Kreis: The Micro House

Oct 28, 2015

When my spouse said she was cranky the other morning, I offered this advice: Try to notice something beautiful on your way to work.

I was hoping some small, everyday slice of the Vermont landscape would catch her eye – a tree, a chimney, maybe some freshly painted yellow clapboard.

What got me thinking about small beautiful things in the Vermont landscape was something I’d just stumbled across called the “Micro House.” Designed by the architect Elizabeth Herrmann of Bristol, and located on a meadow with a view of Camel’s Hump, Micro House is just 430 square feet. That’s tinier than most living rooms!

Micro House is an undecorated rectangle on a simple concrete foundation with a roof that slopes upward toward the mountain view. Two corners are cut out of the rectangle, one for a porch and the other to add drama to a sleeping loft directly above it. Most of the windows are unadorned squares – no foofy fake muntins here. These touches, and a yellow door, add variety to the simplicity.

Tiny houses are kind of a “thing” among architects, who tend to build them as follies rather than actual dwelling places. But Hermann insists her client actually lives in the Micro House and wanted the loft for his daughter’s regular visits. Other signs of realism: A hatch opens onto a basement for laundry and such, which is not included in the 430 square feet. The owner, an artist, travels to Boston frequently and there he presumably finds himself in bigger spaces.

Something about all of this is deeply reassuring. While a hillside full of these little boxes would probably look ticky-tacky, the image of a solitary cabin in a contemporary idiom strikes me as Vermont at its movingly simple best: Henry David Thoreau meets Louis Kahn or Ellsworth Kelly.

The word “Vermont” appears frequently in our national political discourse these days, usually accompanied by reference to the growing gap between the one percent and the 99 percent. The gap is certainly visible in the world of architecture, where the coolest stuff is often residential - while only the wealthiest among us can afford an architect-designed house. But the Micro House is a distinctly Vermont rebuttal to that notion.

The house I share with my spouse and our four kids is a study in chaos, and with winter looming it’ll likely get worse. Thank you Elizabeth Hermann and thank you Micro House – for giving me hope for a better tomorrow.