fern House

New Video features the Greenfield House team

The Main Team for the Greenfield house put together a short video about the house and the process of build an home with an integrated team which is pretty much necessary to do a high performance home. This video briefly explains a bit about what that means. The key players are Chad of Vermont Natural Homes, Mel of Helm Construction Solutions and myself, Bob Swinburne of Robert Swinburne Architect, LLC and Bluetime Collaborative, which represents the bringing together of key players in a collaborative team which is how I like best to work. Grady Smith of Grayson Digital did the filming and video production

Here are a few other videos that I have been featured in. The first features the Fern House and has been viewed over 28k times by now. The second is called "Living Small - Tiny House Documentary and has been viewed over 50k times



Vermont Stock plans now available for purchase

I am finally getting around to offering stock plans from my own website including Vermont Simple House (VSH) 1, 2 and 3. These have been for sale for a few years now on HousePlans.com and, by contract I can sell them on my own website for an increased price. I have been getting many inquiries about other plans I might have for sale so I’m going to focus for a while on increasing my offerings. My simple traditional aesthetic with clean modern lines and plans seem to have hit a chord with many people and I rarely get to keep things so simple with my custom work. I have been digging through stock plan offerings on the web since 2008 and I have found little competition for this sort of house. These plans all have shells and detailing bumped up to “Pretty Good House” levels which is also unusual in stock plans. These are the plans that are for sale currently:

I am now working on a variation of the Greenfield house which will have a footprint of 22’x 32’ + bump-out and offer two full bathrooms and up to three bedrooms in about 1452 square feet. I will strip out of few of the more custom elements from the Greenfield house such as the very large (and expensive) corner window and the steel staircase – it’s easy enough to add those back in.

 My plan is to continually add more plans here including variations on these plans (most of them are quite flexible) Credit card processing is taken care of through Gumroad and you are immediately able to download all associated files. Of course all work is copyrighted and good for the construction of one house, stair, whatever. I will need to figure out how to make discounts available for multiple purchases. I will also develop a resource page for materials, products and useful information. Feed back is most welcome and I hope that people send photos!

By the way, I am about to purge my user roles quite a bit. There are over 8000 registered users and when I ran this list through a spammer check, it showed me that half of this number are spammers. If you want to get regular updates please register via the slide out are on the upper right side of any page in case I accidentally purge you. One would dislike being purged.

Real Vermonters don't have Master Bedroom Suites

(would make a good bumper sticker for me except that nobody would get it.) In rural northern New England – the only local I can really speak authoritatively about – there is a dichotomy of class. It may not reflect income or race but it is something I grew up with. The local kids worked in the kitchens and grounds of the summer camps where the “rich kids” came to play for the summer. It is interesting to read “Maine Home and Design” as an architect who has some connection to the world of art and leisure depicted in those homes as well as a connection to the “other” Maine to whom the magazine is totally irrelevant.

I find the dichotomy affects my own work as well as the clients I have worked with. The typical client with a more middle or upper class suburban background (most of my friends and clients) was raised in a largish home on a largish lot where each kid had his or her own bedroom, there were multiple bathrooms, a garage, a family room – standard stuff to most people. Growing up in rural Maine, however, I had friends who lived in un-insulated homes with no plumbing, 12' wide mobile homes etc. For many, the ideal was one of those new 1200 s.f. Modular homes built up in West Paris. Lots of families included multiple generations and semi-temporary guests all under one roof in a big old farmhouse.

After many years of clients coming to Vermont to build a new home and life who find the idea of not having a master bedroom suite, a T/B ratio =/> 1 (toilet to butt ratio) or a garage to house their cars incomprehensible, (Real Vermonters don't have garages?) I find myself questioning what is important to me and the type of projects I can really get my emotions into. My job requires a fair amount of understanding where someone is coming from and what their frame of reference is. Certainly, most people bring their past with them to the table along with what they see on the internet and in magazines. But when I get a client who with similar (old fashioned?) sensibilities and more of a “slow living” attitude and perspective or at least, a willingness to question their values, it is refreshing.

In designing with a set of priorities to reflect this attitude I think about more seasonal living with the idea of hunkering down close to the woodstove during the colder months, cooking lots of fabulous meals and hosting smaller gatherings of friends and family. In the warmer months, life can expand outward with larger parties in the barn, screened porches become additional living space and sleeping quarters. In my own family's case, the 900 square feet of wood stove heated living space expands to include a screened in porch where we play and eat meals, the barn where I have a desk set up to work and where we have parties and guests have a comfy bed. Plus there is always the fern house and lots of room for tenting in the meadow. Sometimes it is good to tour old houses or even just spend some time in old Sears catalog home books to see what used to be important to people and think about how we say we want to live with a more critical eye and a different perspective.

"Rock the Shack" - Gestalten

The Architecture of Cabin, Cocoons and Hide-Outs

A new book from Gestalten in Germany contains a full page spread of my barn and one page on the fern house. The page after my barn is a lovely cabin by Kundig, a big name architect who will probably win the Pritzker some day. (just sayin)

The book is available from Gestalten or Amazon (order it from your local independent bookstore!) and contains many very amazing projects - highly recommended

Fern house featured again on Houzz.com

Life of This Architect

Life is complicated. We all long for a return to some point in our lives when things were simpler. So along the lines of what it is like to be an architect in rural Vermont I thought I'd write up a summary of what my life is like without getting too personal of course. In 2000, my wife an I were lucky to “accidentally” find and buy a small house with a kitchenette and electric heat on 50 acres three miles from where my wife went to college. This fortunately happened just before real estate prices escalated dramatically. We also learned at that time that banks really don't want to talk to self-employed people. We moved in with great plans to add on to the house, which was rather small. We did some master planning, cleared a field, planted a cover crop of buckwheat--the flowers of which were beautiful but smelled like cat piss at night. buckwheat in Bob Swinburne's field We built a barn with lumber from the local lumber mill and from the trees cleared off the the field, planted fruit trees, a lilac garden, a raspberry patch and a huge vegetable garden, planted hundreds of daffodils and built and a fern house. We dug a few vernal pools which proved to be a bit too vernal necessitating a joint compound bucket rescue mission every June to move eggs to a neighbors pond before ours dries up. And we built a trail network that connects to a trail network in the forests to the North of our property around South Pond in Marlboro.

Our house, however remains at 900 square feet and remains relatively untouched . We still cook fabulous meals in the tiny kitchenette and heat the place with a wood stove tucked into the fireplace. I often work from home in the winter to keep the fire going. The bathroom desperately needs a gut remodel – a large section of tile fell off the wall a few years ago while I was taking a shower and I glued up some sheet metal “temporarily” and used some packing tape to reinforce the remaining tiles. Pitiful huh? Not an impressive home that I would want clients seeing. “Uh, yeah, that's the house..come see my cool modernist barn!”

My office was the second bedroom (9 ½ x 9 ½ feet square) until my daughter at age two announced that the room was now hers. (She needed a headquarters from which to plot her eventual world domination. And keep all her stuffed animals.) So I moved my practice into an office in Brattleboro's Cotton Mill where my wife works. This was a good move anyway as it gave me a place with high speed internet and a place to meet clients. Did I mention that dial-up is the only option on our rural dirt road? Previously, I had to go hang out at a cafe if I needed to download or upload large files, surf the web or meet with a client somewhere other than on site.

So my wife and I have this 4-year-old daughter who goes to preschool 5 days a week for some part of each day. We also have a beloved dog with DM (Degenerative Myelopathy) who needs someone with him most of the time in case he falls and gets stuck or poops himself. He got stuck under the Christmas tree a few months ago and I came home from errands to find him looking rather miffed but being remarkably patient. We currently spend a fair amount of time schedule-juggling to determine who has the kid and/or dog. For the time being, travel is out of the question as is most visiting. “We brought the dog and he might poop on your living room carpet!”

My wife is self-employed as a massage therapist and I am self-employed as an architect. There are periodic issues relating to the idea that one of us should have a job with benefits that would cover the family, usually around tax time when we tally up what we earned and realize that one of us really should head down to Wal-Mart to pick up a job application. We each work about ¾ time and feel like we are right out straight all the time. My wife has specific appointments for her work while I am usually just trying to accomplish my work whenever I can get a chunk of time to focus. I have found that if I achieve the necessary level of focus, I can accomplish huge amounts of work in a relatively short period of time. If I can't enter that zone, it is a painful thing to try to work and I am better off doing something else useful like increasing the size of my woodpile or weeding the garden. This pattern of work is not very conducive to employment in a firm if I remember those days correctly. I remember working 5 hours and getting more done than anyone else in the office but getting in trouble for not looking busy the rest of the time. I also seem to accomplish great feats of design and detailing while walking in the woods, riding my bike, xc skiing and more consistently, in the early morning hours when I often lie in bed for an hour or two working out details or design issues that I couldn't seem to focus on during the previous day. I often work from home in the summer as well, at a desk out in the barn loft where I can listen to the birds singing, the kid playing in the garden with the sitter, enjoy the warm summer breezes and work with relatively little distraction. (Also the cotton mill office gets a bit hot.)

At this point in my career, I tend to attract the type of client who has big ideas and a not so big pocketbook. Therefore the bathroom doesn't get renovated and the house doesn't get added on to. Often, projects end before they have really started when early in schematic design we realize that the wants/needs list won't match up with the $$. I certainly could use an occasional high end residential project so the “cobbler's children could have shoes” however. This blog has increased my exposure to a level that has allowed me to remain in business when most local architects and designers seem to be unemployed. It has also been rather cathartic as a way of letting off steam...although I try not to get too grumbly. I originally started blogging as a way to complement my website which seemed rather static – just a portfolio. I really wanted to communicate more of who I am, how I work, what it is like to work with me, what my values are and to open a general window into the process as most people really have no idea what to expect when they pick up the phone to call an architect. The blog has been very successful at that and I actually have around 1000 subscribers now which puts a bit of pressure on me to come up with decent content. Such as this post. I hope.

As I think forward to what I want the business to become I reflect on a business plan I worked on with my wife a few years ago. It was helpful to inform me what path I didn't want to pursue: to grow the firm with employees that I would have to work full-time just to keep busy and employed. I started to explore what is happening in terms of a different business model based on collaboration. I also realized that the days of the small town architect that does everything are fading away. Everything requires specialized knowledge that one person or even one small firm can't provide. I realized that I had numerous contacts in larger and more specialized firms that were interested in pursuing local work outside the residential realm in a collaborative relationship with me. The internet has changed the nature of the architecture firm dramatically in more urban environments and we are starting to see it in more rural areas as well. My new business model is based on this idea . And it allows me to focus on my greatest strength--which is not marketing, schmoozing, management of employees, being a super-geek, but is simply ….Design.

Fern House

The ferns are unfurling around the fern house, our seasonal guest sleeping / napping spot The bed is a futon on a slatted frame hung from the structure on parachute cord.  The entire project took about forty hours and $700 or $800 bucks a few years ago.  Mostly just 2 x 4's , 2 x 6's polycarbonate roofing and charcoal coated metal screen.  I will try to get some better pics up on the website.  www.swinburnearchitect.com