Dissecting the Slow Home: A Green Tour from the Archives

As we enter Slow Home Month, I thought it'd be good to revisit a past green tour that is a beautiful example of the Slow Home movement. One of my first green tours, Anne's house, continues to be one of my favorite projects: a small 1960s ranch house lovingly renovated to last a lifetime and beyond.

Over four years ago Anne purchased a run-down 1060s ranch-style rental house. It was small, dark, moldy and had a pretty inefficient layout — it was a property most other people would've torn down. BUT, Anne saw its hidden potential, hired a green architect and turned it into stunningly sustainable retreat, where she hopes to grow old. Looking back, it's a great example of a Slow Home. Let's review the principles of the movement to see why:

Location: A Slow Home is located in a walkable neighborhood that minimizes your use of a car.

Whether or not Anne realized it, the house is in a perfect location. It's located mere blocks from the town's bustling core, where there are 3 types of public transit options (city train, commuter train and suburban bus system), tons of shops, restaurants, groceries, a major university, etc. There's very little reason to drive, in fact she walk most anywhere, and even better there's a wonderful walking and bike path nearby on Lake Michigan.

Orientation: A Slow Home is correctly oriented to the sun and properly related to its surroundings.

The house was primely positioned with one of its long facades facing south. The original builder was smart with the inclusion of a solarium, but all of this was even further improved upon by the increase in size of the existing south facing french doors, installation of skylights and additional windows, and a complete rebuild of of the solarium. Of course all of the windows were replaced with energy efficient units (including glass doors with built-in blinds for sun shading) and solar thermal panels were installed on the south facing roof. Now instead of a dark, dreary building, the house is a light-filled and renewable energy producing home.

Organization: A Slow Home is modestly sized, and has a good flow between spaces with a strong connection to the outdoors.

The home was a typical small ranch with two bedrooms, two baths and an unfinished basement. Adding on to the house to increase living space was not an option, so instead the interior layout was smartly rearranged into an open and flexible floor plan. Additionally, the basement was finished, which added an additional bedroom, bathroom, family room, laundry room and storage. The first floor features a center office, which has doors leading to the foyer and solarium, as well as large glass pocket corner doors that open to the living/dining/kitchen rooms so that it can be a completely flexible and expansive space.

Entry: The front and back entries in a Slow Home are spaces, not just doors.

With a home this small size, there was no space for a dedicated mudroom. But there is a lovely modestly sized foyer, which has vaulted ceilings, a coat closet and a view to the rear yard through the office flex room.

Living: All indoor and outdoor living spaces in a Slow Home have good daylight and are easy to furnish.

It was a primary design intent to add additional windows, skylights and glass doors to increase the amount of natural daylight and ventilation. The first floor living space is completely open to the kitchen, dining room and solarium with direct views to the back yard. A masonry fireplace anchors the space, with built-in cabinets that flank each side to conceal all the home electronics. The room is adorned with high quality furniture and gorgeous artwork. The basement den is meant to be a casual retreat: a large open room with space for couches, a work table, a pool table and even a small kitchenette. Built-in niches dot the hall leading to the den, which display masks and artwork from Anne's various travels around the world.

Kitchen: A Slow Home has a compact kitchen with an efficient layout, good work surfaces, and sufficient storage.

The existing interior kitchen walls were removed to open the kitchen to the living and dining rooms — a very smart room. While still compact in size, the space gained a larger and more open feel. The addition of an island added work surface area, while a bank of full height cabinetry provides much needed storage space. Lastly, small windows were installed between counter and cabinet spaces to bring in additional natural light.

Dining: A Slow Home has a well-defined dining area that properly fits a table that is suitable for daily use.

The dining room is adjacent to the kitchen and bound by two exterior walls punctured with windows. A full size table is perfect for hosting dinner, and there's even enough space for Anne's antique china cabinet.

Bedrooms: All bedrooms in a Slow Home have good daylight, sufficient storage, and can logically fit a bed.

It was incredibly important to Anne that the house have enough room for her, her daughter and their friends, as well as room for a guest/artist room. The floor plan was redesigned so that each room was large enough for a queen sized bed, bedroom furniture and large closets (two of the rooms even have walk-in closets!), and built-in cabinets were even added below the stairs to maximize storage space. Following with the trend of plenty of natural light, windows and skylights were added to the rooms, and transoms were installed above the bedroom doors.

Bathrooms: A Slow Home has an appropriate number of well organized and modestly sized bathrooms.

In addition to rearranging the bedrooms, the bathrooms were renovated to be functional, but also a space to relax and retreat. Windows and suntubes were added. Additionally, there is a hall bath available on the 1st floor, and a bathroom was added in the basement, which can be accessed from both the bedroom and hallway for added flexibility.

Services: The service spaces in a Slow Home are unobtrusive and highly functional.

Dedicated mechanical rooms were added in the basement and attic, which house all the mechancal equipment. Also, a completely finished laundry room was added (with a laundry chute!), which provides enough space for laundry, storage and hanging dry items. These service rooms are easily accessible, but out of the way so as to not disrupt the flow and comfort of the rest of the house.

See the full house tour: Anne's Sunny Renovation

(Images: Rachel Wray Thompson)

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