Designing Your Natural Home

Reading the book “Designing Your Natural Home, Over 200 Rules of Good Architecture You Can Apply to New or Renovated Work by Award-Winning Designers, Charles G. Woods and Old Malcolm Wells” (long tittle!) is like sitting with two friends on a quiet evening.

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Each night after a long day in the field I would come home to read a few pages of the book and it would calm me, bringing me back to what is important in life: Reading the book reminded me of the great poem by Max Ehrmann, Desiterata, that ends:

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

And that is what the book does. It is a cheerful banter between two friendly people who discuss architecture and design through the lens of what is good and beautiful in the world. It is a down to earth search for a wholesome and just world through architecture. And it is an added bonus that these two people coincidentally happen to know a lot about good wholesome design and architecture.

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Written in the singular Wells style of hand written text instead of a printed text it is very informal. He has little scribbles in the corner of the pages, comments in the sidelines and the text reads almost like a transcription of the two architects conversation while lounging in their living room. Or like they wrote the book on tabs of napkins, passing the napkins back and forth to comment on what the other wrote.

The book is brimming with goofiness and humor that has a very serious messages. For example one page has a nicely sketched home with the title and text,

Managing Energy

Big considerations: energy efficiency, south-facing glass with properly sized overhangs, high efficiency glazing, heat-holding windows, earth berms, super-insulation, photovoltaics, composting toilets, tiny lawns, porous paving, organic gardens, convenient recycling bins, and above all, responsible occupants.

And then at the bottom of the page in the footer they scribble, “This page is so good environmentally that the authors have awarded themselves medals,” and they have two hand drawn medals.

wells book

It is this combination of hard hitting information and self deprecating humor that makes the book and in turn the authors amazing.

Granted I think it is Malcolm Wells who is the real genius here. His humor is constant and his ecological vision powerful.  Charles Woods nonetheless brings structure and consistency to the book. Without him you get the feeling Wells would have wandered off half way through the book to plant in the garden and watch the bees buzz around his wild flowers.

Wells has that zen child like presense where on one hand he is just goofing off and on the other he is pointing out the most profound reality of where humanity is and where it should be going. Woods brings it all back to a more practical framework. The two create a wonderful book.

Clearly the two authors are hugely influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright but they definitely have their own voices, voices I think have powerful messages.

It may not be for everyone but if you are into design and how it impacts the world morally and ecologically then this book is a must have.

The book is not about city architecture so as a New York green builder a lot of the building discussions don’t apply to our work. But many of the details do. In our green contractor renovations we encounter a lot of the design challenges they discuss.

I found it imensely helpful to understand the value of keeping clean lines and minimal styles throughout the house, for example. From kitchen to bath they point out the importance of using the same materials. If your bathroom counter harmonizes with your kithcen counter it helps tie the home together into a cohesive unit.

Since Eco Brooklyn is a New York green contractor the modern style is popular and a lot of their suggestions are stylistically very appropriate for our green brownstone renovations. We can’t necessarily use the books info on detached houses since most of the work we do are on row houses. But the discussion of context, form and perspective is very useful when doing a green brownstone renovation.

Despite all that good stuff it is the spirit of the book that really moved me. It expanded on the great poem I mention earlier.

Here is that great poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann in full. If I ever had a bible it would be this poem. It is my guiding light, my inspiration and has saved me on many a dark hour. Read the poem, buy the book and your soul will be better for it.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann c.1920

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