A little bit of country

Couple's urban oasis draws from Mexican, Indian, religious themes
2012-02-19T00:00:00Z A little bit of countryGabrielle Fimbres Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Jim and Sally Knipe grew up as country folk in Pennsylvania farmland.

When the husband and wife team relocated their family to Tucson three decades ago, they wanted to maintain that country flavor, combining it with their newfound love of the Southwest and Mexico.

Jim built their family home in the Catalina Foothills, surrounded by nature. But with retirement looming and college and weddings to pay for, the Knipes downsized.

They built a scaled-down version of their Foothills home in a neighborhood close to a busy intersection on the northwest side.

"We wanted a little bit of the country in the city," says Jim, 69, who worked for a homebuilder in Tucson. "We wanted it to look like a Mexican hacienda."

They found a pie-shaped slice of land tucked between homes in a new neighborhood 20 years ago. The fifth-of-an-acre lot was the last to sell, and the Knipes got it for a bargain at $15,000.

They went to work, with Jim building and Sally decorating the 1,630-square-foot home, all on a budget. They spent a total of about $75,000 on the home.

"It doesn't take a lot of money," Sally, 65, said of decorating the home. "You get the vision and plug in the pieces.''

Said Jim, "She's an expert at shoestring decorating."

Family antiques, refurbished pieces and handcrafted furniture fill the home. Jim has created pieces for every room of the house, from a turquoise, three-shelf wooden pie safe that Sally decorated with designs in tin to a bureau that serves as a china cabinet.

"I like a home with a lot of color, and a place where you can come and feel comfortable,'' Sally said.

Over the years, Sally has gradually added more color, with accent walls in rich hues. "I did a wall at a time and a rug at a time and it all came together,'' she said.

With a smaller space, the couple is creative with storage. Jim builds furniture that fits in tight spaces.

"I always want my furniture to look like a 100-year-old piece from Mexico,'' he said.

The two are pros at bargain hunting. They bought their first ganga not long after they were married - a 35-cent dilapidated chest of drawers that was in desperate need of an overhaul.

"I couldn't pick it up because it was falling apart,'' Jim said. "I took off about 17 coats of paint and repaired it.''

Forty-seven years later, it sits in Jim's Western-themed office that doubles as a guest bedroom.

When Sally or Jim get an idea for a piece of furniture or new décor, they search the sales and secondhand shops. "If we can't find it, we build it,'' Sally said.

The passive solar home is filled with Mexican and Indian touches. Sally's stenciled artwork - from flowers to buffaloes to Mission San Xavier del Bac - fill the home. Religious artwork - a symbol of the couple's faith - is found throughout.

The Knipes have devoted much of their lives to work in their church. They came to Tucson in 1979 to work in a faith-based ministry caring for foster children. They cared for 60 children over six years, in addition to their children.

Their four children and seven grandchildren often fill the home at holidays and on weekends.

"Almost everybody says they get a warm feeling when they walk in," Sally said. "It's not big, but it's cozy."

A step out into the backyard from the master bedroom offers a view of the pool and inviting seating areas. Harvested rainwater quenches the thirst of lemon and mesquite trees. Tucked away in the corner is a potting shed with a tin roof.

"We spend our whole summer out here," Sally said.

Jim originally thought the home would serve as a bridge to retirement - once the kids were grown and the bills were paid off, they would build a new house.

But they are in love with their cozy, country-in-the-city hacienda.

"I'm never leaving," Sally said.

Decorating tips from Jim and Sally Knipe:

• Shop estate sales, garage sales and closeouts.

• Select treasures to bring home from your travels. It will make for an eclectic mix of memories.

• Don't be afraid to build, refurbish or paint a piece of furniture yourself.

• Be patient in your search for furniture and décor. If you are impatient, you will always spend more.

"Almost everybody says they get a warm feeling when they walk in. ... It's not big, but it's cozy."

Sally Knipe, on her northwest-side hacienda

Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at gfimbres@comcast.net

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