Photo by Michael Moore
I arrived a bit early at the welcoming Ojai home of Gay and Katie Hendricks and couldn’t help but plop onto the wooden swing hanging from a tree in the spacious, magical front garden. After all, the birds were singing and they seemed to be tweeting, “Welcome! Breathe! It’s almost spring!” The garden (like the couple’s home, I soon discovered) was filled with a colorful array of objects collected on travels, as well as from local sources: amethyst geodes, benches tiled with pink lotus designs and, sparkling amidst succulents, a cactus sculpture and a bright blue orb.
I rang the bell of the white and green farm-style house and Katie invited me inside the abode, which also doubles as a home office and writing studio. Colorful paintings, art (by Roy James, Poteet Victory, John Lennon and Marc Chagall) and one-of-a-kind furniture and light fixtures, many from Primavera in Ojai, decorate their home.
Close to 40 books that the Hendrickses have written (including Gay’s Tenzing Norbu mysteries) have been translated into a multitude of languages, and these line the shelves in Gay’s writing room. Cats Alli and Greta have their own amazing climbing wall in the exercise room.
Gay and Katie are all about “Conscious Loving” and they live what they preach, in more ways than one. That’s the title of the couple’s New York Times best-selling book, which was also featured on Oprah’s book club. That’s also how The Hendricks Institute and its Foundation for Conscious Living markets seminars and training workshops. This concept is displayed in the Hendrickses’ Ojai home, where they spread their love not only to the humans and animals in their midst, but to Mother Earth as well.
It comes as no surprise that they are walking the walk with their ecological commitment. Katie, seated on her lavender chaise, chatted about all sorts of matters: human, spiritual and domestic. She told me they removed the original front lawn and converted the front garden into a “bee, butterfly and hummingbird pollinator” where hawks regularly visit to bathe in the fountain.
Every year, the couple aims to take on a project to lessen their ecological footprint. “Our body intelligence work informs our lifestyle,” noted Katie. “One can’t be aware of their body if not conscious of the bigger body. We want to be consistent with our principles.”
Currently, they’re in the process of making changes in the back garden with a state-of-the-art pool system, a lovely Balinese pavilion sanctuary and a brightly painted swing from Rajasthan in India. Previous endeavors have yielded a gray-water system (sourced from the master bathroom of the 2,500-square-foot house ) that waters a side yard, an on-demand hot water system that takes one minute to heat and energy-efficient appliances that keep bills and usage down.
But some of their most ambitious efforts have involved solar energy. The house employs solar panels, which the Hendrickses say supply 60 percent of the residence’s energy. They have also installed a backup system using clean, nontoxic batteries that are designed and manufactured in Ojai by a company called SimpliPhi Power. In fact, the couple was an angel investor in the technology in the company’s early days.
The need for backup power became paramount when a humongous 350-year-old oak tree lost two “branches the size of trees” that fell on a transformer and left them without power for a few days. Katie and Gay wanted a backup power source for their solar panels. The solution turned out to be SimpliPhi.
The company got its start, in a way, in 2001, when a man named Stuart Lennox, who worked as a production designer for film and TV, invented an off-grid energy storage system for remote applications (such as film sets). Catherine Von Burg, SimpliPhi’s president and CEO, teamed up with Lennox in 2010 to leverage his proprietary Libertypak platform technology for use in a wide range of business and consumer products. I asked Von Burg, also an Ojai resident, to explain how the reliable, clean-home energy source works.
As we all know, power is intermittent. Additionally, there are peak usage hours, when we pay more to use our dryers or other electrical appliances. Let’s say you lose power and can’t operate your computer, refrigerator or lights.
A backup power source would be handy indeed — and preferably not a noisy, polluting diesel gas generator that requires maintenance.
SimpliPhi batteries can be installed in a home or business to power up when a power grid outage occurs. These batteries offer the smallest energy footprint and least amount of weight. They can be placed under counters or in a garage, and they don’t require any ventilation or cooling apparatus. SimpliPhi works with contractors, architects and electricians to design a system that suits each customer’s requirements.
Although the company has created backup power sources locally for the Hendrickses, as well as at Taft Botanical Gardens and The Ojai Foundation, much of SimpliPhi’s work is global, spanning from Europe to South America to New Zealand, and includes projects ranging from a 10,000-square-foot home in New York to a brewing company in Maui.
According to Von Burg, these batteries, when used with generators, can reduce fuel consumption by 50 to 90 percent. Additionally, unlike cobalt oxide batteries, there is no risk of “thermal runaway,” toxic fires or temperature regulation. SimpliPhi prides itself on employing the most environmentally friendly lithium ion chemistry in its products.
“Batteries stand to optimize any power generation source,” Von Burg said, “whether it’s solar, wind, generators or your own electrical power grid. The nontoxic batteries have a 10-year warranty, but will last for 15 years or more.” The batteries create a cushion for power outages, as well as during peak charge times. For businesses, a system can pay for itself within a year. SimpliPhi works with a local recycler when disposal is (finally) necessary.
But back to the home front, where the Hendrickses now possess peace of mind in the event of a power outage.
“We love Ojai,” Katie concluded, “It’s really about supporting the life we have here and being as responsible as we can. We’ve made a big commitment to living in integrity.”