openings look like ordinary air ducts.
Opening out from the kitchen the
first part of the spacious living area holds a comfortable dining
space and piano.
I dont like the term great
room, Mercedes said. This is just the room we live in. We
eat over here and we sit over there. The living room is done in
pretty tones of pinks and blues and features many of Mercedes
beautiful oversize paintings. Though several in the living room
are of flowers and other natural wonders, her work covers a
variety of themes, including Navajo landscapes, portraits and a
duck stamp that placed well in competition. A massive brick
fireplace and stove help keep the house toasty all winter.
At first we watched the
thermostat in every room and kept accurate records, Mercedes
said. You can feel a little difference in temperature in the
back rooms, but never more than one or two degrees. I expected it
to be colder.
The Brusses also tried burning coal
for fuel, but quickly learned that the substance was messy. They
switched to wood then, last year, after Hilbert had a knee
operation, they installed a furnace.
While he was recovering, I had
to be the one to carry in the wood, Mercedes said. I kept
thinking there might be bugs in it.
long narrow sunroom spans much of the exposed area on the
south side of the house. In summer, the room can get up to
120 degrees, according to Mercedes Bruss.
Though the home could have five
bedrooms, only one, the master bedroom, is currently designated
for sleeping. Adjacent to the living area, it also enjoys a full
southern exposure and the lovely view of the property.
In the morning, you can just
open one eye and its so beautiful, Mercedes said. It
doesnt seem like it, but the back of our lot out there is 16
feet higher than by the road.
The living room also opens to the
paint room where Mercedes both works and teaches art.
Hilbert works on his projects in there as well. The room is long
enough for a competitive game of darts, but could easily be
divided into two large bedrooms. Recently, Mercedes used the room
as the site for an art show.
What is nice is you can leave
the mess, Mercedes said.
Another bedroom features a drop
down Murphy bed and provides plenty of room for Mercedes sewing
projects. Hilberts bathroom incorporates bamboo patterned
wallpaper with the liberal use of black. The windowless room is
nonetheless bright enough to keep plants growing in the
stone-lined planter that follows the curve of the wall behind the
The room is lit with a skylight
open to the rear foyer and affords another view of the soaring
mallards. The computer room opens up across the foyer. A carpeted
laundry area with lots of storage space makes it easy to mingle
routine household chores with artistic endeavors.
Youre not running up and down
the stairs all the time, Mercedes said.
The cold room is designed to be
absolutely functional. With lots of storage, a freezer and stove,
the room stays at 65 degrees all
We can do all the canning right
here, said Hilbert, an avid gardener who plants corn, peppers,
tomatoes, squash, melons, beans and more every year. We almost
live off of the garden. We could manage for a long time.
Mercedes admits that building the
home took lots of research and study. The couple did not want to
adapt the hill or envelope concepts popular for
conservation-oriented homes at the time. Also a draftsman, she
drew everything to scale, then took the plan to a young architect
and challenged him to make sure the design was safe and strong.
The architect came back with more typical design ideas which
Mercedes quickly rejected. Insisting on their own design has paid
Hilbert and Mercedes both seem
considerably younger than their years, a condition they would
attribute to hard work and love of life. Their home is a big part
I was skeptical in the beginning
but, knowing Mercedes, I knew it would turn out fine, said
Hilbert overlooking the abundant property from the grass-covered
roof. Its so peaceful here.