Mrs. Gabe and her self-cleaning house

Frances Gabe, who lives on seven acres overlooking a creek outside Newberg, Ore., likes nothing more than to play her 170-year-old pipe organ, make jewelry, sculpture, paint, write, read, and visit friends.

The problem was, she didn't have enough time to clean the house.

So what did this long-time builder do? She invented a house that cleans itself. In other words, a self-cleaning house.

Like a weekend handyman adding a spare bedroom, Mrs. Gabe has remodeled her little home by creating a prototype of her self-cleaning house. The approximately 1,000-square-foot house includes 68 patentable devices she has been perfecting over the past 11 years.

Mrs. Gabe, who says she has applied for one patent on the whole package, expects to market it this year.

''Every building we've got right now is obsolete,'' the Oregonian asserts in a matter-of-fact tone, indicating she wants to do something about it.

Mrs. Gabe still hasn't put the entire house in working order, and much of it still looks like a workshop. However, she says she feels she has made all the required breakthroughs in machinery and design.

The major cleaning apparatus is a sprayer, resembling a light fixture with two small nozzles, mounted to the center of the ceiling in each room. The water-powered apparatus sprays soapy water, rinses, and then dries the room with hot air.

The clothes closet washes and dries garments. The kitchen cupboard is a dishwasher. Dresser drawers have a honeycomb plastic bottom that is designed so dust will fall through to a gently sloping floor where it can be flushed away. The toilet is dry, and the fireplace hoses its own ashes down a pipe and into the garden.

Besides the remarkably simple devices Mrs. Gabe has engineered into her prototype, she has designed the house to prevent future problems. She doesn't like curtains or rugs, for example, because they collect dirt.

Windows are built flush with the walls. And her self-designed book covers protect any books that may be left lying around when the room-cleaning button is pushed.

Furniture is made of a waterproof composition that she says she also invented. Only the bed must be covered. The sprayers even clean the family dog.

''It's much more than a house,'' she explains. ''It's a way of living.''

The inventor says she has been a builder for as long as she can remember, visiting her contractor-father at work sites at the age of three. As a result she has worked as a builder for most of her adult life. She also has found time for such artistic things as sculpture and painting.

The ideas for many of her low-maintenance ideas came about 10 years ago, and she has been working on them ever since.

''I've looked at many of her devices, and so far as I can see, they are quite intelligent,'' says Larry Campbell, Northwest manager of the Inventors Workshop International, a nonprofit group that helps inventors. ''I really love her, and so does everybody else,'' he adds. ''No one has a bad word to say about her.''

Mrs. Gabe lives alone in her studio - with her two dogs, Megan and Saxon - doing nearly all the construction work herself. She attributes her inventiveness to what she calls ''round vision,'' explaining: ''When I look at your face, I see the back of your head.''

All her life, she declares, she has felt more comfortable inventing a new way to do something than looking at the usual way it is done.

A modern-day Thoreau, Mrs. Gabe moved to her wooded retreat some years ago.

While her self-cleaning house would cost considerably more than the ''28 dollars and 12 1/2 cents'' Thoreau spent on his house beside Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., the idea is the same.

In ''Walden'' Thoreau described what a good house should be: ''. . . such a shelter as you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous night, containing all the essentials of a house, and nothing for housekeeping.''

Mrs. Gabe follows the 19th-century philosopher's suggestion to build your own home: ''Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter?''

''I like living here because people can't find me unless I give them directions,'' she smiles. ''I like to sit here in the evening overlooking the canyon . . . with the dogs at my feet.''

And when it's time to clean up the house, all she has to do is push a button.

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