Young artist builds his own mountain home

Not long ago Nicky Koenig found that his mother's house was not big enough. So he built his own -- for only $1,000. The little square structure with a cupola is built on a mountaintop in this hamlet near Santa Cruz.

The house has only one room, which Nicky divided into specific areas -- library, living room, kitchen (he has never put in the sink), corner for his collections, loft bed with no ladder (he sommersaults up), and most important to him, a studio for his artwork.

"I didn't really want to build a house," says Nicky, who is now 18. "I just wanted a place to draw."

Until he was 15, Nicky's life centered around sports.

"I thought I was going to be a ski racer," he says. "Then all of a sudden, I knew I was going to be an artist. I realized I had something I really liked to do and was good at."

Nicky lives with his mother on a hilltop apple farm, and he discovered that there was no room for a studio in the house. So he built his own about 25 yards away.

Nicky built his house "intuitively," he says, even though every detail looks meticulously thought out. Far from just nailing boards together, he created patterns with different colored wood. In the process, he says, "I completely wore out a guaranteed-for-life electric scroll saw."

He "rummaged around" to find materials.He cut his own lumber from redwoods that had fallen on a friend's property. The flooring came from a house that was being demolished. He put used windows of different sizes together to create new shapes and hung prisms in them to cast rainbow patterns around the room.

He designed the house with his possessions in mind, an there is a place for everything -- except his on suit. That simply hangs off the end of his bed.

On low shelf holds nearly 500 comic books. Pull out any one of them and Nicky can tell you the artist by the style of drawing. "The difference between a good comic and a bad comic is the art," he says. The negative light of Neil Adams ("Batman"), the "great machines" of Gil Kane ("Conan"), and the details and background work of Barry Smith (also "conan") are unsurpassed, he says.

From the comic books, he explains, he learned perspective and figure drawing.

"You might say I went from Marvel Comics to Michelangelo," he says, also pointing out his fine collection of art books.

Although Nicky plans to be a sculptor rather than an architect, he says he learned enough from building this house to be able to build a big one.

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