Make Mine a Retro Geo-Dome: The Skinny on Funky Bunkers

Are you daydreaming about heading for the hills? Are your waking

fantasies peppered with random thoughts about cashing in that 401(k), selling

your 80’s art, dropping off your designer drag at Ina consignment boutique (101

Thompson Street, 941-4757) and starting a simpler-and safer-life in West Texas

or Alaska?

Isn’t it ironic? You’ve spent years clawing your way to the

middle and now, like an ex-Weathergirl on the lam, you’re craving anonymity and

obscurity.

You are, however, experiencing a growing ambivalence about these

escapist fantasies. The more you plot your escape strategy, the more you feel

like an unpatriotic cop-out. Hey! Cut yourself some slack: The impulse to find

a safe haven is entirely forgivable under the current circumstances. Life in

Manhattan has not exactly been a bowl of cherries since she arrived. I’m talking about that crazy, unpredictable new girl

in town, the one they call Ann Thrax.

The good news is, there are ways to contain your escapist

impulses-and maybe even fulfill the more feasible ones. Here, therefore, are my

four favorite hunkering-and-bunkering fantasies:

1. The Rustic-Treehouse Fantasy. Whether it’s a simple sunbathing

aerie reached by a basket (see Fellini’s 1965 masterpiece Juliet of the Spirits ) or the full-on Swiss Family Robinson moment,

rustic-treehouse fantasies are among the most common. Even among fashion

designers: “I’ve wanted one since I was 5 years old,” confessed ex-designer Todd Oldham. “For years, I thought about

living in a treehouse at least once every three days.” Todd fulfilled his

lifelong fantasy last year when he and his partner, Tony Longoria, built their

dream home 60 feet up in the air, atop some 80-year-old Eastern White pine

trees.

I asked Todd if he’s daydreamed about totally relocating to his

upstate property since Sept. 11. “I had fantasies about living there even when

everything was fabulous, but since Sept. 11 we have basically abandoned the

main house for the treehouse.” Is it really that great? “It’s winterized;

there’s a microwave so I can make popcorn. We just sit back, and nature

provides 24-hour soothing entertainment,” rants Todd. “Birds and squirrels

during the day. At dusk, the ballet of the bats starts-we call it the bat let. The frog orchestra plays from 7

to 8:30. Then the bugs. There’s a whole different bug system 60 feet off the

ground-and no mosquitoes.”

Todd coyly refused to divulge the cost of his Arcadian, arboreal

abode, but claimed “you can do it cheaply-plywood is $7 a sheet-but it’s

important to work with a really good builder.” Todd collaborated with, and

highly recommends, Ed Gavalla (845-856-4650). If you’re living in the East

Village and need a vicarious outlet for your treehouse fantasy, read Treehouses: The Art and Craft of Living Out

on a Limb by Peter Nelson (1997). For more vicarious self-pleasuring re the

treehouse community, log onto http://www.treehouse.com.

2. The Retro-Airstream-Trailer Fantasy. While Todd is enjoying a

batlet upstate, Cynthia Rowley is taking refuge in her 1965 silver Airstream

trailer out in Montauk. “It’s like a little bomb shelter, it’s so

self-contained. It all goes back to the womb,” said Cynthia, who developed a

hankering for one after reading about Wally Byam, the Airstream guru who

started building trailers in his backyard in the 1930’s. “The guy I bought it

from lived in it for 13 years in Oregon. It cost $3,000.” Cynthia’s 25-footer

can accommodate a surprising six people because “everything is miniature, and

everything turns into something else.”

Cynthia admitted that she’s spent more time in it since Sept. 11,

and she’s become acutely aware of the fact that it’s a mobile home. “If things

got bad, I could hitch it to my ’65 Ford Galaxy, throw the baby on the car seat

and head for the horizon.”

Has this fantasy tickled your fancy? There are a zillion

Airstreams for sale online. For as little as $2,500, you could be living in

your very own aluminum suppository.

3. The Geodesic-Dome-Home Fantasy. This fantasy is often embraced

by those seeking a germ-free bubble. I hate to break it to you, but geodesic

domes are not necessarily germ-free. Other drawbacks: You can’t tow them

anywhere, and they tend to leak. On the other hand, what could be more stylish

than living in a Buckminster Fuller–designed futuristic dome? (The

environmentalist holds the patent.)

Energy conservation and lower heating bills are the most

oft-touted advantages. Dome-ophiles also love to point out that a fully

constructed dome weighs less than the sum of its parts because of the air mass

inside. When it’s heated, there’s a net lifting effect, like a hot-air balloon.

Therefore, if you ever have to choose between being squashed by a completed

dome or a pile of dome parts, go for the former.

The dome fantasy is my personal fave: It started after I saw

Valerie Perrine living in one in the 1972 movie of Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse-Five . I seriously

researched the geodesic-dome home when contemplating an expansion of our

A-frame beach house. My thinking was as follows: Why get into a lot of complex

construction when you could simply plop a dome home next to the main house and

connect it with a teetery but chic little walkway?

I got totally enthused when I saw the number of sites online:

They range from old hippies who tell you how to build one for $100 to big

companies with schmantzy brochures. Many are located in Boulder, Colo., and

such places. The last thing you want is someone building one from blueprints

who hasn’t done it before. Hire a local dome builder who can provide on-site

supervision, e.g. John Kuhtik of EMOD Inc. in Bayonne, N.J.(201-823-0605).

F.Y.I.: John built textile designer Jack Larsen’s dome in East Hampton. An

18-foot-diameter structure with an optional loft will set you back $40,000,

plus $8,000 for assembly. My advice: send away for tons of brochures and read

them until the fantasy has evaporated. Why? Because the resale on dome homes n’existe pas , that’s why!

4. The Gaga, Out-to-Lunch House Fantasy. Are you getting the urge

to escape to an early-70’s pod-on-a-stick-type house, or a converted grain

silo? Paupers, take note: The best therapeutic outlet for this fantasy is to

tune in to Extreme Homes every Sunday

night at 8:30 on HGTV. Week after week, viewers are catapulted, toll-free, into

the kookiest ad hoc residences: furnished caves, water towers, converted

schoolhouses. One recent episode focused on an ultra-mod house made from nine

gigantic gun-turret covers purchased from a ship salvage yard for $25 each-very

Martin Margiela!

Those of you with beaucoup

d’argent should hire Jersey Devil and get yourself a funky bunker. For

nearly 30 years, this loosely knit group of designers, builders and artisans

have produced some of the wackiest architecture in America. Jim Adamson, Steve

Badanes and John Ringel snagged their company’s name from New Jersey folk

mythology (who knew there was any?). They specialize in designing and building

escapist homes with hippie-ish counter-cultural verve: see Devil’s Workshop , a book by Susan Piedmont-Palladino and Mark Alden

Branch.

For years, the only way to contact them was through a New Jersey

post-office box, but they are now on the Web at http://www.jerseydevildesignbuild.com.

You may have to flog your New York apartment first: A Jersey Devil house will

set you back at least $250 per square foot.

Not enough cash in that 401(k)? Mountain View Log Homes

(888-LOK-N-LOG) purveys bijoux cabins, starting at around $20,000. My advice:

save $14,003 and simply order a Quonset hut from Northwest Steel Building

(www.nwsteel.com) for $3,997. The military chic of a Quonset is much more this

season.

Make Mine a Retro Geo-Dome: The Skinny on Funky Bunkers