Homeowner turns his property into a truly unique landscape
Art work at the home of Chuck and Pilar Bahde of Rancho Santa FePhoto by Charlie Neuman
An untitled sculpture (left) pointed across a walkway at the home of Chuck and Pilar Bahde of Rancho Santa Fe. “My sculptures are unusual. Some say I’m a little weird,” said Chuck Bahde (below), strolling past another of his sculptures, this one twisting skyward.
RANCHO SANTA FE — When Chuck Bahde bought the rambling wooden house in Rancho Santa Fe, the 5-acre spread already had plenty of grass and gardens. But that wasn’t to his liking. Besides, it seemed such a waste of water to keep the lawn green. So Bahde set out to create a new landscape, filled with meandering streams, pools and waterfalls — all created with blue and green glass, hand-painted rocks and plastic.
Today dozens of artworks adorn Bahde’s expansive property, in addition to the waterless pools and rivers. Every last piece is made from recycled or found materials. Pebbles, broken bottles, computer chips, seashells, beads, railroad ties, old-fashioned glass doorknobs and even an old, 5-cent parking meter have been turned into artwork in his hands.
A solar panel from a defunct pool-heating system is now the basis for a towering sculpture called “The Wave.” Plastic CDs are put to use as sun-catchers, and warped, time-faded, wooden tennis rackets and a tiny gold trophy add to the décor surrounding the tennis courts. Every rock lining the numerous pathways was found on the property, he said.
Bahde, 84, was an industrial architect by trade and a graduate of the Institute of Design In Chicago . Over the years he enjoyed a wide-ranging career that included everything from designing and building custom homes in the Midwest to practicing public relations in Europe , where he met his wife, Pilar, who is Swiss and Spanish.
“I was more or less a job-jumper, because I was curious,” he said.
Though he started creating art while in school, and design work was often part of his job, Bahde was never a professional artist. “My sculptures are unusual. Some say I’m a little weird,” he said with a laugh.
But few aside from family members and friends have seen his sculptures and unique landscape of art. “I just do things for myself,” he said.
A vacation in San Diego and a subsequent job offer from Convair, where Bahde worked designing airliner interiors, led the couple to settle in San Diego to raise their two children. After many years living in Point Loma and actively participating in the planning group and other community efforts, the Bahdes bought the Rancho Santa Fe property in 1974. He has been remodeling the house, and the yard, ever since.
Bahde’s landscape is ever-changing, as he continues to add to it and create newer pieces. Even more sculptures fill several garages that once housed a car collection; Bahde plans to put them on exhibit at a gallery someday.
But he is most proud of the fact that his intricate and eye-catching landscape takes very little water to maintain, other than what is needed for the macadamia trees, two coral trees and a small rose garden that were already on the property when he bought it.
In fact, the recent rains kept Bahde busy drying out the “pools,” since standing water could loosen the glue holding the mosaic-like surface together.
Bahde credits a school coach, in part, with some of the modesty that has kept him from making his artwork public. “My first football coach told me: ‘As good as you all are, I don’t want to see you bragging. Just show people what you can do.’ ”
Leslie Wolf Branscomb is a freelance writer in San Diego.