ILSE & MEENO
ARTISTS & FARMERS AT SKYFARM
Urban Haven in Los Angeles, California
Something magical is bound to happen when two highly creative and adventurous people find one another. Ilse and Meeno are the perfect example of a duo that isn’t afraid of anything, from traveling all over the world with their two young daughters to purchasing an old decrepit house and breathing new life into it. Together they restored and built their Skyfarm, an incredible Urban Haven perched right above downtown Los Angeles. Nearly everything at Skyfarm was built using repurposed materials: the slide on their front porch was rescued from a scrap truck; the giant Russian nesting doll on their roof was saved from the trash after being used once in a music video. The city is only a quick 10-minute drive but when you sit with your feet in the soaking pool (that Ilse built by hand using concrete bags) you couldn’t feel further away from the bustle, glam and grit of downtown LA. Skyfarm is home to chickens, geese, goats, a vegetable garden, fruit trees and songbirds. It is a colorful and enchanted oasis that gives Ilse, Meeno and their daughters Bindi and Mette a place to unwind and reconnect with one another. Ilse is constantly building and adding new elements to their unique home and plans to develop, expand, and eventually add a working photography studio for Meeno’s commercial photography business. Skyfarm is a perfect example of creative ingenuity and bringing the best elements of country living to an urban environment. (Click here to jump to their interview)
How long have you lived in Los Angeles?
Meeno has been in LA since childhood. I (Ilse) moved here 15 years ago from Western Massachusetts where I grew up surrounded by colleges and farms. We've been resuscitating and aggrandizing Skyfarm for a dozen years now.
Did you grow up with vegetable gardens, chickens, etc. or was it something that you came to on your own?
My mom was one of those 1970's organic garden dabblers. My parents were both very DIY. I always dreamed of having lots of animals but that came later; Meeno and I figured that one out on our own.
What inspired you to bring farming and gardening to your urban existence?
It was the only way for Meeno to keep me in the city. We wanted our kids to grow up in a rural environment but needed to work here. I think it was a fantasy that I had brewing for quite some time. I always made every place I lived in special, and that included colorful walls and something growing from the earth (even if it was only the dog piss patch beside the walkway to an apartment).
There was this ad in the Sunday Times, "For sale by owner. Artist vision required." Which meant it was falling down. As we found our way to the end of a busted old dirt road we looked up and Meeno said, "There's our new house, babe." And it's a testament to our shared vision that we've created the Skyfarm of our dreams. It took tenacity, will, good taste and blind, blissful ignorance of that magnitude of the endeavor ahead. But a dozen years later, we're sitting pretty. Our children are well grounded and our LA existence is balanced.
What has been the most challenging part about bringing elements of country living to your urban environment? What has been the most rewarding part?
A big part of "leaving the city" has been embracing Paradise Hill and its beautiful perch above the inferno. But that has also meant going toe to toe with a bevy of hillbillies and paying out on a number of other "neighborhood taxes." But through all the nonsense we've persevered and we have a home that has elements of country idyll while still allowing us to be city dwelling artists.
How have people reacted to your urban haven?
Everyone thought we were crazy when we started this project, now they all think we're geniuses. But it's just the trick of hard work. Now when people come up and eat, when they watch their children play here, when they feel the slowing of the rat race as it sluices away down the hill, when they transition to Skyfarm time, well, it's nice to watch the effect on them. We, of course, rarely slow down, there's always more work to do.
What do you appreciate most about life in a city?
The city's great, there's work and connectivity. The country's great, with all the land's majesty, but it too must be measured for the worth of your involvement in it. The only thing that really sucks is being disconnected completely. By which we mean: living in the suburbs.
Would you ever consider moving to the country?
There have been a couple farms in Western Massachusetts that have really set our imagination on fire. But we will probably end up in Provence when the kids have outgrown us.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of growing their own food in the city?
Start composting. Build a garden bed. Research things like how to test your soil. Learn how to deal with critters that may eat everything before you can. Get up early and tend your garden every morning.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Constant travel, which always makes coming home an eye opener, in a really good way. Our place is so colorful; we love beautiful magazines and books, and generally combing the info sphere for sparks and clues. And more than anything, the work itself is what feeds the work.
Have you noticed a change in yourself, your family and/or your work since creating this backyard haven?
I noticed the other day that I'm a little older.
Walk us through a typical day in your urban existence?
My husband waves the espresso under my nose at 6am. I go out into the dawn to get all the animals watered and fed and tend the garden for a solid hour. By then Meeno's packed the lunches and made breakfast. We wake the girls with breakfast in bed - hopefully they'll expect and demand this for the rest of their lives - one more small stand for liberation. Then they need to be driven to hell and back to get to school. After which there may be yoga, the auction, thrifting, always more gardening and building - bringing home salvaged lumber or more concrete and hay bales. Meeno's with me for some of this and other days he's off shooting. One of our favorite things is having a breakfast and matinee date. The afternoons are given over largely to the girls and their activities, and often family adventures throughout the city. One of the perks we must never overlook, as a traveling family, is that there's so much to do right here.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
I like reading in bed.
What are your future plans/dreams/goals for Skyfarm?
Our future plans include EXPANSION (more land in the neighborhood) and the creation of a pro photo studio with proper parking, goats and pigs. We'd love to recreate the real barn that used to be on the neighboring property 100 years ago.