I want this blog to be personal. So what better place to start than with my home.

For most of us who work in the Findhorn Foundation, community life is very busy, often intense. Every day we interact closely with guests, many of whom we meet as strangers. This can be challenging, especially for an introvert like me. And of course it’s also very rewarding. But it requires (for me anyway) that I have a home to return to in the evening where I can recharge my batteries. Seven years ago, I had the privilege of designing and building the home I have lived in ever since.  The interior spaces in particular were designed to deliver qualities appropriate for co-workers of a spiritual community, whom often-times seek peace and tranquillity in their dwellings, away from the intensity of community life. The house is designed as a space of retreat; a place of psychological and spiritual nurture.

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It is located in an area of high ecological value and sensitivity where numerous full-grow specimen trees form a nature corridor linking two areas of wildlife habitat.  Because the building has a small footprint and touches the ground lightly it can be set amongst the trees with minimal impact.  There are currently three such ‘ecomobile’ buildings in the area. The building is approached across a bridge and under a pergola that carries climbing roses. An entry porch constructed of reclaimed doors and windows and lit at night with colour-changing LEDs, provides a space to gently arrive and deposit coats and shoes (see above). The progression from street to interior via a bridge (which is a metaphor for transitioning from one world to another) is designed as a series of experiences that encourage a subtle energy and mood shift from that of the busy outside world to a more relaxed and tranquil state of being.

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The building comprises: a single main living space, a separate bedroom and a link between them incorporating a bathroom and storage.  The main space (see pics above) has an octagonal floor plan. Its form and minimalist detailing induce a feeling of ease, comfort and nurture.  The 135 deg. corners are more subtle and easier on the eye than conventional 90 deg. ones.  Within the space, separate kitchen, dining and living areas pinwheel about a centrally located wood stove, symbolic of a primaeval hearth or firepit.  Each area borrows space and amenity from the others, enabling a smaller combined footprint.  Large windows and a central skylight deliver high levels of natural light.

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The linking corridor too, is flooded with natural daylight entering through its translucent roof and ceiling (see above).  The corridor, with full-length storage along one side, doubles as a dressing room.  A small but well-appointed bathroom incorporates toilet, basin and shower. Because clothes are stored elsewhere, the bedroom is minimally furnished (with just a bed).  Its cubic form (3.1m W x 3.1m D x 3.1m H), high ceiling and minimalist décor induce something of the qualities of a ‘sacred’ space (see below). A full-width South-facing clerestory lets in sun and light, and invites views of the stars and full moon. A narrow full-height window to the West offers views of nearby trees.  An East-facing deck, incorporating a hammock and an ofuro for two (a Japanese style hot tub) made from a whisky barrel, opens off the bedroom.

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The building cost approximately £40,000 to construct. At £800 per m2, that’s about half the construction cost of new-built, architect designed and detailed homes in the region. The biggest cost saving was achieved through self-building. The labour component of the overall cost was approximately 20% – considerably less than normal. I built the house single-handedly but help from the community was always at hand when I needed it (see below). Since I was both designer and builder, this reduced the amount of documentation necessary and eliminated any need for conventional architectural supervision.  Further savings were made through Internet shopping for materials, fixtures and fittings.  This resulted in many fewer trips to local service centres in order to buy construction materials, saving time, money and carbon emissions.

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The building is, in truth, poorly oriented for passive solar gain.  Site constraints dictated that it be elongated in a North-South direction, counter to passive solar design principles.  However, the South facing conservatory and large openings on South-facing walls provide considerable passive solar gain.  Heating is provided by the wood stove burning firewood from our own forest. The boiler is electric. The cook top is a low-energy induction hob.  There is no television, washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher or microwave.  Because the building creates no carbon emissions in its day to day running (the electricity is generated by our own windmills), it can be considered a ‘zero-carbon’ building. And in fact, it has probably the lowest running costs of any building in the ecovillage.

To summarise, the house is a vehicle for sustainable living. Designed for a couple, it offers high levels of comfort and amenity whilst enabling the occupants to minimise their environmental footprint. The building is about half the size (per person) of the average UK dwelling. Small dwellings require fewer materials to construct, less energy to heat, and can hold less material ‘stuff’. Beyond material considerations, however, it offers a supportive setting for ‘voluntary simplicity’ – a less consumerist, more environmentally benign lifestyle characterised by ease and beauty. A setting for a contemplative life; a place where the soul may find peace.