A Week at Design School

If a new custom home or major remodel might require a year and a few hundred thousand dollars to pull off — or more — wouldn’t it make sense to spend a week thinking about it?

I’m talking about spending an intensive week in Vermont, at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School, which I did a few years ago for an assignment for Fine Homebuilding magazine. At Yestermorrow, you can learn to build straw bale homes, or make furniture, or make concrete countertops, or design your house, among other things.

Yestermorrow was founded 28 years ago by Yale-trained architect John Connell in order to help regular people connect with their homes through the design/build process. Connell believes, as I do, that people don’t feel connected to their homes. What this means is that people tend to move too often, in my opinion, and thus don’t get so involved with local issues like schools and water and civic matters as they would if they planned on staying in their homes for 20 or 30 years. “If it all goes to hell,” the thinking goes, “we’ll just move.”

When I went to Yestermorrow for a week, I was there to plan a major bathroom remodel. Each day, the class of about 20 showed up in the studio to work with local architects on our plans. (Click below to read more.)

What did we want? What did we need? What were the possibilities and restrictions? We looked at sustainability, structural principles, solar strategies and, according to the Yestermorrow website, “what makes a building a beautiful expression of its occupant’s lifestyle.” Our plans went from thought, to talk, to paper, to scale models. In the afternoons, we went on tours of local homes and buildings, and the instructors enjoyed pointing out architectural missteps along the way. It really woke up my inner designer.

Here are Yestermorrow classes that might interest you: Home Design, Home Design/Build and, just for fun, Sustainable Tree House Design and Construction.

After I got home from Vermont, I did a formal presentation to my family of the gorgeous model I had created. When I got done, one of my stepdaughters said: “You look younger.” And isn’t that worth a trip?

(Photo: A student in a recent design/build course works with an instructor. Photo courtesy of Yestermorrow)