LocationMiddlebury, Vermont, USA
ArchitectsJohn McLeod Architect
BuilderNorthern Timbers Construction, Inc.
From the architect. Like many traditional farmhouses and cottages we see across the New England landscape, this house has a foundation visibly anchored in the earth, a wood-skinned volume supported by that foundation, an economy of form, and a central hearth. It is made of practical, local materials, put together by builders who live in the community. The house is sited, shaped, and organized with a respect for the sun, the climate, the topography, the road, and the community. And it is unapologetically of its own time.
The 1500 square foot building, tucked into a thicket of trees at the edge of a local nature preserve, is a modest single story at the west end facing the road, in keeping with the scale of the neighborhood. It climbs to three stories at the more private east end, as the land drops down toward Otter Creek, and the Green Mountains rise in the distance. The resulting sloped roof exposed back to the road is covered with haybales from a nearby farmer’s field. Grasses, sedges, and wildflowers grow out of the hay mulch, providing a living roof which absorbs rainwater, helps insulate the house, and gives the neighbors—both the human variety and the critters in the nature preserve—something akin to what they were accustomed to looking at before the house came to be.
The exterior shell is skinned with unfinished eastern white cedar shingles, while spaces carved into the volume are lined with color-stained plywood. These carve-ins provide shading, an entry recess, and an upper level roof deck. A cast-in-place concrete foundation lifts the shell above the ground plane, while a concrete block chimney rises through the center of the volume to anchor the house in plan and section. A ‘Rumford’ wood-burning fireplace reflects heat to the interior, while the masonry mass retains and releases warmth. The complementary stair tower is grounded in the earth and brings in light from above, making simple daily circulation between floor levels a passage between shadows and sky. The ‘silo’ opens at the top, creating a chimney effect to help vent the house on warm summer days.
The rectangular floor plan stretching from west to east provides the optimal orientation for solar design, daylighting, and passive cooling. The long south side facing the meadow is sculpted to admit winter sun and block summer rays, while the more solid north side protects against the New England winter weather. The house becomes a threshold—between northerly winter and southerly meadow, between westerly neighborhood and easterly landscape.
Interior materials and finishes are natural and raw: ground concrete slab; plaster walls; exposed wood joists; cork, wool carpet, linoleum, and bare pine flooring. Daylight and colors from the surrounding landscape wash in through windows and skylights.
As with the old houses, we do well when we work with what nature gives us for free: warming and illuminating sun, cooling breezes and shade trees, inspiring views. In nature it is the edges that are the most abundant and teeming with life—that zone between field and forest, or water and land. In architecture, too, there is this rich ‘in-between’: Not the mimicry of the past, but that sweet spot where we belong to our time and place, while honoring what has gone before, and it is just right.