What does your ideal life look like? Would you live in the wilderness or in a village or perhaps you prefer the hustle and bustle of city life. Would you live on a boat, a luxury pad or a Swiss ski chalet? No matter what your choice is, there are certain things we need and they are constant, no matter what country or home we are living in. Top of my list is a well designed home with tons of natural light. We have spent the last 8 months living in Georgia (US) and it feels that in the most part the houses are built to keep out as much light as possible - the heat and humidity in the southern states is crippling but this should not mean dark homes! Living here for this short period of time has just confounded this need for light and I know it goes hand in hand with being happy.
The second would be that I need a place to be walkable. To get out and be able to access nice walks, green space, places to meet friends, visit coffee shops, playgrounds - all these things are paramount to a healthy happy life for most of us. To do all of that without a car is the way forward. Can we have it all?
The state of Georgia is not known for groundbreaking urban design or modern architecture but rather adopting a bigger is better mantra and living by the rule of the car. While exploring our corner of Georgia however we came across a small community called Serenbe nestled in the Chattahoochee Hills which can claim to have innovative urban planning and modern architecture in abundance. Arriving there was a breath of fresh air in the hot and muggy forest, that's how refreshing this place was!
Back in Britain our communities are struggling with how to deal with developer-led housing that has led to urban sprawl and estates that lack character, encourage the use of the car and do little to create a vibrant and social community. A long time ago I was involed in Scotland's housing expo which was a project aiming to break these trends and try to convince delvelopers that great design and masterplanning could create strong communites that are for the common good. There is now an experimental little pocket in Inverness that benifits from modern and innovative housing designed by some of the best architects in Scotland however time has proven that it was just a drop in the ocean. It has done little to change the wider attitudes of the developer powerhouses.
Serenbe is a community where community and design are at the very heart. The community was founded by Steve Nygren and Marie Lupo Nygrena as recently as 1991, a couple who had a vision to connect their children to nature and protect the rural land from the ubiquitous urban sprawl outside of Atlanta. As you wander around the town you will notice varied styles of home ranging from the super modern to the modern traditional and they all adhere to common urban guidelines that ensure the community is innovative and interesting yet still feels connected.
Most of the houses have outdoor porches which encourage interaction with those passing by in the street. We loved walking along seeing folks sitting on their swinging sofas; a friendly wave from one porch, someone taming their wonderfully colourful and creative front garden in the neighbouring house. They all boast strong environmental credentials. Nothing in this place is too pristine, you will not find picket fences or perfect green lawns infront of these houses.
Think organic, think natural and think colourful. The houses wind up and around the streets, following the natural contours of the land and offering interesting and unexpected vista's down small lanes or break away to reveal a meadow of wild flowers or a wooden playground working in harmony with the surrounding woodland.
Fresh food is a natural asset and all of the food grown there is sold at a local farmers market. There is a plush Inn which is spread over various original farm buildings which have been transformed to provide modern and luxurious accommodation. The cultural events include outdoor theatre, culinary workshops and festivals, music events, films and lectures, boutique shopping, artist residencies, a spa and lots of walking trails.
Its a very special place and one that is a real anomoly in the deep south of the United States. If we had to stay in Georgia any longer this is where we would be. A gem in the hot and steamy forest.