How do you live a healthy life when your family includes four young children and two parents with full-time jobs?
Well, it helps if your house reflects your priorities.
When Jolene Kuty and Daniel Gottlieb moved from their starter home to a roomier property along Scottsdale’s Cactus Corridor in 2012, they chose three words to guide what they wanted to do in their new space: play, live and eat.
Emphasis on play.
The house itself, a 1968 ranch on a half-acre lot, had a casual exterior with slump block walls and artful — if ineffective — windows. But the interior was dark, with cramped living and dining rooms.
As an architect, Gottlieb had a simple solution to that problem: Remove the walls.
Kuty, a chiropractor, was more skeptical.
“I said: ‘You can’t do that! It’ll fall down!”
It did not fall down.
Upcycling with love
But opening the space was only a start. After that, the couple got creative, personalizing their home with upcycled materials and plenty of DIY.
To stretch their budget, they purchased used building supplies, which sometimes spurred additional ideas. In one instance, they were scoping out a patio door they’d seen on Craigslist when the seller showed them a large window as well.
They bought both.
“We weren’t even thinking of adding a window until we saw it,” admitted Gottlieb. “But now there’s so much more light!”
Other discoveries were more personal.
Gottlieb’s grandmother died shortly before the couple moved, and they were able to repurpose several items from her house. A slab of butcher block became a kitchen island. A stereo cabinet turned into a dining room credenza. And a midcentury couch just needed fresh upholstery before it landed in the living room.
But some furnishings required extra assembly.
To add storage in the new living/dining area, the couple purchased inexpensive cabinets from IKEA. By adding a top from a local fabricator and vintage drawer pulls from Gottlieb’s grandfather’s stash, they turned the mass-produced cabinets into a custom, 19-foot-long buffet.
A similar inspiration helped Kuty improvise the artwork that hangs over the buffet. Frustrated by her search for a large piece that would tie together the blue and orange shades in the living room, she propped an orange pillow next to a blue wheelbarrow, and snapped a photo. After a little digital editing, she had the image printed on an aluminum panel, producing an abstract print in exactly the colors she wanted.
Scrap yards and spray paint
Although Kuty doesn’t think of herself as artistic, she and Gottlieb enjoy dreaming up ways to repurpose old items.
“We like to save money,” Kuty acknowledged, “but we also love the idea that we’re taking things out of a dumpster and giving them a new life.”
The results of their scavenging expeditions are hidden in plain sight. The eye-catching sculpture in the front yard? It’s a stack of steel shipping cubes. The casual sofas on the back patio? Wooden pallets. The dramatic orange vase in center of the garden? That was an eyesore until it got a spray-paint makeover. Recycled rebar holds up the grapevines. The shade house over the garden beds used to be a carport. And the swing set and balance beam for the kids? Those came pretty much as-is from a defunct school.
“Some women go to Nordstrom,” joked Kuty, “I go to scrap yards.”
But even as they were repurposing other people’s junk, they were salvaging whatever they could from their own property.
They revived a shabby outbuilding with a cladding of corrugated aluminum. They sorted the river rock from the backyard to make decorative borders. And when they pulled up the old patio, they resold the bricks.
All told, the couple only hauled one trailer load to the dump.
The key to everything
But although Kuty and Gottlieb put their fingerprints all over the house, the backyard is where their guide words are most evident.
When they first saw the space, it seemed almost too big — a dusty sprawl with a few straggly trees.
“At the time, it was kind of intimidating,” admitted Kuty. “But it’s really the key to everything now.”
There the couple built thirteen raised garden beds out of interlocking concrete blocks. Arranged along orderly paths, the beds provide 800 square feet of growing space and divide the yard into manageable sections.
The plants themselves are more unruly.
Tomato vines crowd the basil, melons cascade onto pathways, and the okra occasionally goes to seed before anyone can pick it. Around the perimeter, fruit trees burst out with peaches, plums, and tangelos. The entire thing, Kuty said, is one big experiment.
“I’m definitely not a commercial farmer,” she admitted. “I probably plant 1,000 seeds a year and I’m excited if I get a single watermelon.”
But despite the casual approach, the experiment is putting meaning behind the word “Eat.”
“Some people eat out every meal, but we’re kind of the opposite now,” Kuty said.
Eggplant, sweet potatoes, grapes. Whatever’s in season ends up on the family’s table.
When basil is growing, they make pesto by the freezerful. Extra fruit goes into jam. They give away bumper crops to friends or Kuty’s clients. And any scraps either go to compost or to feed their seven chickens.
“We try not to waste anything,” said Kuty.
Kuty and Gottlieb credit their gardening know-how to local experts like Ken Singh of Scottsdale’s Singh Farms and Greg Peterson of The Urban Farm in Phoenix.
But, Kuty said, a sense of fun also helps.
“We’re pretty hodge-podge. I don’t keep track of anything. I just throw it all in there and see what grows.”
An integrated life
Although just-picked produce is a major incentive for the garden, Kuty and Gottlieb also like that their children know where their food comes from. The kids play hide-and-seek around the trees and snack on cherry tomatoes and chives.
But, says Kuty, a hidden health benefit for all of them is the nudge to get a little accidental exercise.
“The garden draws you outdoors,” she explained. “If something’s blooming, or something’s ready to pick, you gravitate to that.”
As a chiropractor, Kuty had spent years trying to educate her patients about how to integrate diet and exercise into their lives. But she never considered using her own household as an model.
However, as the house and garden took shape, friends started asking if Kuty was going to move her practice, too.
“I kept saying: ‘No, why would I do that?'” she remembered. “And then one day, I said: ‘Hey, why WOULDN’T I do that?'”
In 2015, the couple outfitted a room off the kitchen to serve as a chiropractic office and Kuty now has a ready-made example of how to combine play, life and eating.
She doesn’t imagine her clients will want to build a farm, Kuty explained, “but maybe they’ll plant some tomatoes or something. I want people to see that engaging with nature even a little will make your life so much better.”
And for her own family, it’s still one big experiment.
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