Web neighbor: The School of Life

Perhaps I’m over-reaching by placing The School of Life in the “web neighbor” category. I suppose House Enthusiast is more of a wannabe web neighbor of The School of Life, the brainchild of Alain de Botton and a few of his colleagues. For one, The School of Life broaches the broader topic of living a fulfilling life, while House Enthusiast wanders the narrower topic of engaging with a fulfilling home. Secondly, The School of Life presents most of its offerings in person in London, as opposed to House Enthusiast’s virtual offerings in the form of online commentary. Still there is a modicum of overlap. According to De Botton in an article in Varsity (the “independent student newspaper for the University of Cambridge”), The School of Life “has big ambitions to define a new, more practical approach to culture.” Bravo. As a fan of culture’s charms, I, too, aim to make it more accessible.

The “tiny institution” (De Botton’s words) of The School of Life offers a variety of evening classes, weekend intensives, events, meals, services and more.  Each offering, the website notes, has been envisioned “in collaboration with leading authors, artists, actors and academics.” Some upcoming class titles include: How To Have Better Conversations, How To Realise Your Potential, How To Make a Difference, and How To Change Your Mind. As a student of human behavior, each sounds intriguing to me. The School of Life’s online presence includes a blog and videos of the School’s Sunday sermons.  How I wish the School offered online workshops and podcasts of the events, too.

If you’re not familiar with De Botton, he’s the best-selling author of books ranging in subject from philosophy, to status, to, yes, architecture. You may have read my House Enthusiast post about his thought-provoking book The Architecture of Happiness. I find his work inspirational. So much so that his school and a few other entities and organizations, which likewise foster life learning, have prompted me to ponder creating my own school.

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Bruce Irving's New England Icons

cover image courtesy of amazon.comThis is a bit unorthodox; I have neither read nor held a copy of New England Icons by Bruce Irving, so this is more of a reading/viewing wish-list post than a review or commentary.

You may know of Bruce Irving from his 17 years producing This Old House for PBS. He wears many hats: real-estate agent, renovation consultant, writer, editor, speaker, and, now, author. I believe I first learned of Bruce from his Design New England magazine department about icons. His interest in the houses, work buildings, local artifacts and places of New England overlaps to such a degree with mine that I also consider him a web neighbor. Plus, as a Cambridge resident, he's a New England neighbor, too.

With photography by Greg Premru, a forward by Norm Abram, and content including stone walls, sugarhouses, roof walks, skating ponds, icehouses, mills, and lobster boats, New England Icons sounds too promising to miss. Let me know at the KHS Facebook Page if you've had a chance to check out a copy. Happy reading.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Web neighbor: greenGoat

Recently, I received a random email which I was prepared to ignore until I saw a curiously named organization in the subject line: greenGoat. I have a thing about goats -- goat cheese, actually. So, I hesitated before clicking "delete". Any one who knows me well has heard me natter on about goat-cheese camp. No, I don't know of a goat-cheese camp; I aim to find one, though. But, I digress. I clicked through the email to find out about greenGoat

Turns out, it has a comendable mission. According to their website, "GreenGoat boosts building efficiency through conservation measures that lower disposal costs, increase energy efficiency, manage storm water runoff, and improve building performance."

What really grabbed my attention was a 2005 article from the Wellesley Townsman which described greenGoat as "a nonprofit organization that works with architects, contractors, manufacturers and homeowners to recycle gently used building materials into other structures and donate larger appliances to families in need".

Brilliant! As the market has shifted away from new construction towards renovations in the past few years, there's been a growing need for an efficient, environmentally responsible, and meaningful way to recycle or reuse building materials, cabinetry, and/or appliances. Apparently, greenGoat has been in position to address that need since Amy Bauman founded it in 2001. I wish I'd been aware of it sooner, but better late than never. 

What a great way to help save the planet and contribute to another family. Plus, there's a financial incentive to include the Somerville-based greenGoat in your renovation process. Participating homeowners receive a tax credit for donations and save on dumping fees.

Spread the word about greenGoat "saving more than money".

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Web neighbor: Living Well in Westchester and Fivecat Studio

Sometimes great information is hiding in plain site.  I’ve been aware of Fivecat Studio in Pleasantville, New York for probably two years now.  They’re a residential architecture firm owned by husband-and-wife team: Mark R. LePage and Annmarie McCarthy, serving Westchester County (NY), Fairfield County (CT), and the lower Hudson River Valley. 

They came to my attention via Mark’s blog Living Well in Westchester which is an informal and informative read about residential architecture within and beyond Fivecat’s stomping grounds.  It highlights projects, practitioners, products, publications and more.  I periodically check in on Living Well in Westchester and somehow managed, until recently, to overlook the jewel tucked into the blog’s sidebar.  It’s Fivecat’s Complete Guide to Residential Architecture on Squidoo.

I have to admit; I had never visited Squidoo before.  For those few of you who haven’t either, Squidoo is a platform where folks can create pages, or “lenses,” which gather or compile information focused on their specific interests.  Mark’s “lens” assembles in one place links to many residential architecture guides, resources, organizations, directories, conferences, and award programs.  It’s a very handy compilation.  Of course, most compilations are ever evolving, so if you know of a worthy item missing from Mark’s "lens", I’m sure he’d be happy to hear about it from you.  Let him know via blog@fivecat.com.  For instance, I’d like to see him add an architecture- and house-museum category.  He also includes his favorite residential architecture blogs, magazines/journals, firms, books, and videos.  Naturally, some of my favorites differ from his, but it’s always fun to learn of someone else’s.

Mark’s “lens” takes great strides towards illuminating the realm of residential architecture and making it more accessible to a general audience.  The more we can engage folks in the built environment of their every-day neighborhoods, the better for those folks and their neighborhoods.  I hope you’ll explore his guide and the residential architecture around you.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast