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There’s No Place Like Here: Communal Living with Nikki Silva

Sep 23, 2009

by objecked

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(music by Forrest Lewinger, animation by JuliaPott)

While traveling to help promote Etsy as a sponsor of the Bay Area Maker Faire, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to visit the wondrous place that is La Selva. After a beautiful sunlight-through-the-mist drive down the winding seaside road of Highway 1, I reached Watsonville, CA, and eventually La Selva, where Nikki Silva, a public radio producer best known for her work as one half of the Kitchen Sisters, greeted me. Nikki led me through the communal home that she and eight others have built for themselves in over thirty years of hard toiling work. Naturally we waited all day for a break in the fog so I could get a shot of the majestic view overlooking Monterey Bay.

Davia Nelson, the other half of the Kitchen sisters, above left and Nikki on the right.

Any high-end designer home may be engineered by master architects and built by contractors for millions, but part of the beauty of this place is that it was designed and built by nine people, who wanted nothing more than a place to call home. I suppose it was to their great fortune that one of the original nine happened to be a master architect and builder, but even so, La Selva is built largely from reclaimed materials from other buildings in the Santa Cruz area that had either burned down or were being remodeled. The stories that Nikki shared of how and where they sourced building materials were both industrious and inspiring. La Selva was built on the weekends, one house at a time, step by salvaged marble step.

La Selva is filled with the families’ interesting collections, including Nikki’s sock monkey hoard.

While Nikki attests that there was no intention of building a commune per se, it is very much a communal living situation. They are all partners in the shares of a single plot of land, and each partner or couple has a housing space within the whole compound based on their share. On the property, there are four separate houses, a large barn, a storage shed and an art studio. There is also a main house that has the kitchen, living room, and bathhouse (I didn’t pry). In total, eight unique yet cohesive structures share the property of gardens, fields, and forest, overlooking farmland and the pacific ocean. For those living at La Selva, they eat dinner together every night, take weekly turns with the meal preparation and cleaning of the kitchen, and share in a remarkable sense of togetherness that is much like that of a family.

As the sun seemed to slip into the sea, closing my window of opportunity to keep shooting this wonderland, the kind folks at La Selva were gracious enough to have me for dinner. I expect this is their tradition for many a welcome guest. After dinner, we tuned in to a local Santa Cruz radio station to hear Nikki’s daughter, Molly, recite a recent piece of her writing for which she had earned an award. It was a touching moment to sit with the group of people who had collectively raised Molly and hear her voice over the radio waves, the medium of her mother’s legacy. It’s hard not to imagine that every evening there is just as spectacular.

Much of the original art seen on the walls of La Selva can be found in the shop of Nikki’s husband, Charles Prentiss. The vintage radio shown above is from johnnyvintage.

Watch more There’s No Place Like Here Videos| Shop Local Santa Cruz

Looking for more styles and interiors? Check out our video series, There’s No Place Like Here, where creative types show us their unique spaces — infused with their aesthetic and filled with the treasures they collect. Get involved and show us your amazing space in this Flickr pool.


  • SusanFaye

    SusanFaye said 10 years ago

    What a great concept and what beautiful, creative spaces! Very inspiring!

  • pinkytoeclothing

    pinkytoeclothing said 10 years ago

    Wow, this article was simply amazing. What an incredible story, truly inspiring!

  • foamywader

    foamywader said 10 years ago

    I love this series!

  • poppyswickedgarden

    poppyswickedgarden said 10 years ago

    THis is an Absolutley wonderful story! WE have a 4 apartment complex ourselves with 3 different ETSY artists living in them! It is wonderful to share and dine and create together!

  • SeaFindDesigns

    SeaFindDesigns said 10 years ago

    loved this!!!

  • DreamzBoutique

    DreamzBoutique said 10 years ago

    love the story

  • LaveMeSoapCo

    LaveMeSoapCo said 10 years ago


  • VintageEye

    VintageEye said 10 years ago

    Lovely story!

  • aBreathofFrenchair

    aBreathofFrenchair said 10 years ago

    Great video! I enjoyed viewing their shared community...even the bathroom! :)

  • Vanessa Admin

    Vanessa said 10 years ago

    poppyswickedgarden, add some photos to the flickr group we started for this series. We'd love to see your guys' place! I got to visit La Selva when I was working on the Sonic Memorial Project with Nikki and Davia in 2002. It felt like home. I never wanted to leave. To this day, I dream about having such a wonderful (and affordable) living situation with family and friends. Nikki, you are an inspiration as always! Everyone should check out the Kitchen Sisters' radio documentaries. So great.

  • MyMoms

    MyMoms said 10 years ago

    Very inspiring & creative spaces! love the picks. Thank you!

  • WoodPigeon

    WoodPigeon said 10 years ago

    sounds great! amazing story!

  • UglyBaby

    UglyBaby said 10 years ago


  • slidesideways

    slidesideways said 10 years ago

    So so beautiful and inspirational. We should all be able to live together like this. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • fallenpeach

    fallenpeach said 10 years ago

    this is an idea that has been thrown around my circle of friends - it's great to see that it can be done.

  • LuuLuu5150

    LuuLuu5150 said 10 years ago

    Gorgeous! It makes me want to start following my dream of having a small hobby farm. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful home!

  • shantishanty

    shantishanty said 10 years ago

    i had a dream like this when i was younger...i'm so glad it has been a reality for some!

  • marymary Admin

    marymary said 10 years ago

    So inspiring!

  • TheCottageCheese

    TheCottageCheese said 10 years ago

    What a beautiful place! I dream of building a mini version of this - a weekend retreat of tiny homes and artist/writing studios. Great inspiration!

  • FrillyButts

    FrillyButts said 10 years ago

    Wow! What a beautiful place to live!

  • blueskyclouds

    blueskyclouds said 10 years ago

    Love those beautiful succulents!

  • paramountvintage

    paramountvintage said 10 years ago

    absolutely beautiful! the tin roofs, the garden, the outdoor pizza kitchen....what a dream!

  • BlackStar

    BlackStar said 10 years ago

    great piece! LOL @ $8.00 sq. ft!

  • sherrytruitt

    sherrytruitt said 10 years ago

    This is so amazing, my Dad moved from Brooklyn to Napa and lived very similarly. Such great memories.

  • daniellexo

    daniellexo said 10 years ago

    Dreamy! I love how the salvaged pieces inspired the construction.

  • VixVintage

    VixVintage said 10 years ago

    What a beautiful story, thank you!

  • poppyfox

    poppyfox said 10 years ago

    Beautiful place!

  • Furiousdreams

    Furiousdreams said 10 years ago

    This is my favorite Storque article yet! Takes me back to my hippie roots and shows how folks can live together harmoniously and with great design. Love it. Thanks, posting on my blog.

  • stubborndogAD

    stubborndogAD said 10 years ago

    All I've got is "wow!" What a beautiful home!

  • Horticopia

    Horticopia said 10 years ago

    Having originally come from the Santa Cruz area myself, I'm not surprised by the wealth of creativity inspired by that magical place. Happy Gardening

  • ancientfuture

    ancientfuture said 10 years ago

    such a great story. i lived in an urban style communal living arrangement in davis, ca for a while when i first moved to california. it was a magical place filled with so much love and creativitiy and family! thanks for taking me back and reminding me of that feeling... xo

  • MagicMarkingsArt

    MagicMarkingsArt said 10 years ago

    WoW! I am enthralled, and would love to see more. Just curious...has anyone ever done a film documentary on this amazing place? I will definitely check out the kitchen sisters radio documentaries.

  • recycledwares

    recycledwares said 10 years ago

    i've always wanted to try communal living - this so inspires me to do so. but would take me years to get where you are, with the lovely buildings and landscape.

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry said 10 years ago

    Sounds amazing. I'd love to see it in person.

  • bitfolky

    bitfolky said 10 years ago

    i am so stoked to see this story. we're trying to do the same thing. much work to be done but our little yurt is up and there's a combined total of 7 kids screaming through the trees.... love the communal kitchen and bathing spaces. great on to find me some 50ft trusses...

  • shizendesigns

    shizendesigns said 10 years ago

    How cool is this story?

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 10 years ago

    Love it!

  • ericawalker

    ericawalker said 10 years ago

    what a beautiful home! i love the whole idea of working from salvaged materials.

  • 1AEON

    1AEON said 10 years ago

    what? loove those monkeys!!! nice story!

  • allthosethrees

    allthosethrees said 10 years ago

    How amazing. $8 per sq foot?! A little different to London living. Haha. Thanks for this heart-warming & inspiring post!

  • designlab443

    designlab443 said 10 years ago

    I love the whole idea of this style of living... not sure about the showers... but the rest is awesome!

  • ultravioletvintage

    ultravioletvintage said 10 years ago

    Fabulous and definitely inspiring!

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 10 years ago

    cute, luv the sock monkies!!

  • chocolateandsteel

    chocolateandsteel said 10 years ago

    what a beautiful house, compound. I love the architectural details and the openness of it. I'm not sure if there are 9 other people I could live with for that long but I'm glad it works for them:)

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations said 10 years ago

    What a touching story.

  • bklynstitch

    bklynstitch said 10 years ago

    Wow, that was great! The music was perfect for that too.

  • brianslittlegirl

    brianslittlegirl said 10 years ago

    what else can I say? Inspiring!

  • thewheatfield

    thewheatfield said 10 years ago

    This is so inspiring! I'm lucky enough to be moving into a farm commune in under a week!!! For years, my dream has been to get a little barn studio, and I just so happened to find this amazing nook. The people at the farm are wonderful too :) Thanks for sharing this great video - it made my day!


    BLUERAINBOW said 10 years ago

    great story... and charming people!

  • monkeyandsquirrel

    monkeyandsquirrel said 10 years ago

    how wonderful! so beautiful too :)

  • babook

    babook said 10 years ago

    Great video inside with the nice place and story !! perfect house : )

  • sean11

    sean11 said 10 years ago

    I think this is my favorite No Place Like Here. Totally amazing.

  • abianchi

    abianchi said 10 years ago

    Lovely Story!

  • mooshoopork

    mooshoopork said 10 years ago

    ooh! ive always had a dream of living on a commune! hehe, the whole.. "it takes a village" seems ideal to me :)

  • blueberryshoes

    blueberryshoes said 10 years ago

    um. IM SORRY WHAT? this is a dream.

  • Art2ArtColorado

    Art2ArtColorado said 10 years ago

    LOVE this... especially the architectural salvage... the glass block, the rafters... i could go on & on. beautiful! thank you for sharing!

  • vesselsandwares

    vesselsandwares said 10 years ago

    That was a really lovely. Thanks for sharing!

  • marikoartstudio

    marikoartstudio said 10 years ago

    the ultimate lifestyle (^_^) admire people like that in ca my dream... what a wonderful story, thanks

  • OwlandMouse

    OwlandMouse said 10 years ago

    the gardens are soo pretty!

  • katieanneclothing

    katieanneclothing said 10 years ago

    Truly a wonderful story, thank you!! :O)

  • fasola

    fasola said 10 years ago

    great work. you were ahead of ur time. love it!

  • mosey

    mosey said 10 years ago

    wonderful. so wonderful!

  • JeannineRobertsRoyce

    JeannineRobertsRoyce said 10 years ago

    beautiful to live out the creativity of relationship with others, combining all the talents of people committed to making it work. (hope the weird spam post above gets removed soon.)

  • Sukiezw

    Sukiezw said 10 years ago

    This looks like such a wonderful place to live and raise children...very inspiring.

  • orchardfarmsoap

    orchardfarmsoap said 10 years ago

    la bella vida, thanks for sharing

  • MetroGypsy

    MetroGypsy said 10 years ago

    Ah! To quote your words it's "a wonderland" indeed! A true little Shangri-La! Simply beautiful...

  • dumbo

    dumbo said 10 years ago

    This is fighting fon my Top 1 with "Something's hiding here". Wonderful spaces!!! We want more like those! Definetely MORE!!!! :)

  • PhatGrrl

    PhatGrrl said 10 years ago

    Amazing place to share with like minded people.

  • DIPdesigns

    DIPdesigns said 10 years ago

    I feel inspired!! There are many talents out there :)

  • amcorrao

    amcorrao said 10 years ago

    I am so inspired by your living situation. I've always wondered how I would live in such a communal way and still have my own space to create my art projects. I am and need help selling on this site.

  • BeauBazaar

    BeauBazaar said 10 years ago

    What a beautiful, practical, dreamy place.

  • raghousenternational

    raghousenternational said 10 years ago

    Absolutely amazing. I love it. I am that much more inspired to continue to make it to a heavenly place like that! Ren

  • aehinto

    aehinto said 10 years ago

    this is ridiculously beautiful. i am so in love and so inspired!

  • EcoFelt

    EcoFelt said 10 years ago

    I really enjoyed seeing that! Thanks for sharing.

  • deniseks

    deniseks said 10 years ago

    This just proves you can live the creative life! Thanks for this affirmation. I want to join you! I live in Scotts Valley.....

  • ColourflyNaturals

    ColourflyNaturals said 10 years ago

    i want to watch this again and again, thanks!

  • Spiralmystery

    Spiralmystery said 10 years ago

    Looks like heaven to me.

  • MetroGypsy

    MetroGypsy said 10 years ago

    Watched again after a long subway ride, love it even more! :)

  • DodgeStationPottery

    DodgeStationPottery said 10 years ago

    Wow! Such a great story. I'm trying to do the same thing but roll reversal. Even though my parents are artisans, I'm trying to start the family business and keep it going so we can all live the way they did and do--for their art, craft, and surroundings! This is what I came home to try and start up, beautiful I think:

  • Knight27

    Knight27 said 10 years ago

    This is amazing! Very inspiring, thank you for sharing.

  • creamspyder

    creamspyder said 10 years ago

    All those of us who are inspired, (in my case I have to admit that may actually be 'jealous'!) - isn't it odd how we can feel an affinity to that particular kind of lifestyle, and yet the vast majority of us live .....well what is it....? Who 'designed' what we masses 'put up with'? Was it chaos and laziness.... I wonder. Ahhh.... seriously, it is lovely that those folk have created a physical, delightful, living environment that most of us who have stopped to comment found very appealing - apart from blueberryshoes - who I admire for her honesty! Just thinking, it takes a certain 'mix' of characters wouldn't you say. I must admit, I seem to be finding society difficult to relate to, 'fitting in' means conform, and or shut your mouth. Perhaps the real attraction is living with fellow humans 'on a similar wavelength'? :D

  • littlebearknits

    littlebearknits said 10 years ago

    what a unique place to live! you've really made it your own. i can't believe it only cost appx. $8/sq ft. Amazing!

  • junebird

    junebird said 10 years ago


  • littleclouds

    littleclouds said 10 years ago

    That is amazing, beautiful beautiful house and I can't believe how bargainous it is! I don't think I would do well living in a commune though, maybe if they were all good friends then that would be lovely !

  • linensisters

    linensisters said 10 years ago

    Super! What an amazing journey of thirty years of hard work to make your dreams come true.....utopia! Cheers!

  • somethingshidinghere

    somethingshidinghere said 10 years ago

    yep, we're inspired. anyone want to buy land and build houses with us???

  • pasin

    pasin said 10 years ago

    How amazing

  • TheWinglessBird

    TheWinglessBird said 9 years ago

    I;ve only just discovered these! I'm excited!

  • Tirabaralla

    Tirabaralla said 9 years ago

    It would be difficult for me to live like that but i deeply respect it and even more forthissame reason, beautiful.

  • rosa2030

    rosa2030 said 8 years ago

    "Just like a family the good out weighs the bad." Love it!

  • RetrofitBecky

    Becky from RetrofitStyle said 8 years ago

    Beautiful article! Reminds me of my hippie days in the 1960's and early 1970's, minus the real life jobs and electricity! Thanks so much.

  • My Homepage said 5 years ago

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