Last summer, Julie Cloutier and her husband Matt Shapiro moved to a rental farmhouse in Tomales, California (pop. 204). “The town is very rural and remote,” she says. “Our house is surrounded by cows, and we can hear a nighttime chorus of mooing.” Here, Julie takes us on a tour…
On a secret color: The farmhouse looks white from the street, but when you get closer, it’s actually faded pink! Clearly, it used to be bright pink, which I love. The exterior needs some love, but, as a former architect, I’ve always been into existing conditions — basically, just living with the home as it is. Even if we did own this house, I wouldn’t want to change anything for a while.
Cup: Cloutier Ceramics.
On main street: Our town is tiny — a bakery, post office and sandwich shop, that’s it. I walk there in six minutes. There’s also a town hall, where I do yoga in the mornings. Everyone is 60 or above. The same woman teaches it three times a week, and it’s definitely not strenuous.
On upsizing: This house is 2,200 square feet, and it was so weird moving here after living in a tiny San Francisco apartment for so long. Before, we were always right next to each other, and now we have to yell ‘Honey?’ ‘What? I can’t hear you!’ We don’t have much furniture, so we were like, what do we put in the foyer?! We decided to display our record player on a wooden box. Music in the center of the house made sense.
On a sofa with a story: Almost everything we have is used, from flea markets, garage sales, friends who moved abroad… Our couch was from Craigslist, and when we went to pick it up, it was in a dentist’s office. It’s a waiting room sofa! The sofa overall is soft, but the middle cushion is super hard — I guess no one would sit in the middle! We’re still working on breaking it in, five years later.
Cowhide rug: similar.
On following the warmth: We use the space differently based on the seasons. In the summer, we eat on the porch. In the winter, we eat in the living room because the wood fireplace is so pleasant — and the kitchen gets cold. We’ll just haul the table in there for the evening.
On bare walls: I like empty spaces. I don’t want to fill up the whole room and put art everywhere. Friends will come in and say, ‘You don’t have anything in here!’ But to me it feels full.
On a hidden bookshelf: Do you see the bookshelf in the staircase? If we have a guest, these are the books where we’d say, you can choose one to read at night! We have Swimming Studies, a couple travel guides, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton — anything he writes, I love. And Bluets, which was our latest book club pick.
On fresh food: We get our food at a nearby farm. They have beef, lamb, eggs, herbs, beans, wildflowers, veggies, corn, wheat, olive oil — you pick out your own stuff. I go to the grocery store only for pasta and dry goods. Six months out of the year, you can also buy wildflower bouquets for every room in the house. When I first heard about it, I was almost like, I don’t know, this sounds too dreamy!
On a personal gift: Our city apartment didn’t have room for bowls for our produce. So, I was on a mission when we got here: We need to get big baskets to put all our food in! The woven bowls are my favorite. I’d love to be able to throw huge platters myself. I can’t yet. They’re heavy and hard to center. But you see these old ladies doing it. I have to push myself!
On a candle habit: I just started making candleholders. I never had candles before, really, but now I’m burning them every day. We always light them for dinner; and since the holders don’t get hot, you can carry them between rooms.
On easy dinners: My husband is a chef at Hog Island Oyster Co, and we like to cook at home together. I’m like his prep cook. Sometimes we’ll eat late if he’s working a dinner shift. When I’m home alone, I’ll make fried eggs with vegetables. In the summertime, I’m eating open-faced tomato sandwiches.
On nature: We feel more connected to nature living up here. Hearing the owls as we’re going to bed — I never want to take that for granted. We spot wild cats, turkeys and deer. Every month, I’ll find a frog in the house! My husband was never an outdoors person before, but now he loves it. He’ll go fishing and mushrooming. There are two mushrooms that can kill you, but we go for the tasty ones that look obvious — porcini, chanterelles, black trumpets.
On a little oasis: Our bedroom is pretty simple — there’s a wood table on his side and my side has nothing. I just put whatever I’m reading on the ground. I prefer a smaller room for sleeping, it’s cozier. At night, we like watching nature documentaries, but Matt falls asleep immediately so we don’t watch for very long. Once he’s asleep, I’ll turn the light back on and read.
On a trick for good sleep: Linen sheets are our favorite. We only have one set (our other sheets are cotton), so we’re always washing them. They help you sleep so much better. The pillow cases are a tidal pool fabric from Chloe May Brown.
On hosting guests: We have an air mattress in our guest room upstairs, but it still feels cozy. As soon as we renew our lease, I’m going to get a guest bed. I like putting fresh flowers in there. A few weeks ago, we had a guest, and I went outside and cut some leaves off our succulent. Rosemary is also really nice and makes the room smell good.
On a second career: I worked in architecture for 10 years. But I was sitting at a computer too much and wanted to use my hands. So, I started taking ceramics classes. I took so many intro classes — I kept signing up for them! At first, I was only hand building because I was scared of the wheel. One day, I tried it, and then I kept trying. It became an intense hobby. Then I was laid off from my architecture job, which was kind of perfect timing. I started working at General Store and taking ceramics classes at City College three times a week. After a couple years, I began selling my work, and when my paycheck became equal, I grew more confident, like maybe I can make this work as a career.
On alone time: I work from home, but I’m perfectly content being by myself. We’ve had so many visitors — people come every week for dinner, a day trip or a sleepover. But I can be by myself for days. Sometimes, I’ll play music; sometimes I’ll go through a quiet phase where I’ll just enjoy the silence. I had a stand-up comedy period, where I listened to every comedy special I could get my hands on: Ali Wong, Margaret Cho, Seinfeld, Trevor Noah, Hasan Minhaj. I’ll listen while I’m throwing, but if I start laughing too much, I have to stop.
Thank you so much, Julie!
(Photos by Lena Corwin for Cup of Jo.)