artful abode

Cover Story of the West Kootenay Weekender: Helter Shelter

Published Friday March 19


If your husband planted a “rooster on steroids” on your home’s rooftop in commemoration of your marriage, you might be married to someone known affectionately as eccentric.

Mike Hames is one such person. He’s been working on his house for three decades and recently capped the turret of his and wife Lana’s abode with a life-size 150-pound gargoyle holding what Mike insists could be the largest diamond in the world, sculpted by artist John McKinnon.

While the red-eyed gargoyle may be the most recent and obviously captivating feature of the Hames home on Front Street, a closer look into the house reveals Mike is a seriously ambitious architect and artist with endless ongoing projects, both functional and fantastical. Choosing how to enter Hames’ house is your first quest. Standing outside one of six entrances, Mike quips, “The inside is the outside.”

Built in 1898, the original house was erected several metres from a rocky slope. Mike has since built an addition, gathering the rock and its freshwater stream into his home. A handcrafted stairwell runs along the rock, as do natural vines. Sunlight floods through stained glass windows, made by Lana’s father, and onto the main floor where dining room, sitting room and kitchen evolve into one another. A miniature water wheel and Golum play in the pond on the ground floor.

Hames’ home evokes a distinct Alice in Wonderland sense of adventure. Top floor bedrooms look through wooden shutters and onto lower floor foyers. Rung ladders lead from bathroom to bedroom, or nowhere at all. In the empty turret, Mike pauses to mime that he is steering his house into Elephant Mountain.

“I’m going to put a huge wheel here,” he giggles and points at the hull of his house, handcrafted from willows he sheared from trees on his property.

Perhaps the most endearing elements of the Hames house are the articles that embody how Mike sees the world. I point at dozens of old toy soldiers organized beside the veranda door. “That’s my security,” Mike states.

A wind chime made from a saw blade, rounded into a circle and decorated with mirrors is named “I Saw the Wind.” An end table designed from empty rum bottles is called “Silence of the Lambs.” Hundreds of metal objects hung on cedar shingles in an outdoor seating area? “Rust Never Sleeps,” reasons Mike.

Hames hands me a piece of graphing paper. It’s covered with what might be a thank you speech to those who helped him don his house with a man-sized metal creature. On the note, Hames writes he’s been called the illegitimate son of Frank Lloyd Wright. After viewing his home, I would add that Salvador Dali might have crossed his mother’s path.

Mike smiles at me, hands on his hips. He rolls forward onto his bare toes and back onto his heels and grins.

“I finally see with my eyes what I saw with my head.”

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