At home with… Idie Adams and Alan Carrier

Art and history in a classic country dwelling

Spiffing up their historic Capay house is still a work in progress for Alan Carrier and Idie Adams. Since we interviewed them, for example, they’ve replaced the modular chairs they’re sitting on here, in their living room, with comfortable red-leather easy chairs.

Spiffing up their historic Capay house is still a work in progress for Alan Carrier and Idie Adams. Since we interviewed them, for example, they’ve replaced the modular chairs they’re sitting on here, in their living room, with comfortable red-leather easy chairs.

Photo By Tom Angel

Idie Adam and Alan Carrier are artists from the city—she’s originally from New York, he’s from Montreal— who’ve discovered the joys of country living. Last year they purchased a historic house in Capay, an area of small farms and ranchettes about five miles north of Hamilton City, and said good-bye to Chico, their home for many years.

The new house was a wreck, but the couple fell in love with it at first sight. It’s called the Bay-Miller House and was built, they believe, in the late ‘teens or early ‘20s, which makes it about 80 years old. The builder was a man who bought up a lot of acreage in the area, subdivided it into 20-acre plots, put a well on each one and then sold them.

The house, which is about 80 years old, is both residence and gallery for the couple’s hundreds of art pieces, including the folk art figures below.

Photo By Tom Angel

This house, which is set among olive and orange trees on one of those 20-acre parcels, is well off the road and surrounded by 21 mature palm trees, giving it the feel of an estate. In fact, the couple are now calling it “21 Palms.” The one-story, 3,000-square-foot house has nine rooms plus a walk-in pantry and is an eclectic blend of styles, with Arts and Crafts predominating but touches of Greek Revival in the porch columns and Craftsman/Prairie elements elsewhere.

The front porch faces south, with a view of countryside that goes for three miles. The front door leads into the expansive, light-filled living room, with a fireplace in the wall directly ahead. To the right is a sun room and, next to it, a dining room. The kitchen, pantry, utility rooms and guest bedroom are in a wing on the east side, while the couple’s bedroom, a separate sitting room and an office are in the west wing. Outside, between the wings, is a small swimming pool surrounded by patio.

Photo By Tom Angel

The house’s most striking aspect is the sheer number of windows and glass-paneled doors. The house is literally ringed by windows, light enters everywhere and the outside, with its orchards and lawn, is always visible. “We just love the light,” Adams exults. The cooling breezes that flow through the house during warm months are also welcome.

The house has 50 doors, Carrier says. He’s counted them. The previous owners, he adds, used to tell their kids to put themselves to sleep by counting the house’s doors instead of sheep.

One of Carrier’s whimsical sculptures (rear) overlooks the dining room table. This is one of the few rooms where the couple kept the existing wallpaper, enjoying (for the time being) the contrasting mood its traditionalism creates.

Photo By Tom Angel

They’ve owned the house for about a year and have spent all of that time remodeling and repairing it, doing some of the work themselves and hiring out the biggest jobs. They chose not to do any major reshaping, but everything had to be rehabbed. They resurfaced the original quarter-sawn oak floors in the front rooms, put on a new roof, rewired the electricity, put new linoleum flooring in the kitchen, redid the plumbing, cleaned out termite and dry rot problems areas, and put in new fans in all the rooms and new appliances in the kitchen.

Adams is a ceramicist and teaches at Butte Community College, where she also chairs the Fine Arts Department, and her husband is a sculptor known for his wildly inventive figures made from old toy parts. He also directs the college’s Coyote Gallery and owns a small Internet and retail business selling antique toys. Both are avid collectors of artworks, antiques and craft pieces.

Finding and creating space for the couple’s collections of art- and craft works was a challenge. Here, shelves hold some of Carrier’s many antique lunch boxes, while cabinets have been turned into small exhibit spaces. Note the dozens of salt-and-pepper sets, left rear, in a former ironing board closet.

Photo By Tom Angel

They own literally thousands of items. One of the reasons they moved, they say, was because their previous house in Chico simply couldn’t contain all their stuff, as well as provide living and studio space. This new house is much larger, plus it has a separate building that houses their studio and garage as well as a former barn that serves for storage.

In remodeling the new house, a principal concern was creating ample exhibit space for their artwork. This took some creative planning. The couple owns, for example, more than 300 pairs of unusual salt and pepper shakers. These needed display cases. One clever solution was to put shelves in a former ironing board closet in the kitchen and glass panels on its doors.

A stone fireplace is the central attraction in the living room. With its inset wood-burning heater, it can warm up most of the house, Carrier and Adams say.

Photo By Tom Angel

As it is, the house is filled with visual attractions: numerous paintings, sculptures (including several of Carrier’s), ceramic art—far too much to attempt to describe. One could spend a couple of hours enjoying it all.

While removing some old wallpaper, the couple discovered a list written on a hallway wall that contained the names of the members of the family, the Bourgets, who lived in the house for 30 years before they bought it. It also listed the animal residents of the ranchette, including 100 peacocks, two guinea hens and eight tortoises.

The couple likes to have morning coffee in this sun room, with its expansive view of the countryside that surrounds their house. The palm trees are among the 21 mature palms that surround the house.

Photo By Tom Angel

The house remains a work in progress. The air conditioning system needs work, and the kitchen counter needs resurfacing, and the yard needs landscaping. Eventually they hope to fill it with sculptures, so that when they look out their many windows they’ll see artwork in the distance.

But most of the heavy labor is done, and Adams and Carrier now have time to enjoy their new abode. They love the quiet, the cooing of the owls in the palm trees, and the brilliance of the stars at night. “We haven’t regretted this move for a moment,” Adams says.