BY: ALEX BROWN
A professor the University of Rotterdam’s Sustainable Building Technology program recently offered an opportunity to Netherland families to participate in a groundbreaking project that would span three years and completely uproot the participating family by relocating them in an experimental greenhouse dwelling. Not everyone would jump at the proposal, but for Helly Scholten, a “botanical stylist” and her family, the project was a chance to dip their toes into a lifestyle she had long fantasized about—sustainable, functionally off-grid and far from mundane. Scholten applied right away and secured her family’s new home for the next three years, adorned with walls of glass and a roof layered in flora and growing produce. They officially moved into the greenhouse in June of 2015 and haven’t looked back.
The experimental home is designed to support a prominent 1,450 square-foot vegetable garden on the roof, which supplies the family with more than enough produce, to the point where they’ve begun auctioning off tomatoes in the fertile season. The garden isn’t just intended to supply food, though. It also helps to insulate the home and cuts heating costs. To further regulate temperatures, 1.7 inch thick loam stucco lines the interior walls to retain heat in warmer months and disperse it when it gets cold. The glass windows on the roof are also angled towards the sun, a simple design that makes a huge impact on the home’s internal temperature.
The home can also be a massive responsibility in terms of maintenance. As Scholten tells The New York Times, when the family left for a summer vacation for a few weeks, they came back to a shriveled and deplorable mess of a vegetable garden. Lesson learned: plants need water, and too much heat can suffocate your greenhouse into grey ash. On the other end of the spectrum, too much rain can also be destructive to the house’s delicate exterior.
For Scholten and her family, these are minor sacrifices outweighed by the spectacular design and functionality of the home. As a botanical stylist—someone who specializes in floral design (wedding halls come to mind)—Scholten could not imagine living anywhere else. Though she dreamed of taking her family completely off-grid one day, the greenhouse is a perfect compromise between nature and society. Her kids agree, taking to the swings and hammocks that hang beneath the floral interior.
The family will stay in their new greenhouse home until 2018, at which point they will have the option to buy it—as will anyone else who’s interested. The home will be released on the market for half-a-million dollars, either available in its current location, or movable to the buyer’s preferential location. However the Scholten family might just take first dibs. Even after a few months, the family says they can’t imagine ever moving back to a traditional home.