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CdA Coeur d'Alene Magazine: It's a Discovery Every Day

The lower floor is an open spa-like space, with an Endless Pool a the center.
The lower floor is an open spa-like space, with an Endless Pool a the center.

"How we spend our days is how we spend our lives," or so the poet says.

If that is true, then the life lived by Jackie Henrion and Dan Earle is vital and satisfying, filled with good health, creativity and exploration.

The name of their unusual new home on the Hope Peninsula is Studio Decouvrir, "to discover" in French. And when you hear how the couple spends their days you will understand. The day begins as the sun comes over the mountains, flooding their southeast-facing bedroom with light. They take an hour or two of exercise, which might be yoga in the home gym, swimming in the custom lap pool or paddling a kayak along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.

After a sauna steam and a healthy breakfast, they make their way to their own studios for separate journeys of artistic contemplation.

Because Studio Decouvrir, despite its hydronic heating, lofty interior and wrap-around decks with marvelous glimpses of the lake, is no conventional dream home. What the owners envisioned, and what architect Krister Alien and builder Dan McMahon brought to life, is an intriguing design that blends form with function, work with play and private space with togetherness.

"We've always envisioned a space for art and creativity, that's been our mantra," Dan says. "But we went way beyond our dreams when we finally came to this." Studio Decouvrir is a collaboration between two people in love with life and with each other. It's a metaphor for their pursuit of purpose and their connections with friends, family and the natural world around them.

Americans are famous for living in one spot, playing in another, socializing in yet another and driving for miles even to work out at the gym. For Jackie and Dan, they've managed to put it all into one place. After a lifetime of traveling and working hard, it's time to come home.

The journey begins as you enter the front door, coming in from the cool pine breeze off the lake. The 60-foot-long gallery and library makes a dramatic entrance and an artistic statement, with tall ceilings and columns marching down the length of the corridor. A sweet, warm voice is heard down the hallway, past the sculptures and bright canvases. The voice and the guitar are Jackie, rehearsing for the next gig with her all-woman bluegrass band Local Honey. The hallway is filled with Dan's paintings. It's a fine welcome and a taste of what is to come.

Just inside is an unusual coat rack, a seven-foot-wide wrought-iron sculpture by blacksmith Mike Fitzpatrick. The sculpture forms the notes of a phrase from Enya's song "Exile," which says "Out of these dreams a boat, I will sail home to you." It's a tune that Jackie and Dan associate with their first days together nearly nine years ago when she was studying art and he was living on a sailboat.

Down the hall is one of Dan's sculptures, "The Modern Galatian," based on a famous statue of a fallen warrior that haunts him to this day.

"It's the idea that there are moments in our lives when you don't know if you're going to make it," he says. "It's a point of tension. You don't know if he's going to sink to the ground or if he's going to get up."

Dan himself is the model for the sculpture, and although he doesn't talk much about it, you sense the struggles in his own past and the peace he has since striven to achieve. He grew up in a rough neighborhood of Los Angeles and made a name for himself as a counselor for troubled youth and as founding director of the Rocky Mountain Academy in Bonners Ferry, a private residential school. The school provides an emotional growth program that enables kids not to give up on themselves, their families and their communities.

Although he retired from the business more than a decade ago and doesn't dwell on those days, it must have often seemed a daunting task. On his studio wall is an engraving of Don Quixote.

One of his favorite artistic themes, an admiration for the human form, is reflected in "Carmina Burana," an abstract canvas showing a nude in dance-like motion. The watercolor paper is engraved with tools used for sculpting clay, and the resulting textures have the resonance of a fresco on a cathedral wall.

Jackie is often the model for his nude studies, and another nearby sculpture is a symbol of their relationship. Labeled "Flight," the sculpture shows a man and woman in a graceful gymnastic pose. Taken one way, the male figure is catching the woman over his head as she falls toward him. Or perhaps, says Dan, he is pushing her off into flight and is soon to follow himself.

Jackie and Dan were smitten from the day they met, she a busy executive working for a manufacturing firm in Seattle, he retired and living on his sailboat, pursuing art with a passion.

"It was total chemistry," she says. "A fairy tale. I had never really believed in these before, but when I met him, it was like, 'Aye yai yai, I can't not be with him.'" Dan, too, was utterly beguiled.

"We sat down and wrote out our dreams," he says. "She wanted to work in music and I wanted to work in art. We both wanted to live in an artistic community."

For a while, their snug loft on Seattle's Capitol Hill served that purpose, with art and music studios combined with a gallery and living areas.

"When she wanted to record she'd say 'Okay, be quiet now.' and we did that for six years!" Dan says. "But now we have this."

Studio Decouvrir provides 4,800 square feet of artistic freedom, with Dan's art studio at one end and Jackie's music room at the other. The house has gallery space for art, and performing space for musicians from the nearby art communities of Hope and Sandpoint.

Dan and Jackie discovered the lot in October 2001 and camped on the land overnight. They knew it was the right place.

"The site dictated the look," says architect Krister Alien, a partner at Architecture 311.5 in Sandpoint. "We built along a bare rock knoll, which defined the shape of the home. They liked the trees, and we recreated that look with a structural grid of columns that runs through the house every ten feet." The entire concept, he said, was to keep the home as a backdrop for art and lifestyle. This is reflected in the lack of conventional trims and finishes. The floors and ceilings are made with blue pine, locally known as "junk pine," in which decay has started to create blue streaks through the wood. It forms an impressionistic, artistic look that the couple found very appealing.

"We wanted to be able to sit anywhere and have interesting things to look at, whether it was art, design of the house or materials," Dan says. "And it worked!"

Custom builder Dan McMahon broke ground in May 2002 and finished the challenging project a year later. An experienced craftsman originally from New England, he had never built a home quite like this one before.

"It's unique," he says. "A true work of art. It wasn't until I was helping to hang the artwork that I fully appreciated the design, and the vision behind it all."

The home is heated with a hydronic in-floor system controlled by zones, which runs from an efficient propane gas furnace. An air-to-air heat exchanger recycles all air in the house 24 hours a day.

The exterior is sided with cedar shingles which were hand-dipped in a marine finish. The exterior and fireplace rock was imported from nearby quarries to match the bedrock on which the house stands.

The home blends quite neatly into the landscape and resulted in very little removal of trees or native plants. There is no lawn or garden. Instead, there are hiking trails along the rocky bluffs, pine groves and beaches. Along the trails, Dan has balanced cairns of rock, a habit from long-ago hiking trips.

Like the rest of the home, the lower floor embraces the couple's unique lifestyle. It's essentially one big spa-like space, with a bedroom, steam room, gym and yoga studio, using an 8xl5-foot jetted lap pool as the centerpiece. They exercise here in the mornings before starting their day. "And then we just kind of move into our own space," Dan says. "In a way it's like two children playing. She's playing in her studio, and I'm in mine. That's how we do art. It's a discovery every day."

His studio gives him room to work in acrylic, watercolor and sculpture, as well as experiment with etching and print making. Upstairs is a loft with additional gallery space. Connecting Dan's studio to Jackie's is an office where they spend a portion of their time managing their business and assets.

"That's been another journey and opportunity for growth," Jackie says. "It took us several years of study and development to switch from working for others to working for ourselves and managing our own assets to provide the means to live."

Jackie's studio is filled with music books and a bass violin, flutes, drums and percussion instruments for impromptu late-night jam sessions. Her eclectic songs and piano preference reflect her early classical training, from Gregorian chants to Chopin to Erik Satie.

Her band practices here, the sounds of guitar, fiddle, mandolin and flute filling the open spaces and spilling toward the pine trees. They sing folk, foreign songs, old rock and bluegrass. One band member commutes to weekly practices by boat. "It's absolutely fantastic," Jackie says. "The women love to come over because it's just such a lovely space, the sound is good in here, and there's an ambiance of being surrounded by musical instruments and nature as if you were in the trees. And... sometimes we go kayaking after practice!"

The music studio can be partitioned off for recording, or opened to the rest of the house for practices and performances. By moving a few bits of furniture, the couple figures they can fit 50 people or so into the audience.

They also host art tours to their studio and gallery. "We see the whole house as a place to share with family and friends," Jackie says. When friends come over, the children quickly find themselves playing music or dabbling watercolors onto canvas.

With visitors in mind, the home includes sleeping space in the loft, as well as a guest bedroom on the main floor and a Murphy bed in the music room. There's also the popular window seat that faces southeast, big enough for two people to sleep or snuggle.

"We wanted a place we would never want to leave," Dan says. "I've traveled too much in my life and moved too many times. Now we are content to stay home. When Jackie was a baby in Greenwich Village, she and her sister slept in dresser drawers. And I was in L.A. living in a trailer park. So it's nice to be here. We really appreciate it."

And as the sun sets across Lake Pend Oreille, and the stars begin to emerge over the Green Monarch mountains, Studio Decouvrir reflects tranquility and calm.

"When we first met," Jackie says, "Dan said he was searching for a spiritual life. I knew I also wanted a deliberate contemplative life, so together we feel like we have created a place that is rooted in nature and celebrates the beauty in art, family and humanity."

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