Monday, May 20, 2024

Retired dentist’s evolving home, half a century.

Ray Armstrong’s Expanding House Project

With a combined 25,000-gallon koi pond system, Ray Armstrong’s house has been expanding for decades.

Blending with the Natural Landscape

Surrounded by mountainous terrain, the house blends with the natural landscape, with wooden decks and stone pathways leading to windows and murals of different outside scenes.

Art and Function Intertwined

With sculptures of birds flying and chicks in a nest, a stone alligator that’s also a bench and tentacles that serve as lights, art and function is intertwined.

“I wanted something that would inspire. Don’t screw up the inspiration that this property provides. If anything, enhance it,” Armstrong said. “I would say 80% of my art has to do with the outside, and so it’s another way of bringing the inside out and outside in.”

An Evolving Project

The house has been the retired dentist’s project for 47 years.

“All of this is a slow, evolving process that’s involved, really, the community in a lot of different ways,” Armstrong said. “My general vision from the start was ‘Boy, don’t screw it up.’”

Beginning of the Journey

The journey began in 1976, when Armstrong found the lot for sale at the top of a hill. And with a view overlooking the mountains and Colorado Springs, Armstrong knew it was where he wanted to be.

“We’ve got this incredible view. Make it so you see it. Make it so you can share it,” he said. “I also knew that whatever I did, it had to last, it was going to last, longer (than) my lifetime. So another way of saying sustainability.”

Bartering and Labor

Armstrong built up the home by bartering and using his own labor. With a growing dentistry practice, he would offer dental services in exchange for handy work.

“I approached them, and I said, ‘I’ll do all the dentistry for your family, if you do the labor,’” Armstrong recalled. “It helped me afford the first, build a house like a city would let me move into. And secondly, I was able to build my practice, because I got all these new patients (to) work on.”

Sustainability at the Forefront

Sustainability is at the forefront of Armstrong’s design.

“All the art and everything with this incredible view, I had to compete with that, and I had to create something that (brings) people’s eyes down into the house,” he said.

Take his water system, which circulates from the fishponds through filters to break down the ammonia into nitrates. Those nitrates are then used in the outside gardens.

The property also has three 20-foot solar panels positioned down the mountain. Those provide electricity to the home. For heating, Armstrong uses a system of solar vapor tubes that collect heat and can be redistributed throughout the home.

But Armstrong doesn’t want to stop there. He plans to construct a commercial aquaponics greenhouse to grow food year-round.

His commitment to sustainability led to his motto: Sustainability doesn’t have to be ugly. Many design elements of the home revolve around function, Armstrong said — even the koi ponds.

“It’s all about those doors, because a frequently asked question is, ‘How did you get into koi and everything?’ And it was function,” Armstrong said. “Everything in the design in this place in the evolution had to have purpose first.”

The Origin of the Koi Ponds

Less than a decade into construction, the wooden front doors of the home began warping. This led Armstrong to install his first koi pond after creating an enclosure to protect the doors.

“The enclosure included a water feature, and somebody said, ‘Put koi in there.’ The rest is history,” he said.

Now, about 50 koi swim in the two ponds around the property. The large fish from Japan glisten in a variety of colors, including combinations of black, white, and orange. Armstrong estimates some of the koi in his ponds are over 30 years old.

The koi stay in the ponds year-round, entering into a hibernation-like state during the winter, Armstrong said.

“They like to go through that natural cycle,” Armstrong said. “You get a chance to rest.”

Aqua-Themed Property

The theme of water flows throughout the property through art, with heavy hues of blue making a striking entranceway surrounding a sculpture of a panther perched on a branch.

Murals also line the walls of the house, with some depicting natural landscapes and others dedicated to more fun, sci-fi inspired themes — like “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars,” which are seen in the details of the living room’s main mural.

Rooms are given different themes based on the art within, like the bird room, which is detailed with hand-painted birds on the walls and avian sculptures. Then there’s the Cuban room, which features a colorful pastel mural that incorporates photos of Armstrong and his friends during trips to Cuba.

Funding the Future

To help fund the home’s future, Armstrong opened up as an Airbnb, which is its own private residence. Armstrong is creating a model of the whole property, mapping out the details for future caretakers. Eventually, Armstrong wants his house to live on as an educational tool.

“I don’t know if I’m going to live to see the vision, the completion of sustainability for this place, and so that’s one of the reasons I’m doing the model,” Armstrong said.

“This goes into a trust, and the trust, the first priority would be to the finish my vision based on the model. And the second is to educate and inspire.”

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