Illinois Stories T.V.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


This article was published in the Dulcimer Player news.   I hope you can make it bigger so to read it.  September 2013

article in Handcock County JOURNAL-PILOT on 25 September 2013

Round home on the river is "perfect" for Tukuafus

The "dead end" sign on Sycamore Haven Dr. just north of Nauvoo seems out of place once you've driven past its warning and pulled into the driveway of Tomasi and Irene Tukuafu's home. Inside, the Tukuafu's are alive and well, and their beautiful circular wooden home is another new beginning after nearly 50 years of marriage.

The unique shape of the home is a reflection of the couples past while living in Hawaii. Now it also functions as a way to enjoy all of the nature associated with the Mississippi River that the home overlooks.

"Thirty years ago when we lived in Hawaii we lived up high and we could see the ocean a little bit and we had a stream that ran down," said Irene. "I said 'there's no place that's not beautiful, I want a round house to see the whole thing.' So that is where the round house came into being.

"Between Vicki (Andrus) and I we created it together. She says 'building round is hard Irene, it's going to take longer.' But I wanted round, so she said we'll do round."

The main area of the home is well-lit thanks to a number of large windows looking west towards the river, as well as a skylight at the top of the yurt roof, a distinctive feature of homes in central Asia for over 3,000 years. The wooden features inside the home are quite impressive as well.

Logs from a 1750's cabin in Pennsylvania hold up the roof. Cedar logs from the area help provide in the structure of the home as well as the staircase up to the loft and guest room area perched above the living room. To make the railing for the loft, aspen logs from Utah's Parley's Canyon were brought in and sanded down by Irene to perfect the look. Barn wood borders a stained glass window and the bottom of the yurt roof, which was an idea developed as Irene was working with many friends in the building process.
"So one artisan encourages another artisan," said Irene.

On the main level, a compass is ingrained into the middle of the floor which creates a vortex of sound when one speaks while standing there. Oak flooring edges out from the compass and is bordered by maple strips that look like sunbursts in the daylight. All of the wood is accentuated by the natural lighting from outside.

"It's absolutely fascinating to watch the Mississippi," said Irene. "It doesn't matter what day. Winter, summer, spring, or fall. It is beautiful."

The river setting also provides a view into the past for Tomasi and Irene. Tomasi grew up in the south pacific islands of Tonga, and Irene grew up in Sacramento.

"For him, he sees the islands. For me, I see across the Sacramento River," Irene said. "We just love it here."

The Tukuafu's came to Nauvoo in 2006 when Irene began building tables for Andrus and her restaurant business. Tomasi had already retired from teaching science and the couple's 14 children (seven sons and daughters) were well into adulthood.

Irene's woodworking ability and passion for music are evident throughout the home, especially in the main room next to the office area where a number of homemade instruments including harps and dulcimers rest.

"I make all of my instruments," said Irene, pointing to a harp. "This is harp number 45. I've made two more since then. The last one I made was in Hawaii for my daughter."

The instruments aren't simply for decoration, as Irene and Tomasi are talented musicians, and being surrounded by music again serves as a living connection to the past as all 14 children play instruments.

"Early on we decided we would go around and do the Tongan way of Christmas," said Irene. "You'd take your instruments and you'd go play. The first five years of our marriage we had a baby, so we would take our little choir around with us."

The use of wood in the home is highlighted by the bed frame made of logs, which required the original foundation be expanded to accommodate the unique piece of furniture. Above the bed is a skylight and within the connected bathroom is a vintage sink and bathtub.

Through the office area is another bathroom which features a large fossil-crete shower, giving the appearance of bathing under a waterfall.

"Old ladies don't like slipping on showers," jokes Irene. "It's just like taking a shower in a cave. I like it. I'll never slip on this shower!"

The kitchen sits on the southeast side of the home, and its middle space is occupied by a large wooden table made by a good friend Dave Hardle, who helped with a lot of the wood in the house. The table is so large it has been bolted together, but the bolts have been covered with wooden knots for a natural finish.

"This is more of a buffet table because we serve a lot of people in our home," said Irene with a smile. "Bring them in!"

The table stands on a cherry wood floor that has been painstakingly put together like a puzzle.

"We tongue and grooved it all, and there were all sorts of different sized pieces," Irene said.

Stained glass windows also feature prominently in the home. One window on the southwest side is stained glass, and Irene has another window placed deeper inside the house next to her half of the office area. It was originally intended for the northwest side, but the view to Ft. Madison would have been obstructed.

"Since Vicki knew me for 30 years she knew I loved stained glass windows," said Irene. "I realized when you put a stained glass window in you no longer have a view. At night time you can see all of the bridge lit up. It looks beautiful."

The Tukuafu's began construction in 2009 and moved in in 2010.

"We didn't want to move in on April 1, so we moved in on April 2," laughed Irene.

Irene admits that there is still more work to be done, but she is capable of doing much that work in the wood shop beside the house where she builds her harps.

"It's not a perfect shop but it's perfect for me," said Irene. "Tomasi doesn't do woodworking, but he's so sweet he'll come and clean up my shop."

Tomasi was also integral in the building process not so much for what he did, but for what he didn't do. Irene and Vicki's creativity was the driving force behind the home, and for what they could build their dream home for in Nauvoo as compared to other parts of the world they have lived, they spared little expense.

"Tomasi let us have free hand of it all," Irene said. "He said 'all I need is a log to lay my head on, you guys just do whatever you want.' How wonderful is that? In Hawaii this would be a $2 million house and the termites would love it!"

There is no love from termites inside the round house past the dead end sign, and the only sign of love is that of Irene and Tomasi. As their voices and music fill the living room, igniting the accoustics of the wood, the look of the house gives way to the feeling of the home.

After 50 years together, through different addresses in different time zones, the spark between the two remains obvious, and for now there is no other place to go.

Said Irene, "I'm in my dream house with my dream man."