Of all the homes we’ve featured in Natural Home magazine over the years, Casa Neverlandia is perhaps the most fun. A colorful, undulating fantasyland outfitted with solar panels, rainwater collection, fire poles, an elevated footbridge, talk tubes, nooks and hideaways, this remodeled Austin, Texas, home is a true original.
Homeowner, architect and designer James Talbot bought the single-story bungalow, built in 1917, for $13,000 in 1979. Over the years, along with his wife, Kay Pils, he’s turned the home into a three-story chalet using salvaged materials and scraps. Thick, heavily insulated walls are covered with plaster, and an air space between the ceiling and the roof deck along with a reflective barrier funnel warm air up and out of the house through a ridge vent.
Numerous windows and doors invite breezes, eliminating the need for air conditioning. Gas space heaters and an efficient fireplace replace central heat. . A lookout tower houses the home’s 16 solar panels, offering a cool place to sleep on the hottest summer nights and a beautiful view of downtown Austin. “The way we live is a little old-fashioned, but in the past—before central air and heating—everyone made do by adjusting their lifestyle and their clothing,” Talbot says,
Talbot and Kay give paid tours of Neverlandia to folks who might notice the shimmering Plexiglas, mirror, and tile mosaics on the façade or the illuminated glass brick columns peering through the cedar and oak trees out front. “We like to share what we’ve done, and we hope there’s something to learn in terms of how to live uniquely and responsibly,” Talbot says. “We feel we’re giving people permission to play with their spaces.”
Mosaic tiles shimmer on the home's exterior, lending the home a whimsical presence. Photo by Paul Bardagjy
Built-in sofas provide a comfortable place for Talbot, Kay and pets to relax within well-insulated walls. Talbot did the plaster work in this room, keeping the couple’s expenses as low as possible. Photo by Paul Bardagjy
Talbot created the earth altar in the home’s entryway using some of his late father’s ashes mixed into the brick mortar. Photo by Paul Bardagjy
The fire altar is one of four in the house representing the cardinal elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Lights from the glowing flame dance on the ceiling, a mosaic of broken glass that Kay designed. Photo by Paul Bardagjy
The kitchen welcomes people to enjoy natural light and breezes. Photo by Paul Bardagjy
In the second-floor Bali room, standard reed fencing and bamboo covers the pitched walls all the way to the roof peak. Photo by Paul Bardagjy