The Slow Home: Design to Enhance Sustainability and Quality of Life

slow homes w phraseOn the heels of tough economic times, many people across the country are faced with having to re-evaluate their priorities. They’re cutting costs wherever possible and doing whatever it takes to help stretch the household budget.

Yet, what began solely as an effort to reduce unnecessary spending, has now expanded to include a growing appreciation for making more holistic choices. More and more people are seeing the range of benefits associated with reducing and re-using and, for many, the greatest reward is a significant improvement in quality of life.

Being mindful is the new mantra, minimizing material needs is the new trend, and creating a low impact home, one filled with quality made goods, is a desire quickly surpassing the dream to own a “McMansion” sized home.

For the first time in a long time, people are coming to terms with the idea that bigger doesn’t always mean more, and more isn’t necessarily better.

Supporting that very notion and gaining more and more notoriety, is the Slow Home Movement. Founded in 2006 by architects John Brown, Matthew North, and Carina van Olm, of the Slow Home Studio, the slow home concept emerged in response to what they saw as a growing trend of poorly designed homes. Their goal was to introduce better quality designed homes that are not only more economically reasonable, but also offer homeowners more functionality, and contribute toward environmental stewardship.

“Slow homes give us an opportunity to rethink our relationship with our houses,” says Brown. “When a house is well made it will make life easier. We want to help people make sense of their homes in a logical way.”

10 steps to slow homeCentered around 12 primary design principles, slow homes pay homage to all indoor and outdoor living spaces, and place a high value on quality craftsmanship and sustainability practices. They’re most often compact in size in an effort to reduce unnecessary energy and water usage. Yet, they’re also designed to maximize efficiency throughout a minimal amount of space.

In order to promote the use of natural heating and cooling methods, slow homes are orientated to the sun, prevailing winds, and other surrounding elements. An emphasis is also placed on utilizing as much natural lighting as possible.

Much like the slow food movement, the slow home concept is an approach, not a commodity to sell, says Brown. “The connections between food and house are so similar, as they’re so intimate to our lives.”

Fast homes, the term coined by Brown regarding poorly designed and constructed houses, are in essence the equivalent of fast food. Both usually materialize in an unnatural amount of time, they’re typically created from inexpensive and processed materials, and they both eventually wreak havoc on a person’s overall well being.

Slow food is “about the care with which we select, prepare, and enjoy our food as a family,” says Brown. Similarly, slow homes are created by combining carefully considered elements so that the overall design of a house benefits residents in the most healthy and enjoyable ways possible.

“A slow home is so well tuned to the way we live our lives that the house itself almost disappears.” Brown compares the elements of a poorly designed home to the frustration of having a pebble in your shoe. “It’s uncomfortable, but you can get by.” Yet, at the same time, it affects your whole state of mind, he says.

“Investing in the home in which you live is critical. A home is so important to our well being,” Brown explains with an emphasis on the word home, as opposed to house. “It’s a sanctuary, a retreat. It’s a place where we can be ourselves, a place to raise our children, and to enjoy our life.”

Although a traditional slow home is designed with minimal square footage and is typically situated within walking distance of a community, it isn’t always realistic for a family to downsize, or to dramatically alter their existing home. However, reaping the benefits of a slow home isn’t necessarily dependent upon making a major move or significant renovations.

In fact, many of the rewards gained through living in a slow home can be obtained by making simple and tangible choices. “Stay where you are and reuse it,” encourages Brown. “It’s a much more environmentally friendly approach then building a whole new house.”

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He explains that it’s much more about the attention and care that’s put into a home, than it is about making costly renovations. Brown suggests starting with small changes, such as removing any unused kitchen appliances, and keeping at least 60 inches between those remaining so they’re not overcrowded and can work more efficiently.

He also recommends taking some time to evaluate the function of existing elements in your home, such as the placement of light switch panels, or even the height of kitchen and bathroom counters. The placement of these types of things should increase your overall efficiency, not work against it. Also consider your home’s decor and the thought that went into its display. If it’s neither useful nor aesthetically pleasing, it’s time to rethink its presence in your home.

Brown stresses the idea that creating a slow home can be an individual thing, and that it is often an extended work in progress. He says, “you do what you can, when you can. The small incremental changes can end up being a big deal.” To learn more about the slow home movement and to explore additional methods to help you transition your house into a slow home, visit

Written By Kate Agliata

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