Sort of
This is a schematic design for a local project I’m working on where I am doing master planning up front. See this post. After meeting with Gary MaCarthur to look at the whole site and master plan in terms of solar potential – the owners may, at least initially be “off the grid” – it was clear that the best locations for the house and barn were not so great for photovoltaics. Gary, like many other folks who design and install PV, like a clean simple installation, Ideally on the steeply pitched roof of a shed where the equipment can be housed. “a Power House”. I knew the owners wanted to be able to spend weekends on the site year round and be comfortable and we had discussed building the barn first and finishing off the upstairs. Not a great solution unless you are prepared to build a fairly expensive barn as opposed to a pole barn for equipment and animals. Gary, upon listening to the master plan, long term build-out goals, suggested a cottage instead which could eventually become a guest house but in the meantime would serve as compact living quarters, the power house and storage for a tractor and whatever things get left here on a more permanent basis initially. being relatively small, a cottage could fit nicely into the overall site plan in a location ideal for photovoltaic panels.

As usual lately, I’m trying for the holy grail on this one and I hope the clients like the ideas.
Holy Grail =
Competitive cost
Passive house priciples of low energy use, durable design and good building science
local materials wherever possible and minimal environmental impact of materials
Logical construction methods – nothing complicated or fancy
Simple modern design – Scandinavian-ish?
Clues from tradition but not a slave to it. – No Anachronism – use what works and eliminate frippery
Texture and light and air
Shadow and light.
Intimately tied to the land.
Seasonally adaptive and responsive
Low maintenance – no or minimal exterior paint, stain , varnish – weathering materials and durable materials
Emotionally uplifting space
Proportion and grace.

plan section for guest house - power house - gatekeepers cottage - gardeners cottage

Specifically to this project the long design seems to work best in terms of what we want to do with the site, the available roof for solar, the idea of layering, keeping the roof sheltering and low at the eave, build part now/part later if needed to get power set up, the gardeners cottage / gatehouse idea, overall simplicity, steep roof (Gary says to max winter gains) etc. I was also looking at cladding materials in more of a fabric sense with varying degrees of transparency which seems very Japanese and works very well for how I design wall systems.

Here is the initial sketch from my sketchbook:


  • John Umland says:

    This looks great. I hope it makes it to real life.

  • bob says:

    Me too but I suspect they will go an alternative route and build a barn with a finished off upstairs. I’m not a fan of housing people in the same building as internal combustion engines. Too many people die in America every year due to imperfect detailing of this situation. (grumpy architect speaking) On the other hand someone else saw the post and wants one.

  • Linda says:

    I’m another one looking at this design and thinking “that might work. Live in Guilford in a house which is a mess (hippies built it from recycled agricultural buildings in the ’70s with no level or plumb bob or common sense).

    I want a small super insulated dwelling and studio with passive solar on the site … having always lived small, but never with room for the art which I love doing.

    Ideally I would like to recycle the perfectly good things (new propane heating stove)
    and have a house which uses it’s site intelligently. I did a house like that years ago with Shelter Kit, but at age 66 want someone else who really knows what they’re doing to help with get it right and to keep a builder from arguing with me.

  • bob says:

    We have some excellent young builders locally. Some are even getting trained in Passive House building techniques. I seem to be getting attention for the smallish, low maintenance, easy to live in type of houses lately.

  • Doug says:

    This looks remarkably similar to a Dummerston cabin by architect Ross Anderson.

  • bob says:

    I know the cabin – I did another larger an insulated cabin next to Ross’s original. I never saw it completed as the owners were rather private and just wanted me to design something and then we lost contact.

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


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