Couple makes underground their home sweet home
HOMER, La. — Rick and Chris Broussard decided to go underground 33 years ago.
Their home is about 11 feet under the rich soil of Claiborne Parish, in 40 acres including lush woodland and a spring-fed creek.
To get there, one follows a trail of churches out of Minden.
A curvy gravel road takes a visitor three-quarters of a mile in hilly terrain to their house. The Broussards walked and flagged the property to lay out the vehicle path to their home.
“We wanted it to wind and miss the fern beds,” Chris said.
Chris is an artist who teaches at Glenbrook Academy in Minden and tends 4 acres of Minden’s Cultural Crossroads Farm where she is also grant writer and board chairwoman.
Rick, an industrial engineer, is water utilities manager with the city of Minden. Son Ben Broussard, of Austin, Texas, was born two weeks after they moved in. When they talked about marriage, Rick proposed building a house underground.
“I wanted to be near trees,” he said in a separate interview.
“I have a fascination with trees and love to be around them, close to them,” he added, saying his woods include beech, hickory, elm, maple and sassafras.
That was the bottom line, but Rick was tired of taking care of a yard like the one he once tended in Minden. “I made up my mind I was not going to spend the rest of my life doing that,” he said.
“And, environmental consciousness played into it,” Chris said.
She didn’t object. “I was in love!”
Rick was initially exposed to the notion through a friend who built a basement nearby. But Rick did his own research, bought a set of plans, went to a place up North where such houses were prevalent.
He hired Harold Weaver Construction. “I had never built one,” said Harold Weaver, but I said, ‘I think we can do it.’”
Rick took a year and a half off work to supervise the construction of his home of concrete — 200 cubic yards of it — steel and dirt.
Biggest challenge? “Waterproofing it. Making sure it was waterproofed,” answered Weaver.
Rick and Chris hiked the property to find the site which faced the south on a hill gentle enough to provide a landscape around the house.
The house has a small air conditioning unit, not to cool the place but to prevent condensation and control the humidity.
The only heat in the winter comes from a very small wood-burning stove.
“The temperature varies only 10 degrees between winter and summer and the change is gradual,” Chris said.
When you arrive, you see a 12-by-23-foot mustard-colored shed. (The house can also be entered off the back deck.)
Open the door and immediately step onto a narrow, long landing which looks down on the atrium or up to the 25-foot exposed beam ceiling.
Inside the square 1,950-square-foot house there is a den, dining room, three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a laundry room and an office and darkroom.
Some doors came from abandoned buildings in downtown Minden; wood was rescued from abandoned houses the owners were tearing down.
Walls are painted in earth hues and floors are ceramic tile or parquet wood.
Natural objects like feathers, plant stalks in unusual shapes and bird nests and wood scrounged in the woods brings nature in and makes the house part of the environment.
The house is warm and cozy. Except for the comfortable couches in the den, it is furnished with things the couple have made, bought at auctions or estate sales or rescued from abandoned houses they find as they trod their 40 acres.
They filled it with Chris’ art, which one expert calls “hyper-realistic,” Rick’s photographs of country things and items they’ve bought from other artists. An unusual and bold Native American-inspired walnut sculpture — “The Burden” by Arkansas artist Charles Widmer — was purchased with a swap of some property and cash.
In the master bedroom is a pencil sketch of an elephant’s head Ben drew when he was seven.
You might call the decor shabby chic underground.
“We fight for wall space,” admitted Chris.
And, for space, period.
“We rescue dogs, jars and antiques,” said Chris.
She collects willow and other blue-white plates and platters while he cherishes ironstone of all styles, and they both use Mason jars they’ve accumulated.
There is a wall clock from France which once belonged to Chris’ mother and an unusual primitive kitchen piece which was crammed with linens when they snatched it up for $11 at the end of an auction.
And, in a bathroom, a mosaic mirror Chris fashioned from broken dishes she and Rick retrieved when they hiked in the woods.
One wall holds those vintage 1930s long skinny reunion photographs people throw away, but the Broussards recognize as a form of art.
The furniture includes a handsome vintage bedroom suite with a beautiful bureau, chest and bed picked up at an auction in Magnolia, Ark.
And, on the deck, a glider scrounged from an estate sale.
The couple’s underground was not built as a place to hide. They are not afraid of anything. They are not hoarding. They do not live in the dark.
The atrium brings in light, and so do the windows facing the woods in back and the door which gives them access to the porch, screen porch and flower-filled deck.
This family home is comfortable, filled with memories of travels, estate sales and walks in the woods.
For them, it is “Home. Sweet Home.”
It just happens to be underground.