Fifteen years ago, I read an article about Rural Studio and fell in love with the philosophy, the architecture—all of it. Something really struck me about Auburn’s off-campus architecture program where students design and build affordable housing out of recycled materials for residents in the poorest county in Alabama.
Affordable housing is often synonymous with uninspired design, but Rural Studio’s spaces—which include a library, town hall, senior center, playground and more—have a magical quality to them. I think it’s because they understand that beauty matters to everyone, not just those who have money. And as the self-appointed Director of Beauty at Serenbe, this subject is near and dear to my heart.
So I followed their work for years, never for one second imagining it would wind up in my backyard.
Tom Swanston, an artist and former Serenbe resident, followed it, too. And his eyebrows went up when Rural Studio debuted their 20K Home Project, named for, according to their website, “the highest realistic mortgage a person receiving median Social Security checks can maintain.” These genius alternatives to mobile homes came to be after the mayor of New Orleans called in the wake of Katrina, asking for plans for houses that can be put up quickly. Rural Studio went a step further, making them efficient both in terms of energy use and living.
That’s when Tom started emailing them. He was a big supporter of Serenbe’s Artists in Residence (AIR Serenbe) program and felt passionately about having housing for artists. He sent emails; they ignored him. He sent more emails; they continued to ignore him … along with the thousands of other people asking to collaborate.
And then one day they didn’t ignore him anymore.
Because of Tom, Serenbe and Rural Studio sat at a table together and discussed the future. We needed their cottages for our artists; they needed to put their product somewhere besides Newbern, Alabama. They came to see us and we went to see them. Magic was made.
And it didn’t end there. Serenbe’s Rural Studio cottage, debuted early last month located at The Art Farm at Serenbe—gorgeously designed by Steve McKenzie of Steve McKenzie’s and Kerry Howard of KMH Interiors, two Atlanta based designers who donated their time and talent.
Wonder what they look like inside? Join me next week for part two, where I brag on the designers and show off the homes they created out of houses.