When your love story starts on the deck of a sailing ship set for the Antarctica, your story is bound to be a bit more unusual than most. And that is just the case for Raina MacDonald and Ruben Irons and their family who call a piece of land in the back hills of Brookland home.
And it truly was the land that called them to this place. Nine years ago, when they were looking for a home, it was the land that felt like home and the house itself was secondary. It wasn’t a case of the house being perfect but more the land was perfect, and the house would do. During that initial visit, they happened across a little cabin back in the woods that belonged to the property, and that sealed the deal. And so, they settled on the land and started making it their home.
There was a garage on the property, as well as the 1970s bungalow, but the snow load that first winter took the garage down. So, when they rebuilt, they built it to suit Ruben’s needs for a forge. And then a few years after that they added Raina’s studio to the property. Now their daily commute is a short wander through the yard.
Ruben grew up around blacksmithing as his father was a blacksmith, and ran a farrier school. And at 18 Ruben went to horseshoeing school in Sacramento. But horseshoeing didn’t satisfy Ruben’s artistic side and eventually he gave that aspect of blacksmithing up. He travelled some, apprenticing in BC and New Hampshire and eventually settled into working at the Heritage Quay, doing demos for the public and honing his skills and then started his own business in 2007.
Raina grew up on the other side of the country, on Vancouver Island and ended up on the East Coast where she studied at NSCAD. She majored in Fine Art with a minor in Art History and focused on large scale print making and large-scale drawing. One of her professors told the class that only 2% would be working solely as an artist and Raina was determined to be in that 2%. Her creativity comes in surges and even the lulls in between she is gaining experiences with which to fuel the creative fire. She also looks to their land to bring her inspiration, whether it’s through a flower bed in bloom or time away in the solitude of the cabin in the woods.
Ruben and Raina have built their business, R + R Handmade, to be an umbrella for their skill sets. They do some collaborative work, Raina designing some of the products and Ruben forges them, while other custom work, sculptures and railings are completely Ruben’s designs. Their Etsy shop is a joint effort as well, and a mainstay, as they ship products all around the world.
When their second child was on her way, they knew they needed to make a change to the house. As appealing as tiny home living was to them, they decided to renovate and expand their existing home to make room for a family of four. They had been drawing out ideas of how they wanted to improve their home for years. Ruben and Raina both had their ideas of what were must-have features – Raina wanted lots of windows, so the space would be bright and to take advantage of the solar heat gain. The use of scissor trusses really keeps the open, light feeling in the main area. Ruben knew he wanted to clad the house in cedar shingles which is the opposite of the direction most people go with exterior siding, but it ages well and helps the home blend into the landscape. The other must was a screen room, a space that has become a family favourite.
The renovation meant they were saying yes to staying on the land, saying yes to the community they had become immersed in and saying yes to the space as a sacred invitation to live their life there. The physical renovation became a metaphor for more in their lives. To carry out the renovation, they decided to hire contractors for the job so that it could be done quickly and efficiently, leaving Ruben and Raina to continue to work on their own projects during that time.
Raina and Ruben are being very thoughtful in how they develop their land and are using the principles of Permaculture. Raina is currently studying Permaculture and seeing how they can apply this Australian method to their own particular needs and landscape. Permaculture is the blending of the words Permanent and Agriculture to form what is perennial food growth on your land and letting nature lead that design. It encompasses edible landscapes, food forests and building the soil to regenerate the earth as well as an effective use of the space, time, body and resources.
Raina gave a few great examples to explain it. By planting an apple tree near the house, their food supply is close, they are providing a habitat for birds so they have a place to live but are also close enough to watch and enjoy and then the tree acts as a wind block and shade for their house too. Or, having vegetables and herbs in the garden bed they built into the necessary retaining wall along the path they take into the house, Raina can easily access it and get inspired for meal preparation. These are both examples of how thoughtful planning has simplified life and adds to their landscape tapping into the principal of Permaculture called function stacking.
Another aspect of this is how they don’t have compartments to their lives, everything is integrated together, the lines between family, home, social and work are all blurred. They work and live on the same land and their girls are involved in every aspect of it as well. Their oldest daughter drew a design for a wrought iron trivet which is now part of the offerings of R + R Handmade. The girls are involved in the gardening and meal prep. The studio walls are filled with not only the artwork of Raina, but also drawings by the girls.
They find themselves surrounded by logging and commercial blueberry fields and it leaves an impression on what industry is doing to the land versus how they are choosing to live on their land. The choices they make are very deliberate in the impact to the earth, the soil, their food supplies and are guiding their girls in that same respect for the earth, for nature and the creatures that call the same land home. The girls explore the woods, run in the open fields and get to pluck fresh berries right off the plants as they discover the gifts the earth has to offer. Raina and Ruben are teaching the girls to discover who they are, so that when they grow up and leave home, they will also have sense of home inside themselves, a connection to the land and a connected experience to who they are.
Both Ruben and Raina teach yoga classes in the surrounding community halls. They are encouraged by the people who take time out of the busyness of life to roll out their mat and ‘show up for themselves.’ They said teaching yoga classes is an ‘inspiring way to be in the community, to share in space of taking the time of being aware of what does my body need at the moment.’ Ruben says for the guys who show up for his classes that it’s a way of ‘connecting without having to talk.’ Both Raina and Ruben would like to look into ways to bring that experience out to their land for others to enjoy, as well, without the rush of timelines.
Fall is a beautiful season tucked away in the hills of Brookland, a favourite season for Ruben. Harvesting the fruits of the land, packing up handmade treasures for their customers and holding their annual open house fill the crisp days. Their commute to work may require an extra layer as the days cool down, but still they wouldn’t change it, walking their land and raising the girls in the depths of nature.