willow-witt ranch: imperfect world

Lucia’s design advisor admits to being a recovering perfectionist.
She carefully organized the quintessential creative weekend for us at an off-the-grid ranch in the Cascade Mountains, where things did not go according to her plan.

By Karly Siroky

All my life I’ve been a perfectionist. Scratch that. For the past 19 years, 2 months, 20 hours and 13 minutes I’ve been a perfectionist, ever since I started studying classical piano. 

Performing Rachmaninoff requires hours upon hours of religious practice, note perfection and a fierce control of performance anxiety. I remember spending countless nights sobbing on the bathroom floor after my studiously memorized sonata vanished mid-recital, with everyone and their mother watching.

Ever since, I’ve been afraid to perform without the music.

I always travel with an itinerary. I cook from carefully transcribed recipes. I design within my comfort zone.

Thankfully there are people and places with the power to snap us from even our deepest self-inflicted stupor. Last winter that person was my dear friend and creative confidante, Laura Lowery, and the place was Willow-Witt Ranch. 

Tucked away among 440 acres of forest wilderness in the Cascade Mountains, more than one hundred chickens, fifty goats, one dozen pigs, three massive Maremma Sheepdogs and two intrepid women make this their year-round home. Completely off the grid but not without its creature comforts, we found sumptuous solace in their farmhouse studio, warmed by a wood stove and bottomless down comforters. Our fridge was stocked with fresh farm eggs, a package of perfectly pink pork chops and a tall jar of goat milk. 

To this I added a cornucopia of culinary foodstuffs intended to fuel us through our art-inspired work weekend. As a designer who dreams of opening my own bed and breakfast someday, I jumped at the chance to plan a creative weekend designing Lucia’s brand and feeding her founder. The menu was planned to a T, everything in its place.

Our creative lovechild—an independent publication meant to light the way for today’s modern woman—came together quite well, but tested my designer’s OCD. Laura, having come from a photography and communications background, had no problem breaking the rules when it came to design fundamentals. With years of typographic tutelage ringing in my head, I was too afraid to even draw the first line.

Determined to deliver a memorable weekend, I diverted my attention from design to domestic. When we first arrived, the wood-fired hot tub outside had antiquated charm but sported a sheet of ice. So we spent the afternoon stoking the fire, anticipating a post-hike evening soak. I also set out the ingredients for our culinary encore—coconut crème brûlée.

Then, of course, as the best-laid plans always seem to do, things went wrong.

Intoxicated after a Technicolor sunset and its accompanying bottle of wine near the summit of Grizzly Peak, I reread the recipe for my highly anticipated dessert, discovering one very important line: Chill two hours before serving. It was 10pm and I hadn’t even started.

Without dessert, we put on rubber boots and bathing suits and waded through frozen grass to stargaze from the surely-warm-enough-by-now water. Lifting the wooden cover we discovered it exceeded 120 degrees—way too hot. We gave up and went to bed. 

In the morning I rose at the silvery light of dawn, carefully cracked six mint and fawn-colored eggs and placed the ramekins in their own steamy bath, the scent of coconut wafting upwards into the loft. I checked the tub, which had finally reached our Goldilocks temperature of just right.

At 8:30am on our final day, we paired morning coffee with a good long soak, tendrils of steam from our cups braiding with those from the water as we watched the goats embark on their daily exodus. Back in the cabin I found further redemption in a never-to-be-repeated-the-same-again breakfast, sufficiently chilled and freshly torched. 

Although an overheated hot tub and delayed dessert are hardly things to get upset about, these mishaps in my recipe for a perfect weekend reminded me that life does not always proceed according to plan. My journey has always been about forgiveness and the fear of failure. But what would be the point of living a perfectly planned life? After all, many of my fondest memories were born from my greatest mistakes.