I enjoy a nice home. However, they are far and few between. Oh, there are houses. Plenty of houses. Many houses are ticky tacky houses. These houses are ubiquitous houses. These houses are boring and too often not even minimally functional. There’s something very special about a home that is elegant, comfortable, tasteful, textured, unique, charming, dynamic, functional, and organic. Fountainhead is such a home and it is an intense study of a home that is technically sound. You do not judge such a work by technical standards alone though. The emotion and sheer artistry displayed in Fountainhead is arrestingly beautiful. The owners did not blindly follow traditional patterns set up by shallow builders. Instead, they developed a sensual, visual, olfactory perception, tactile, hearing, and taste with the gardens, three-dimensional style which completed the owner’s own visions.
I recently saw Chino the Carpenter at the Home Depot by my home. I had met him several times when he was part of the crew that did the latest Fountainhead remodel. This Fountainhead is not the first for those owners. The owners had four Fountainhead’s before this one. This Fountainhead is a strong place, in which beauty and comfort were and are the order of the day. Indistinguishable from the owner’s creative collaboration with Fountainhead is their love for each other while they lived together at all the Fountainheads. Without pretending to copy what they had done before, the owners applied themselves to natural settings and spellbinding themes. Never before had so many flowers and shrubbery been seen at this house.
Instead of slavishly reproducing the usual monotonous houses seen in every repetitious and boring subdivision the owners of Fountainhead had the audacity to invent new ideas and use new looks. They outdid themselves for lyricism in the themes they created, as well as in the balance of humor and drama found in those themes. They elevated the art of remodeling a house to a level seldom achieved before or since. Fountainhead’s themes speak its characters, the owners, stressing their feelings, their emotions. These themes became an integral part of the action in the life of the owners. Morgan Olson’s elegant, comfortable, tasteful, textured, unique, dynamic, and organic themes married to Jim Olson’s inimitable immoderation are arresting. The mood pervading the home and its yards is of elegant comfort. What emerges when one is at Fountainhead, is a nostalgic That Old Feeling feel that is hard to shake. It has powerful meaning and appeal.
The home says romantic, proud and loving softies live here. Richly textured, multi-layered, incredibly complex, yet effectively simple in their emotional impact, the owner’s themes are grandiose in their sweep and visual flourishes. There’s fun entertainment far from the folk banalities of the traditional Western home. Fountainhead is a comment on the owners and served as a medium for the psychology or the symbolism in the story line of the owner’s. The style, layout, quality, decorations, lighting, was all part of the same posturing that made the owners such fun. What the owner’s achieved in Fountainhead, an expression of their confidence in their marriage and love, was inspiring. The owners mixed ideas, using one here, one there, until their perfect blend was obtained. It is a striking result. Fountainhead is a triumph of style and flair over banal content. I predict Fountainhead will endure because it is a classic monument of and to human love and it was built to last.
What we know of today as Fountainhead started its life as an ordinary tract house in a plain and homogenized subdivision with the universal name of Sky Country. Its zip code is 89503 in Reno, Nevada. However, being on the north side of McCarran, Sky Country was commonly classified as New North West Reno 89523 zip code. Chino the Carpenter says Sky Country is a boring and poorly engineered subdivision. Reno allowed the subdivision to be designed wrong he complains. The streets and houses should have been built perpendicular to where they were. Being on a hill, then every house would have drained into the street drains and every house would have had a view. Sky Country has CC&Rs but thankfully no association.
In 1999, Centex built the basis of Fountainhead at 1,562 square foot with 3 bedrooms, two baths and a short 3 car garage. It, like all the houses in Sky Country, routinely had a couple to four inches of water under it. That’s not good for the house or its occupants. Although the City of Reno records have Reno inspectors signing off on the permits, what they too often signed off for was a lie. The code required a dedicated electrical circuit for the refrigerator, the City signed off that a dedicated refrigerator circuit was there, but there wasn’t. The code required insulation in the walls between the house and the garage, the City signed off that insulation was there, but there wasn’t.
My good friends James K. and Morgan Alexandra Olson bought what was later to become this Fountainhead. They purchased it at first as a rental. Jim and Morgan Olson were both born and raised in Los Angeles - Jim Olson in 1945 in West Covina and Morgan Olson in Los Angeles in 1954. Both are veterans. In early February 1982, they meet in Marin County, California. Jim Olson, moody and rumpled, was then a music teacher at Marin’s Redwood High School, taught sailing at Cass’ in Sausalito, played trumpet with the Marin Symphony and was the Editor and Publisher of Biggest Little Dance Rag. Morgan Olson, intense and detail-orientated, was a college professor teaching business, accounting and real estate classes evenings and weekends while a banker/loan officer by day and a tax preparer during tax season. Jim and Morgan Olson became experienced successful real estate investors and landlords. While I knew them, together they bought as their Nevada Living Trust, insured, occupied, remodeled, rented out, and sold nine houses in Reno, Nevada. One by one, Jim and Morgan Olson were living out their plans. Often I would hear from one or the other or both, “Hey, Can We Really Do That With Fountainhead?”
Jim and Morgan Olson put 20% down on their $307,000 purchase price of Fountainhead, and got a 10 year 6.875% interest only loan, which then amortized out over 20 years. Due to Morgan Alexandra Olson’s worsening health, they later negotiated with the tenant to break the lease so they could move in to it as it was the only property Jim and Morgan Olson then owned close to the VA Hospital. Their other properties were in north Reno. Morgan Olson’s health remained poor so her husband, Jim Olson, did the bulk if not all of Fountainhead’s remodel. They, like the rest of us, didn’t know the bottom of the real estate market was deepening and The Great Recession had began.
IN THE BEGINNING WAS JIM’S TRAIN ROOM
With ignorance that The Great Recession had began with a vengeance, the remodel into Fountainhead began. During my visits I watched as the Olsons cheerfully removed the pony walls between the living room and dining room, the kitchen and third bedroom, and slept on a makeshift bed in the garage. Also removed were the two walls for the third bedroom. There’s something very satisfying about tearing down walls, said Morgan Olson. Then the sheet rock dust hit Jim Olson. Neither have affection for sheet rock. That’s why the Front Porch enclosure and rear addition are all wood, no sheet rock anywhere. Jim and Morgan Olson kept the green-black 12-inch tiles on the kitchen and big bath floors - all other flooring was removed. Chino the Carpenter says Jim Olson bought all the materials and paid in cash for everything. That Jim Olson and his wife had a clear idea of what they wanted and the remodel only had two issues. One was the bad texture work the first time and the other was what it took to fix that.
Jim and Morgan Olson had window sills (stools) installed just so their kitties, LadyCat Olson, Gandalf the Grey and EarthaKitty, could sit on them. The Olson’s described their cats collectively as The Gold Cats. According to Jim and Morgan Olson, the Gold Cats’ name for Fountainhead was Gold Cats’ Lucky House. Chino the Carpenter says the Olsons were close and comfortable with each other and as their remodel progressed, that carried over into their creation of this comfortable home of theirs. The closets for the remaining two bedrooms were remodeled into large walk-in closets with shelves, skylights and Brushed Nickel floor to ceiling mirrored doors. Six-foot sliders replaced each bedroom’s window. The third bedroom’s closet became an office. The Olsons added shelves, outlets, mirrors, two lights, an HVAC register making their office very undisturbed along with its built in desk, tube skylight, and three foot by ten foot glass block wall. Three ten-foot floor to ceiling mirrored wardroom doors on a triple track were added to cover the Olson’s office, surround sound, big-screen, shelves, library, etc.
The entry into the Main House bedroom suite is through an oversized beautifully stained wood and stained glass door. The entry into what became Jim’s Train Room was blocked with a triple-paned stain glass beautifully stained wood exterior door and the refrigerator of the apartment. The apartment’s refrigerator and microwave are each on their own dedicated electrical circuit.
The tube fluorescent lights in the kitchen were moved into the garage while the garage’s tube fluorescent lights were moved into the walk-in closets and office. Cameras were installed. The inside and outside of the house was painted as well as the fence. The fence was painted high gloss rich suede brown. The Olsons used the same color and sheen for the exterior doors, including the garage doors, as well as their accent, their third color. Fountainhead’s base color is a rich luxurious high gloss suede taupe. The trim is rich luxurious high gloss suede English green. The stonework and curbs were stained black. With the black composition shingle roof, the lighting and the landscaping the effect is very Lake Tahoe, which greatly pleased Jim Olson, who in many ways, was a snob Chino the Carpenter thought. That is something I myself sometimes wondered. Perhaps there’s some merit to Short Man Syndrome. Although Jim Olson’s height never seemed to bother Morgan Olson.
Jim and Morgan Olson kept the swamp cooler, added air conditioning and replaced the furnace. A cabinet was added to each full bath and a bar with a 70-bottle cooler was built in the kitchen. They were then faced with gloss back laminate for the walls and doors, and black, white, creme, grey, blue stone laminate for the counter tops. Canned lighting was added in the kitchen and utility rooms and the hallway. The Olsons added a wall lamp to the Media Area, a wall scone in the bedroom and then two scones in the apartment. All the hardware, handles, hinges, etc., were changed to Brushed Nickel. Another medicine chest was installed in each bathroom. Jim and Morgan Olson added a four-foot window to the west wall of the studio in-law apartment they created in their remodel. The house went from 1562 square foot to 1,986 square foot. Fountainhead was now a 2-bedroom 2 ½ bath executive home, or a 1 bedroom 1 ½ bath executive home and a studio one bath home. Chino the Carpenter says the Olson’s named their apartment Jim’s Train Room.
Jim and Morgan Olson kept the green-black 12-inch stone tiles on the kitchen and big bath floors. They used same for the apartment entry, but offset them for a different pattern. The main house floor became the Dupont 35-year Walnut laminate. The floors in the new Cabin and Front Porch were the Armstrong Bronze Slate laminate, with carpet on the stoops; a bronze indoor-outdoor for the front and a thoroughbred interior for the back. Jim and Morgan Olson put in the six-inch baseboards.
The Olson’s Cabin is a 224 square foot stick built sunroom addition. It has two skylights, a vanity, toilet, fan, a cat door masquerading as a return, and canned lighting in the ceiling and on two of the walls. Jim and Morgan Olson had planned to construct it on the existing slab, like they had done with their other properties, but the code changed. Therefore, the Olson’s cut the slab, dug enough for a four-foot foundation frame, rebarred it and poured concrete in. The drapes were all shower curtains. The theme was the ocean and beach. The Olson’s moved the kitty pans in and a dark wood room divider separated the new toilet and vanity with another shower curtain in front for privacy. The Olsons added a couple chairs and a cart, a pegboard, and an HVAV powered return and two supply registers conditioned the insulated room. Jim and Morgan Olson added here two skylights, seven canned lights - five ceiling, two wall, a fan/light, medicine chest, and wall lights.
THE FRONT PORCH
Jim and Morgan Olson enclosed the front porch for an additional 200 square feet. There is now a cat door masquerading as a return and an HVAC supply register conditioned the insulated room. The drapes were all shower curtains. The theme is calmness. Shelves, clothes rods, hooks, fan/light, three can lights, two wall lights, peg boards, and blinds were added. The motion detector above the door in the Front Porch controls the can light in the corner. Its switch is in the Main House on the column on the left, two switches facing you, this one’s the switch on your left. The switch to your right is to the Front Porch fan/light.
Jim and Morgan Olson changed all of Fountainhead’s light bulbs to compact florescent bulbs or tube florescence bulbs. The Olsons added fifteen more electrical circuits. After Jim and Morgan Olson came home one day to see a power cord and a water hose going from their property to the property west of them, high up by the fascia they installed an exterior outlet for their holiday lights. Fountainhead has interior and exterior motion-activated surround light for the best in zone lighting according to Chino the Carpenter.
In total, one solar attic fan and six tube skylights were added to the Main House, two in Jim’s Train Room, and two more and a turbine ventilator in The Cabin.
THE WATER PROBLEM
Chino the Carpenter told me the City of Reno allowed the Sky Country subdivision to be faultily designed and built. Chino says the streets and houses should have been built perpendicular to where they were. Being on a hill, then every house would have drained into the street drains and every house would have had a view. Fountainhead, like all the houses in Sky Country, routinely had a couple to four inches of water under it. That’s not good for the house or its occupants. Jim and Morgan Olson installed a sump pump in the northwest corner of the crawl space, by the access opening. To redirect the hill’s water run-off, Jim and Morgan Olson put in four inch perforated drain pipe behind new retaining walls and down the east and west sides of the property to just past the fence lines. New gutters directed the hundred of gallons of roof runoff to new drains. The front roof’s runoff was directed to the southwest corner downspout so the water flowed downward under the concrete. If a heavy runoff, the water would travel down to the sidewalk where it would back up then overflow into the driveway and down into the street traveling down the curb’s gutter to the street drain. The Olsons discovered a drain in the northeast corner of their new garden. It travels east under the concrete to empty between the concrete patio and the fence just inches north of the dogwood tree.
The street side of the southwest corner of the fence is where the west side’s four-inch perforated drain pipe exits. That and the downspout across from it add precious water to that corner.
The result, along with the proper vegetation placement, bark and rock, is that for all this lush landscaping and the apartment, Fountainhead’s water bill is low. So is the electricity.
THE MOTION DETECTORS
Fountainhead has interior and exterior motion-activated surround light for the best in zone lighting says Chino the Carpenter. There are seven motion-activated lights on the fences. There are thirteen motion-activated lights on Fountainhead’s outside walls. There are nine motion-activated lights on Fountainhead’s inside walls. Each detector is zone specific.
Fountainhead’s first owner put in a spruce tree, Butterfly Bush, Scotch Broom, Photina, locust tree, a couple Purple Sages, a Dogwood tree, a couple Barberrys, a maple tree, several junipers, a small front yard and a small back yard. Jim and Morgan Olson painted the fence, removed the lawns, converted to drip, put in retaining walls and pavered patios, stairs and terraces, and added a dozen trees, fifty or so shrubs, and a thousand or so bulbs. The water pressure reducer is on the west side buried eighteen inches behind the retaining wall opposite the corner of the house.
I met Mathew several times. He was one of Jim and Morgan Olson’s apartment tenants. Mathew went to the neighborhood vacant houses in foreclosure, dug up dying shrubs and flowers, and transplanted them into the Olson’s yards. The frightful Mortgage Fraud wave was rolling back, and the resulting exposed scene was ugly. The complete financial landscape was revealed to be devastated.
Fountainhead’s first owner poured a concrete slab thirty inches wide down the west and north sides of the house and an immense patio slab in the back. Following the flatwork’s edge was a thirty-inch tall concrete block wall up the west side and across the back. Jim and Morgan Olson brought in a bobcat, had several truckloads of dirt removed, and terraced the front, back and side yards with blocks, pavers, plants, bark, stone, stairs, and lights. The Olson’s added a three foot pavered pathway contiguous to the west side of the driveway. They added two pavered step-outs to the driveway’s east side.
Jim and Morgan Olson loved their homes, inside and out. They added a variety of native or hardy vegetation specific for each area keeping in mind the rules for defensible space and I know they only bought when on sale.
Yarrow in yellow and white, Coreopsis, Crocus, Coneflower, California Poppy, Blanket Flower, and Daylily.
Iris, Lily, Daffodil aka Narcissus, Catmint, Evening Primrose, Poppy, Beard Tongue, Purple Sage, Stonecrop, Daisy, Tulip, and the evergreen Honeysuckle in gold and pink.
Dwarf Periwinkly, Rose Glow Barberry, Butterfly Bush, the evergreen Euonymus Burning Bush and Silver, Emerald and Gold.
Forsythia Dwarf and Lynwood, Rose of Sharon aka Hibiscus, Vicary Privet, Potentilla, Purple Leaf Sand Cherry, Chokecherry, Sumac, and Hardy Shrub Roses.
Spiraea, Lilac, Viburnum, Thread Yucca, Smoke Tree Green and Purple, Apple Tree, Peach Tree, Plum Tree, Apricot Tree, Nectarine Tree, and Walnut Tree.
Raspberry Bushes, Strawberries, Cherry Tree, Pear Tree, Mint, Chocolate Mint, Spearmint, Peppermint, Purpleleaf Plum Tree, and Flowering Pear Tree.
Dwarf Broom, Skyrocket Juniper, Mugo Pine, Arborvitae, Mums in Yellow, White, Burgundy, Bronze, and Hot Pink.
Russian Sage, Holly, wildflowers, Asiatic Lily, Redbud Tree.
THE YARD DECORATIONS
All the yard decorations proudly came from the thrift stores.
After Jim and Morgan Olson came home one day to see a power cord and a water hose going from their property to the property west of them, behind their west gate they added a hose bib. A quick releases was added to it and to the two other hose bibs.
Small, rich red and sensuous with Georgia O’Keefe’s Red Poppy and Ansel Adams’ Birds on A Beach: Evening and Moonrise.
The Olson had all the HVAC ductwork redone so the HVAC was perfectly balanced everywhere in the home.
As I hadn’t seen Jim or Morgan Olson since their disappearance from Reno, I asked Chino the Carpenter if he had seen Jim or Morgan Olson lately. He said, “the end of Fountainhead’s remodel was the last time I saw Jim or Morgan Olson. They were a charming couple, always had that smile for each other, even held hands. They were committed to making great homes without compromise. He always paid on time. He always paid cash. That’s all I know. That’s all I can tell you about them. I wish I had work like that now. This recession is bad. Really bad.”
Fountainhead is a classic Frank Lloyd Wright house with low horizontal lines, open interior spaces and glass dividers.
Prairie style houses usually have these features:
- Low-pitched roof
- Overhanging eaves
- Horizontal lines
- Central chimney
- Open floor plan
- Clerestory windows