Small, Southern Comfortable Home: Natural Home of the Year Winner

How two people live happily in an 800-square-foot space.

| November/December 2000

For Giles Blunden, an architect who’s been designing solar homes for a quarter-century, living in an 800-square-foot cohousing unit powered entirely by the sun is just another step in pushing his sustainable agenda forward. The winning entry in the 2000 Natural Home of the Year contest is also a beautiful, comfortable, and efficient dwelling.

“This place is a combination of my real interest in nature and efficient use of materials—not wasting things,” explains Giles, who spent his childhood in the woods on the fringes of the Australian outback before his family moved to Los Angeles, where he was shocked by “what an impact the car culture, in particular, had on the environment.”

After graduating from college in Salt Lake City, Giles moved to Carrboro, North Carolina, a former mill town across the tracks from Chapel Hill, just as the oil crisis was heating up in 1973. By 1975, inspired by policy initiatives and North Carolina’s heavyweight solar energy association, he began designing and building solar homes, including a dome house for himself that was “so far out, nobody would think about it.” By 1990, Giles wanted to build a home for himself and his wife, Ginger Blakely, that could serve as a model for sustainable living without scaring off conservative clients. “I’ve come to understand that our culture is not driven by practicality; it’s driven by a sense of ourselves that has to do with tradition,” Giles says. “Particularly in American culture, we all march to a fairly confined pattern—it’s not very broad. Once you figure that out, you say, okay, what can I do to make this work?”

A Co-Housing Pioneer

A decade ago, Giles became enamored of the concept of co-
housing, which was just making its way to America from Denmark. This form of collaborative community includes both ­private dwellings and shared amenities such as recreation areas and a common house, where group meals are served a few times a week. Giles had watched closely as grassroots attempts at large eco-villages in Los Angeles and San Francisco failed, and he was convinced that a smaller-scale grassroots effort was the key to success. So he, Ginger, and two other women started planning their own small cultural push forward.

They based their plan around the principles of affordability, diversity, sustainable housing, and community. Seventy-five people attended the first planning meeting, and the agenda took on a life of its own. “We got started, and it just kept going—and pretty soon, we realized we weren’t a financial entity, but just a bunch of people having meetings,” Giles says. “So when we found the appropriate land, we set up a development corporation.”

“We weren’t very formal, even in collecting money, until a woman in Florida gave us a check for $10,000 and her friend said, ‘Aren’t you going to get a receipt?’ ” Ginger recalls. “We were pretty naive.”

7/24/2014 8:07:58 AM

I would love to see pictures of this place.

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