Pippi Longstocking's Villa Villekulla

Pippi Longstocking's Villa Villekulla

People are often quite bewildered when they first arrive here at Witte’s End. It’s hard to put into words. Many have been invited by a friend who has given up trying to describe it and opted for something along the lines of, “just trust me, you want to be here. Come over. Now.” Anyone who is a fan of Pippi Longstocking likens it to her home, Villa Villekulla, and it’s also got a bit of a hobbit-y Bag End sort of vibe. It’s a real-life Wonderland with surprises around every corner. It’s been our very own Secret Garden to nurture and revive and fill with love and joy and imagination. It’s most definitely unique and some would tell you more than a little magical.

People arrive here for different reasons…  Sometimes they find their way here following glittering signs to a yard sale, or because a friend invited them, once we had two dozen fifth graders on a class field trip to procure costumes for a play. Sometimes strangers show up on our doorstep, lost and with nowhere else to turn until they look up and see a sign that says “Witte’s End,” and they decide to knock on our door and ask for help. Whatever the reason, they encounter so much more than they ever expected when they arrive. They look around questioningly and often demand answers. There’s so much unexpected beauty and playfullness here around every corner, and the story of what it is and how and why it all came to be is a bit more complex than can be summed up in a sentence or two. Witte’s End is our great art therapy project; a living monument to imagination and renewal. It’s an urban farm in the making, temporary world headquarters to Z Freak Boutique and the Wanderlust Market, host to numerous community events and mixers, home to me, my two beautiful sons, and more often than not to a friend or two in need. It’s an urban oasis of love, learning, and collaboration I have worked for nearly seven years to create in order to provide a safe place for my kids to learn and grow into capable, compassionate, and joyful adults.

Photo by James Van Salee

Right now, I have a unique and amazing opportunity to purchase and preserve this special place, to maintain my children’s home here and carry out the vision I have been working towards, but I need immediate assistance in the form of a private loan. Since I am in what is definitely an unconventional situation, I hope to provide explanation and context for the work that I do and the specifics of the assistance that I seek in the passage that follows. I don’t want pity, and I am not seeking charity; I am seeking an investor or investors to loan me the money to purchase our home at a fair interest rate for up to ten years. While I am not a prime loan candidate by conventional banking measures, I seek an investor or investors who understand that a loan to purchase Witte’s End is a secure financial investment that also supports art and community, and I hope that this transaction could be potentially used as a model, scaled up and applied to others in our community struggling to secure property soon or be priced out of their own communities for good. Read on for more about this whole venture, and see if perhaps you want to play some part in our story:

Love at first sight. 

Love at first sight. 

I came across what would become Witte's End in a posting on craigslist in 2009 when I urgently needed to find a better home for my family. It needed some work - the yard was neglected from over a year of vacancy, the interior hadn't been painted in decades, and there were a lot of little deferred maintenance items all around. But it had hardwood floors, a doorbell like my grandma's house on Capitol Hill, coved ceilings, and even a laundry chute. And what a view! From the living room and front yard, you can see Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, and stunning sunsets. The neighborhood is fantastic and one of Seattle's most diverse, and both boys are able to go to the nearby public option school that has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum with other kids of all colors and backgrounds spanning the globe.

Bryce on painting day, 2009

Bryce on painting day, 2009

I thought that being in a better place could make things better for our family, most especially for my husband, Bryce. We'd been through some really hard times and he struggled deeply with depression and sleep disorders. We had been making changes we thought could improve his health both mentally and physically, and his depression and suicidal outbursts seemed to be improving that summer and fall as we prepared to move. The month we all shared this home was lovely. After months of slow improvement, being in a sunny place connected to the city and his friends drastically improved his health and attitude. Tragically, when he felt a resurgence of old feelings one night in late October, he became hopeless that his battle with mental illness would never end, and he sought relief by taking his own life. Our oldest son, Sacha, was four years old. Our younger son Julian had just turned two earlier that week.

I don't know how I would have survived if not for the amazing community that surrounds me. This photo was taken the night of Bryce's memorial. Photo by Dan McComb

I don't know how I would have survived if not for the amazing community that surrounds me. This photo was taken the night of Bryce's memorial. Photo by Dan McComb

Suddenly I found myself a young widow, not yet 30 and a wholly single mother of two small, creative, intelligent, and highly energetic boys. Our eldest son Sacha was old enough to understand what death meant, and was heartbroken by the loss of his father. Julian walked around the house looking for Daddy occasionally for a few weeks after we returned, but at the time couldn't fully understand what Daddy being dead really meant. I knew they’d spend the rest of their childhoods processing and coming to understand the loss of their father in different ways as they grow. I was left with the task of figuring out how everything in our lives would work now as a family of three. I found out we were eligible for social security survivor benefits that could cover our basic necessities, which was a godsend since I couldn't see how I could put my kids in daycare full-time and go back to work shortly after being widowed.

Bryce's Spirit Tree is filled with windchimes, lights and lanterns.

Bryce's Spirit Tree is filled with windchimes, lights and lanterns.

So I set about rebuilding our lives. The landlord offered to let me break my lease if I wanted to, but I told him that I would rather stay, and that if he ever decided to sell to please let me find a way to buy our home from him. I didn't want to uproot my kids again, and they had good memories of their dad being with them here. We feel a strong connection to Bryce's memory here and to move away would mean breaking the most tangible connection between the boys and their memories of their father.

I spent a lot of time that fall and winter outside on the patio, huddled under huge coats and blankets, chain-smoking (don't worry, I quit three years ago for good), crying, thinking, talking, and eventually even occasionally laughing at the absurdity of tragedy with my friends, as I tried to figure out What. The.  Fuck.  to do with our lives. I reviewed what I knew: my kids were going to learn some serious life-shaping things from this experience, and a lot of what they learned would come from watching me. I figured they were likely to decide one of two things: either life is fucked up, tragedy can strike and lay waste to your life at any time and there is nothing you can do about it but be a victim of circumstance; angry and broken, or, that life is full of both staggering beauty and shattering tragedy, and to live wholeheartedly you will experience both and it is up to you each day to choose to lead a joyful, engaged life and keep moving forward.

Sometimes they do make it a challenge to work from home... Photo by Lila Wilson

Sometimes they do make it a challenge to work from home... Photo by Lila Wilson

I tried to figure out what to do next. I knew that in order to really heal, I would have to take some time to grieve and feel the deep sorrow of such a tremendous loss. But eventually (and sooner rather than later since my boys were little and rambunctious and childcare is soooo expensive and not really even a viable option with Sacha’s emotional and social challenges) I would need to be able to care for the boys on my own and to provide for them as they got older. I would need to be strong enough in spirit to keep going day after day, and strong enough physically to keep up with and effectively parent two clever young boys. I would need to be creative and find ways to support myself and my family in ways that offered enough flexibility to work my way through whatever weird situations parenting and life in general would bring. I took my time that winter to look around and reflect, and to plan my next steps. I looked around and saw everything we needed right here:

Space to grow

I saw ample sunny yard space, and pictured a beautiful future for us here filled with nourishing meals, bountiful gardens, and time shared and memories made with our loved ones. Our home sits on a big, corner lot and has ample space along the sidewalk for sunny garden beds and a few fruit trees, and the terraces along the west side could be made into super-productive garden beds that enjoy full sun and excellent drainage. The south side yard has shady space ideal for keeping small animals and other creatures like chickens, rabbits, worms, and bees, and there's open yard space out front and fenced private backyard with a big patio, and even more terraced garden space. At some point, these two boisterous boys will be teenagers, and working the land, learning to grow and cook their own food would be something therapeutic we could all do together that would also set them up well for healthy adulthood - little ones are way more likely to eat vegetables they grew themselves, and it’s very expensive to eat healthy as an adult if you don’t know how to cook. Plus, it would sure be a lot easier on the pocketbook when they are teenagers eating me out of house and home! The house itself is small and super functional, and having grown up spending time on my dad's sailboat, I know how to work a small space. The kitchen is super functional, utilizes a lot of hanging space, and is laid out with many of the basic tools where they are easy to see and use even for first time guest chefs. The kitchen can easily handle meals ranging from a simple dinner for two to a holiday dinner for more than a dozen, and easily accommodates canning, fermenting, and other food-preserving projects in large batches.

Space to Build

I saw ample space for us to build what we would need to make that lovely vision a reality, and to keep our minds and hands creatively and productively engaged. The large garage offers storage and workspace for some of the bigger, messier projects, and the converted garage in the basement provides space for finer projects and supplies. We have space to do all sorts of projects, learning for ourselves fundamental concepts of physics, engineering, and aesthetics. I come from a family of tinkerers and knew my sons would likely be the same, and here we would each have space to reimagine the world around us.

Space to Share

I saw that here I would have space to share with loved ones in many ways. I love to entertain guests and cook large family meals - Bryce and I used to host the family Thanksgiving dinner and I hoped to return to that tradition once I was ready. I found a used table that easily expands from seating four to 12 (or more, if you’re cozy on a piano bench), and the whole living room goes from dinner party to dance party, and vice-versa with ease. There’s an extra room in the basement right below the living room that allows us the space to offer temporary lodgings to guests. It’s pretty loud right under the living room and not ideal for long-term living, but as a single mother, this room offers me the precious ability to have trusted housemates or houseguests stay here so I can get out and get a break once in a while, or as a rental to generate extra income. More than once we’ve housed a friend in need of a safe place to live in a time of transition, and have been so grateful to have the space to do it. In it’s entirety, if clean and tidy and functional, I realized we could sublet or swap the house and go on travel adventures with the boys to stay with friends and family who live in faraway places all over the world. I believe that seeing firsthand different cultures and climates, experiencing the wonder and majesty of nature and learning to be good and gracious travellers will set my boys in good stead for the rest of their lives in everything else they do. (So far, they have been to Burning Man three times and on a 14 state cross-country roadtrip…)

Space to heal

And I saw a path to healing. I felt it. On my worst day, all I had to do was make it to the couch, and I could gaze out at the sound and watch the sunset over the mountains, and feel a sense of peace, and a sense of place. With so much beauty all around, there is inspiration around every corner. It feels a lot like our very own Secret Garden, with all sorts of beauty just waiting to be seen and brought to light. I saw the inspiration and the space necessary to make art and music a part of our daily lives and provide my kids with creative outlets to help them process their grief (and just plain ol' teenage angst, when adolescence comes. It's now looming quite close and I hope to begin the transition of the detached garage into music studio/garage band space in the next year.) This whole place is in a sense my own meta art therapy project; a tribute to beautiful broken things. Here we have all the space we need for lots of creativity and artistic engagement to process and grow from our experiences.

The view from our living room window - you can see the ferries go back and forth to Vashon Island! Photo by Levi Clark

The view from our living room window - you can see the ferries go back and forth to Vashon Island! Photo by Levi Clark

I looked at everything around me and realized that the way to give my kids the best life possible, to help them grow into awesome, self-sufficient, self-expressive adults, would be to make a home and a joyful life for them right here and to keep them inspired and engaged through art, music, learning, and caring for the land. To fill our days with joy, art, sunlight, good food and dear family and friends. I've kept the vision close to my heart, and each day I work to bring it closer to reality. I invite friends to share in the space, to come and be themselves, and to find some of the comfort here that has seen me through the most difficult times of my life.

Coming home from a cross-country road trip in 2012 to the brand new Witte's End sign!`

Coming home from a cross-country road trip in 2012 to the brand new Witte's End sign!`

One of my dearest friends and collaborators, Edward Fluffington, is one of those people who is just incredibly good at word games - especially making puns and naming things. He loved the energy around here; the adorable cottage overlooking the salt water with two clever little boys running around and me constantly, but joyfully, at my wit's end, and he proposed that we name the place "Witte's End." It's seemed so completely fitting, and so we have called it that ever since. In 2012, my friend Seth made us a beautiful sign that hangs over the front door, and chimes a lovely bell when the wind picks up off the Sound. Over the years, there have been some truly special moments when strangers have come to the door, lost and at their wit's end and suddenly finding respite at our Witte's End. It's perfect.

I found healing outside our home as well. On those lovely nights when someone could stay here with the boys or they could go to my mom’s, I had found a community of primarily (but definitely not entirely) burners that encouraged and highly value creativity, self-expression, inclusion, respect and consent. These were people who truly knew what it meant to hold space for someone, how to create space for creative experiences and inspiration, and I found places where I could be my best self, dress fantastically if I wanted to, and generally not be accosted on the dance floor by strangers hoping to hook up. I found a community of extremely talented DJ’s and musicians and dancers who could take me on musical journeys and lay down the beats to which I could dance out all the stress of single parenthood, let my body move and my mind wander and work out my thoughts and plans to move forward, engage with a community of the most fantastic misfits and weirdos you can imagine, and find the strength of body and spirit to get healthy enough to keep moving forward. I found my tribe and the healing power of dance, and I am forever grateful.

I love giving the right weird thing to the right weird person! When you make that connection, it's like you just tapped in to something awesome inside them and let it shine through. It's incredible. #KeepitWeird

I love giving the right weird thing to the right weird person! When you make that connection, it's like you just tapped in to something awesome inside them and let it shine through. It's incredible. #KeepitWeird

Thanks to those regular opportunities to dress fantastically, and I had an excuse to get out my sewing machine and after the kids were in bed, I could get lost in the flow of creative projects and express myself through my costumes and creations. Performer friends saw my work and commissioned their own pieces from me, and I loved scouring thrift shops for fabrics and other things to use in my projects. I often found thrift shop treasures for friends, and sometimes things that were too weird and wonderful to pass up, even though I wasn't sure who it was meant for yet. Those ended up on my Rack of Awesome to be claimed by visiting friends. I love giving the right weird thing to the right weird person! When you make that connection, it's like you just tapped into something awesome inside them and let it shine through. It's incredible. My maternal grandmother always found us treasures at garage sales, for all of her six kids and their families, so perhaps it's in my DNA to hunt for them. I am so grateful for all the time spent in my childhood learning to sew from my mom and both of my grandmothers, and that it sustained me creatively and financially when I most needed it.

It's not supposed to make a whole lot of sense...

It's not supposed to make a whole lot of sense...

In late summer of 2012, Edward Fluffington and I were discussing ways to bring more of the absurdity and wonder of Burning Man into the everyday world. He pointed out that Seattle’s Decibel Festival weekend was fast approaching, and said we should create the "Decibel Outreach Committee", or D.O.C., and go post up outside of Decibel venues and engage strangers in absurd encounters. So that September weekend, we set up "Iron Man 2012" on the street corner outside shows. Ed had taken an old iron and wrapped it with red led lights, brought an ironing board, some aprons and napkins, a lamp, an umbrella. and his stuffed pal Snakey, and we invited people to play and engage with us as they passed by. People came from all around to take turns "ironing" and we all had a blast.

The following spring, when a friend who ran a local artist community asked for my help promoting their monthly artwalk, I saw an opportunity to have a monthly excuse to organize and stage whatever absurd art encounters I wanted. I got a crew of friends together and styled coordinating costumes for our group and we took to the streets and brought a bit of magic to Georgetown every second Saturday. Each occurrence had a different theme, once we did it on roller skates (ouch!), once we were mimes, another time we dressed as circus pirates, and so on... Whatever struck our fancy, we planned and created and showed up for a 3 hour pop-up art party on the street corner outside the local record store. Ed took some wood from the boys' old toddler beds and built the Kitty Catwalk (world's smallest catwalk!*). We brought a battery powered boombox and set up a mobile dance party and invited passers-by to strut their stuff on the catwalk. It was a fantastic opportunity to make art and encourage playfullness and bring a spark of magic to unsuspecting strangers and invite them to participate in the experience we were creating.

*maybe.

Setting up for the Wanderlust Market in 2014. Photo by Joy Maker

Setting up for the Wanderlust Market in 2014. Photo by Joy Maker

In 2013, I wanted to return to Burning Man, but in early August was still lacking the funds to buy a ticket and make the journey. Once again I looked around and assessed what I had to work with. I had a few headdresses and costume pieces I had made for myself that I was willing to sell, plus, there were lots of as-yet unclaimed goodies on the Rack of Awesome. I decided to get in touch with other artist friends I thought might have creations they'd like to sell, and performers I knew who had collections brimming with costumes they'd love to unload, to see if they wanted to participate in a festive shopping event here at Witte's End. Ten days later, we hosted the first event of what would become the Wanderlust Market. The event was a huge success. We had handmade finery in the front from a variety of artists and artisans and out back, we had a patio dance party with DJ and sound system and a bustling flea market with a dazzling array of used costumes and clothing for sale or trade. People could come and shop, or just enjoy the dance party and lounge spaces and meet interesting new people. I was delighted to earn the funds I needed to go to Burning Man, but more than that, I was thrilled to be helping many talented local artists and artisans to support themselves as well. And so Z Freak Boutique (my own collection of costumes and other treasures) and the Wanderlust Market (events I produce with multiple vendors, music, and more) were born.

In 2014 I began taking my passion for dancing to the next level and began studying aerial dance and acrobatics. Unfortunately, after over a year of training my progress was achingly slow because I had no place to rehearse regularly outside of my once-weekly class, and there were no other adult aerial classes offered during the day when I could take them aside from expensive private lessons; most adult classes are in the evening when my kids need dinner and homework help and are very difficult to leave with sitters. To really move forward with my art, I would need to find a place to create and rehearse the routines I imagined. As I was trying to find the answer to this dilemma, the community I had been promoting and supporting for three years with streetcorner antics was growing and taking over more buildings, and it looked like soon there would be space opening up with tall ceilings and reasonable rents - prime aerial rehearsal space and more! The new spaces being acquired were HUGE, and the plan was to break them all down into smaller workshops and studios. I approached the developer and asked if there was a plan for any sort of event/gathering space in the expansion, since that was one thing the community was lacking. Summer barbecues were awesome, but in the winter time, there wasn't really space for everyone to gather, and if the community was going to more than triple in size, it seemed some sort of gathering space would be ideal for community cohesion. Not to mention, many of the artists in the community supplemented their incomes by teaching classes, but were limited by the small size of their studios to only a handful of people, and could really benefit from a large space to rent hourly for workshops, classes, and events. My quarterly Wanderlust events were outgrowing my home and I wanted to start hosting it as a more regular art market and needed a good event space to do that. I'd also begun working on a design collaboration with a talented local fashion designer, but we needed a bigger space than my basement studio to begin production. And the idea of finally having separation of work space and living space and working day-to-day within my community instead of isolated from it in my basement appealed to me very greatly. I was told that community event space would be great, but there was no plan for it specifically and every square inch of the property needed to be monetized, so unless I had a business plan for how to make it pay rent, it wouldn't work. I proposed a plan to bring my businesses and workshop there, rent a large, open space with tall ceilings for my aerial rehearsals, and then in turn rent it out very affordably to other artists and the community at large for various rehearsals, photo/video shoots, workshops, events, fundraisers, and dance parties, and we could use it to host community gatherings for artists in the complex. I considered running the space as a nonprofit, but ultimately decided that the risk of self-censorship with that model would be great. For an ideal art and creative/rehearsal space for me, I didn’t want to feel constricted by the ideas or reputation or any other consideration of a larger non-profit organization. But I didn’t want a profit-driven model, either. I wanted a space to do the things to further my creative and community vision, but I am not trying to squeeze every penny out of it. I need the flexibility to be there when my boys need me above almost anything else. I need a space for my businesses to flourish, but the space itself simply needed to be well-managed so things run smoothly, generate a small stipend to cover my time and expertise to oversee it, and any other “profits” after paying expenses and employees would go towards improvements and reserves. My own income would come primarily from my businesses, not from renting out the space. The space would be improved over time to become a showcase of the beautiful art and craftsmanship of the community in which it exists. The developer said he loved my plan and offered me a space that would soon be vacant, would need some amount of work but offered direct access, a private back patio, and a large, open space with concrete floors and 18’ ceilings.

Checking out Naim's programmable LED umbrella at one of the burner potlucks. Photo by IR Deep

Checking out Naim's programmable LED umbrella at one of the burner potlucks. Photo by IR Deep

When the space was eventually vacated, the owner gave me the keys to my new space. However, there were building code and zoning violations that needed to be corrected and until we had a specific plan, there could be no lease. I was told in the meantime to use the space for monthly artwalk events and to "do awesome things," until more answers came. I had a vision for what I wanted to do, but we didn't have a contract, nor any answers as to whether or not we would have to undergo a major renovation project. So I waited for answers. And waited. In the absence of answers, I decided to treat the space as a temporary transformational art and event space, with the hope that it could transition to more permanence, but the knowledge that without answers or a lease, nothing was guaranteed. We named it "Chrysalis | Transformational Space" and hosted a number of memorable dance parties, fundraisers, and potlucks. It never looked the same twice. A music crew hosting a monthly dance night built a circular DJ booth on wheels so they could DJ in the round, and every event had a different configuration and featured different collaborators, so that the space was transformed each time, and the people in it were as well, through the connections they made there. Being able to provide space for my community to come together, connect, and make art and memories together was an incredible experience I will always treasure.

I had the space we called the Chrysalis for 10 months with no real progress to permanence. But over that time, I gained invaluable knowledge and experiences, built strong working partnerships with artists I deeply respect and admire, and filled that space with love, laughter, and dance many times. Over the course of that experience, it became clear that our visions for the community and the space were divergent in key ways, and that the answers I needed to legally run my businesses there wouldn't be coming any time soon. My landlord at Witte's End decided he was ready to immediately sell the property to allow him to move forward in his own life’s journey, and we negotiated a very fair purchase price and contract so I could finally take ownership of our home. I packed up the Chrysalis and moved everything back to Witte's End to focus on procuring funding for the purchase of Witte's End. Sometime in the future, when Witte’s End is secured, the Chrysalis may exist again and take on new forms and further develop on my initial vision. I would love to return to the project in collaboration with some of the hard-working and talented people I was privileged to come to know through the experience, and I still wholeheartedly believe in the vision we were working towards.

Our home today, filled with love and light, and lots of living room dance parties. Photo by Levi Clark

Our home today, filled with love and light, and lots of living room dance parties. Photo by Levi Clark

It took some time to put our home back together after moving in most of the contents of a 3,000 square foot warehouse (plus additional outdoor patio space). The weather was not particularly kind and there wasn't enough space to squeeze everything into my garage. Thanks to all of my Burning Man experience and gear, and that of my generous friends, we constructed multiple covered areas and lashed them down securely against the strong winds that blow through quite often from Puget Sound. We made sense of all the things, reinstated Z Freak Boutique's Temporary World Headquarters in the garage, hosted a series of mind-blowing summer yard sales culminating in our annual Wanderlust Market Pre-Burn event in August with more vendors and more treasures than ever before.

Sacha's Kindergarten art project <3 Photo by Levi Clark

Sacha's Kindergarten art project <3 Photo by Levi Clark

Due to the skyrocketing of rents and housing prices here, many people in Seattle are finding themselves in transition and without a place to call home. So this summer, we began the Witte's End's Summer Outdoor Residency Program, offering space in temporary structures to artists in need of housing for the summer while they each get back on their feet. In exchange for rent, each participant helps with the household, whether through helping with general upkeep, or gardening, or projects in the boutique, as they are able.

We won't be able to keep all of this going past October 31st of this year without an immediate private loan to purchase Witte's End. I had to declare bankruptcy to remove the lingering debt from medical bills and a subprime loan on a house Bryce bought before I met him, and so currently I don't qualify for any kind of conventional mortgage. I do receive Social Security Survivor benefits that guarantee my ability to make monthly mortgage payments on a loan at a reasonable interest rate from now until the boys graduate from high school (Julian is in the class of 2026), without any other income included in the equation. Since no bank will loan to me, my best option is to find a private loan or combination of loans to purchase the property. I am seeking a total loan amount that is $100,000 under the current appraised value, ideally as an interest-only loan for a term of 10 years with a balloon payment due 07/31/26. If you or someone you know might be interested in a secure and altruistic investment, backed by a property which will only increase in value and loan security as further improvements are completed, please contact me immediately for more information. You can also see more information about the property specifics and improvement plan in the Save Witte's End section of this website.

I don't know yet how this story plays out. I dearly hope to find funding for our home and to preserve the family and community and life we have built here. It's an investment with little risk and for a great cause, and I believe there are people of means in this world who would be able and willing to help us. I've put this website together to provide a clear picture of who I am, where I come from, and what I have been trying to accomplish. I trust that the right person or persons will connect with our story and help us save Witte's End.

Stay tuned...

#KeepitWeird


IMG_0315.JPG

Thanks for reading!

-K