A House for Slow Living
The original concept came to me in a dream (yes – I dream architecturally) I think the dream may have been generated by this image which has been on my bulletin board fora few years:

The original sketch was called “a house for food”

The core concept was centered around the growing, preparation and consumption of food which lends itself to the idea of gatherings of family and friends and leads to the notion of how to live in a close relationship to the local environment. From my own experience I drew upon the old fashioned ideas of hunkering down by the fire on a cold winter evening, opening the house up to the sounds, smells and breezes of a summer day, “putting food by” and making routine preparations for winter in the Autumn, starting seedlings on a windowsill in the spring, caring for children or elders. Also, how can we appreciate the beauty of the winter landscape and light without feeling overcome by it. This is a common issue in the Northeast. Where do you sit to watch a thunderstorm rolling in or to watch the snow fall? Music! – not just acoustics but around here, everybody is also a musician. How does that fit into our daily lives?
Much inspiration is to be found in images and stories depicting rural life from previous times in Europe and America. I am drawn to the imagery of hard working English country houses where the real life of the house centers between the kitchen and the door stoop leading directly to the working yard and gardens. Think: Peter Rabbit in Mr. McGregor’s Garden by Beatrix Potter with a potting shed, cold frames and lots of cabbages.
I am fascinated by early New England farms and town dwellings and how lives were played out in them. Not the big events but the little, day to day, season to season routines. Light and fresh air are celebrated and sought after and even, perhaps, taken for granted in an age before television and telephones. Materials are worn but durable, practical and show their age and history and that is where their beauty lies.

The Building Science aspect of design and detailing that we are all so immersed in lately addresses the idea of being able to lock the door and walk away for a month in the winter and not worry about much of anything. The neighbor has the key and will water the plants. Building Science addresses being what we are calling “net zero” so you are not storing and burning fossil fuel on site and paying for it as well. Building Science addresses the notion of simplicity – who needs a heating system that could go on the fritz and bust your pipes and freeze all your house plants so when your neighbor comes over to water the house plants, he finds an awful mess and has to call you in some recently devastated country where you are doing relief work. Building Science allows you to return in March to a house filled with fresh air and no mildew. (building science can’t help with what you left in the fridge) Building Science can free you from many previously taken for granted maintenance issues and expenses such as painting and periodic repair, maintenance and replacement of the mechanical parts of the house because now you have fewer and simpler systems.

How then, to marry my heady and romantic thoughts with the physics of modern building science? How do I pack all of this sensuality and feeling into a house that celebrates the process of living this chosen life rather than reminding one of the potentially inherent drudgery?
Since these ideas are very personal to me, it isn’t very difficult to make a series of design moves and decisions that bring me pretty close. I have been moving in this direction for much of my life. I am often “pretty close” but getting to that higher level is tricky and elusive. I’m not there yet with this design but it’s still early….

In this design, I’m trying to balance small and simple with a richness of space that goes far beyond light and shadow, a good floor plan and simplicity of form and add my own interpretation of what it can mean to live in Vermont and lead a life integrated with the climate and culture of the place. I’m drawing heavily on history and my own sense of aesthetics as well as all my cumulative observations and experience.

Dang! Maybe I should tear down my own house and build something like this!

For those interested in the Slow Living Movement, Brattleboro has a Slow Living Summit coming up in June associated with the Strolling of the Heiffers parade and festival.


  • Gail Trachtenberg says:

    It would be interesting to apply the same thoughts to urban/suburban applications.

  • bob says:

    Yes! although I think there has been some pretty good focus on that in recent years. I’m still thinking about my thinking. I just get the sense that not many designers are thinking along these lines.

  • bo walter says:

    I love the concept and have always love the idea of living off the land, be self sufficient and having good neighbors be part of our extended family!
    Great Website Bob!

  • I really like this post and hearing about your thoughts, Bob. I think it all makes a lot of sense and your sketches really show a lovely utopian place/way to live life. Keep up the dreaming and keep telling us about it!
    I, too, like to dream of a homey spot (smaller, easier) without rooms labeled “Living Room”. etc. but rather spaces called Cozy or Eat. I think the challenge can be to find/create this quality/feeling while working with what we’ve got – we can’t all start over and build new, after all!

  • bob says:

    I hadn’t even thought about how I label things! Now I realize I do that a lot. I’ve been keeping up with you as well. Lots of my work involves consulting to help people along these lines and try to see things that they don’t with their own houses. It’s some of the most fulfilling work I do.

  • M&K says:

    Bob, this is such a thoughtful plan that captures so much of what we are looking for. We love “the hearth room” and the many decks that expand the space. The house has unique features that will really make the place extra special.

  • David Spence says:

    Your design reminds me of a Mellor, Meigs & Howe design for a house in Pennsylvania. I’ll send you the plan…

    I understand your comment about thinking what your thinking, but I also agree with Gail. It would be nice to see your plan set in a more suburban context, and create a dialogue of how this design/living philosophy would come up against current zoning laws, higher density situations, typical values of a what a yard should be and very fast pace living.

    Of course this is coming from someone in NJ with a tiny yard and square foot gardening is our only option!

    Great looking design!

  • bob says:

    Hi Dave,
    I would LOVE the opportunity to explore these issues in a more urban or suburban context but I suspect, that living where I do and practicing where I do, that opportunity may not arise. The model around here is to plunk the house down in the middle of the field and vaguely relate it to long range views and that’s about it. This is a real life project and the resolution of my ideas resulted in this plan. The same ideas would result in something completely different in a different context. Hopefully, by putting my philosophy out there for all to see (along with with notion that I actually have a philosophy and it’s not just about “designing a house”) I will be asked to apply this philosophy to other contexts in the future.

  • bob says:

    This post proved particularly popular with many thousands of readers so perhaps I’m saying something that needs to be said or that people want to hear. I have gotten lots of comments, emails and feedback (and an invite to write for a national magazine)

  • We purchased a “modern” architecture home (circa 1973) in Pittsfield almost a year ago. I was reading an article in the Mountain Times about a recent modern architecture tour, which led me on a quest of who is here that designs in that style. I found you and this incredible article. I love that you used sensuality to describe the slow living home. The downstairs of our home embraces that well. The upstairs, in its own way does, too, but the functionality is askew. A very recent (and massive) plumbing issue is forcing us to consider possibilities sooner than later. “How then, to marry my heady and romantic thoughts with the physics of modern building science? How do I pack all of this sensuality and feeling into a house that celebrates the process of living this chosen life rather than reminding one of the potentially inherent drudgery?” Yes. How? Especially with something already built? This is only my 2nd year in Vermont and the idea of owning a home and having a garden big enough to put up food for the winter was alluring and proved impossible. I am learning quickly that to live in Vermont well, you must be willing to learn from and live with the land and she is not always an easy one to live with. So much to learn. I am thrilled to have found your site and look forward to diving in deeper.

  • Jeff says:

    I absolutely love this – particularly your comments about a traditional English working kitchen, and the “uber-inglenook” hearth room. You’ve given me a lot to think about!

  • I love Cozy Cabins. Here is an example of a very modern Cozy Cabin: https://lotplans.com/blog/contemporary-mountain-cabin/

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Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz
Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz


Robert Swinburne Architect, LLC AIA, NCARB, CPHD, DAD bob@swinburnearchitect.com 802.451.9764
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