After going on the Weird Homes Tour last year, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the odd homes in Austin and the people who live in them. Not far from FlamingO Ranch (my first peek into one of Austin’s unique abodes) lies Casa Neverlandia, the Bouldin Creek home of artist James Edward Talbot.
Welcome to Casa Neverlandia
When I walked up to the door, I noticed there wasn’t a doorbell, but rather xylophones and bells. After dinging a bell, I heard a voice coming from a PVC pipe imbedded in the house asking, “Who is it?” When Talbot greeted me outside, he began to tell me his background and how Casa Neverlandia was born.
What was once a small one-story house built in 1906 is now a three-story home with a decorative stone and mosaic façade. The transformation of this house has been a “slow process that reflects my personal growth,” according to Talbot. After four years of architecture school, Talbot graduated, handed his diploma to his parents and moved to Austin to resume his childhood. For a while he lived in Clarksville, near what is now HOPE Outdoor Gallery. In 1979, when “the hippies were pushed out,” he bought his current home in Bouldin Creek for $13,000.
Talbot’s main focus in architecture was children’s environments like playscapes and music centers, and the name of his home is derived from his old company, Neverland Play Designs. Playscapes are where he first started using elements like the instruments at his front door and the talk tube which runs to his kitchen and third floor.
Talbot was raised in a military family that moved to many countries. As part of a personal journey to connect with his past, he has revisited the places he lived while growing up. Coincidentally, when he went back to his home in Marrakesh, he saw it had been made into three stories, and his old school in Caracas had grown to three as well. He literally integrated pieces of his past into the outside of his home by including stones from a building he worked on in Austin (Folk Toy), his homes in Turkey and Paraguay, and his mother’s birthplace.
Kay Pils, Talbot’s partner of 17 years, made a large impression on the home even though she moved out about two years ago. She began living there in 1996 when it was still a single story home. She too has a building background, so she helped create the present day structure and design of Casa Neverlandia.
Casa Neverlandia’s Ground Floor
Once inside, Talbot told me about the altars to the elements in his living room. The fire altar features a Rumford style fireplace which had to be researched thoroughly in order to match the correct proportions of the Rumford style and create the maximum amount of heat radiation. The floor is dropped down so the ashes stay within the stone area and away from the carpet. Wood storage areas lie on either side of the fireplace and open to the outdoors.
Next to the fireplace is one of the most inviting areas of the home – built-in bookshelves and couches with the air altar represented by beautiful blue glass surrounding the windows.
Near the front door, the earth altar holds Talbot’s father’s ashes, gorgeous geodes and shells. The water altar is still a work in progress, now in its beginning stages.
The gallery room next to the earth altar used to be a workroom, but Talbot discovered he really needed the wall-space for his bead artwork. Along with the functional art within his home, Talbot also creates public art pieces and hanging bead sculptures. The tiny colored glass beads shimmer and stand out against the bold red walls of the small gallery. Talbot was around 13 years old when he started working with beads in Boy Scouts, but he fell in love with seed beads when he visited a bead store in Barcelona after college.
Other rooms on the ground floor include Talbot’s office, a bathroom, a music room and the kitchen. The music room holds a multitude of records and CDs. Its ceiling is covered in perfectly curated vinyl hung by Kay, including Disney’s Peter Pan soundtrack and an album with the silhouette of the Sagrada Família on it. In addition to the impact of the bead store, the architecture in Barcelona (specifically that of Antoni Gaudí’s work like the Sagrada Família) influenced the imaginative construction of Casa Neverlandia.
Another piece of Spanish art influence can be spotted in the kitchen. Inspired by Salvador Dali’s Mae West Room and the idea of objects in a landscape creating a new image when viewed from a certain location, Talbot is forming a face from items in the kitchen window and outside in the backyard. Pieces like a bell hanging above the sink makes a nose while a hanging ball outside fashions an eye.
Taking a Look Upstairs
After climbing the stairs to Casa Neverlandia’s second story, a large, open room with a lofted area and balcony is revealed. The tall pointed ceiling is covered in bamboo with a green to yellow ombre paint underneath to brighten the rafters and highlight the skylight. No electric light was on in the room, but it was perfectly illuminated. This open space is used to entertain guests with a ping pong table, and was once-upon-a-time used for house concerts. A storyboard leans up against the wall with photos of the house when Talbot bought it and many construction pictures. The only resemblance the house has now to its appearance in 1979 is some yellow paint on the façade.
Walking around the staircase, I spotted a cozy room with musical instruments, and behind a curtain next to it is a bathroom to be. “This is the kind of place I lived in for years while figuring stuff out,” Talbot said. He can clearly envision the mosaics and stonework that will make this space functional and beautiful, while I can only marvel at the potential of the confusing construction and the amount of work that went into every aspect of this home.
A short staircase led up to the third story bedroom that will also undergo a bit of work soon. Talbot plans to raise the platform bed and use two boulders as a means to hop onto it, continuing the theme of three levels.
Currently, the bedroom is covered in black and white animal print. Since this theme has been around since 1997, he wants to add a variety of animal prints and canvas on the ceiling to create more of a tree house vibe, and evolve the bedroom which was once for Kay and himself.
Casa Neverlandia’s Backyard
The balcony accessed from the bedroom faces the four story tower/treehouse in the backyard. A plank bridge consisting of slender boards and chains connects the balcony to the third story of the tower. Talbot crosses effortlessly while I slowly cross while holding my breath and hoping for the best. Once we reach the tower, we go up a ladder to the top floor which has a view of old Austin, like a moonlight tower, and new Austin, like the cranes and downtown skyline. While Bouldin Creek changes around Casa Neverlandia, Talbot says he feels like he is “in a little ship” and sometimes he “wakes up in a new port.”
Talbot used to sleep in the hammock on the top of the tower, and he can easily reach the bottom by descending firepoles placed within the structure. The firepoles are something he often used in playscapes, and he uses them on the outside of his house as well. For those who look at an inch and a quarter pipe with a hole around it as intimidating, there are also ladders to reach the bottom of the tower.
Once Talbot zipped down to the ground while I descended at sloth speed, we met at his open air studio. Rows of beads in glass jars arranged by color (much like the store in Barcelona that captivated him) line the wall while photos of people who have inspired him grace the ceiling, including a teacher of his, Kay, Antoni Gaudí and even Roy Rogers. In a larger section of the studio, he has a full scale mockup of the bed, so he can envision how to implement his vision as he considers it from every angle.
The studio was built around 1992 after Talbot went on a vision quest that helped him realize he should work on nonfunctional art as well. Talbot built some parts of Casa Neverlandia in stages to make sure he would actually use everything he made. While sitting on the porch swing, I asked him if he felt the house would ever be finished. He compared my question to, “Do you ever think you’ll be full?”
Talbot doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the idea of never being “done” because he thinks of it in terms of “not being done brushing your teeth instead of not being done with your homework.” He made this switch in thinking when the home got to the point where it was taking care of him instead of the other way around. Since everything created from now on is optional, it’s like “reaching the top of a hill on your bike.” It took roughly 19 years to reach that point, and now every room has its charms and purpose.
Being Green and Seen
I asked Talbot what it felt like to have his home become public during tours. He said that although he’s an introvert, he enjoys showing his home to others because he feels it is his “pulpit to help change the world.” While he does not expect people to go home and recreate what he has done, he hopes they will realize their home can support and nurture them, be beautiful, and reflect their personality while not draining the world.
I perceive Casa Neverlandia as effortlessly green because it seems perfectly fitting that it has few electric lights, a composting toilet, solar panels and no heat or air conditioning. This leaves the home so quiet that Talbot can even hear the singing from the historical church next door. This home has a wonderfully playful personality, but its contents have been taken very seriously in order to reflect Talbot as a person and create a conscious living space.
Casa Neverlandia is located at 305 W Milton. Please be mindful of Talbot’s privacy. Tours are $15 each and can be arranged by contacting him at (512) 442-7613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Usually he likes tours to consist of 5 or more people, and sometimes he arranges tours and posts their availability on Facebook.
Touring Casa Neverlandia will take longer than you think. It is a captivating space and it echoes Talbot’s inviting and interesting nature. I have visited twice and feel very fortunate to have spent time there.
@MadameKLM wants to know:
Have you visited Casa Neverlandia?