The making of a symbiotic home and multiple gardens (and three businesses)
Story by Marisa Crumb • Photos by Carolyn Bates
VERMONT HOMES AND GARDENS • September/October 2017
ONE CANNOT HELP BUT SMILE ROUNDING the corner and the slight incline to Nancy and Alan Ben-oit’s small brick cottage. It feels like being transported to a little slice of English countryside. With its steep slate roof, climbing rose-covered arbor entrance, serpentine slate path, and an absolute abundance of flowers, grasses, and herbs, the house and the property are unlike anything else in the neighborhood.
A small wooden shingle hung unpretentiously announces the couple’s respective businesses: Alan is an architect and a certified passive house consultant whose specialty is affordable and energy-efficient architecture; Nancy is a designer whose bailiwick is creativity unleashed.
The Manchester Center locale is also the milieu for the cou-ple’s joint venture: an Airbnb. When tendonitis brought Nancy’s at-home shoemaking business to a halt last fall, she and Alan transformed her existing studio, a wood-clad Seattle-esque structure, into a guesthouse. “The shoe studio,” Alan explains, “is super-insulated and passively heated (mostly) by the sun in winter and passively cooled via shading, funneling of breezes, and large overhangs in the summer.” The pitch of the overhang is the same angle that allows maximum sunlight in the winter to warm up the space as it is for the shade that is afforded from the surrounding mature, deciduous trees in the summer. There are also no windows on the north-facing side of the guesthouse; full sun in the winter saturates the room with light and heat through south-facing French doors. An ancillary source of heat comes from an electric mat under the engineered hardwood floors that uses less than half of the wattage of a hair dryer. And makes for toasty feet.