In Camel’s Hump, Vermont, the state’s third-highest peak emerges from the Green Mountains in a fashion you’d expect: two bumps, lumbering in the distance. The small groove between them allows for something of an entrance for the sun or moon—a view enhanced by the right kind of window.
To the west, oriented toward Camel’s Hump is a small structure, one that could be—and has been—mistaken for an electricity switching station, or an oversized ski lift. Built for an artist by Vermont-based Elizabeth Herrmann Architecture + Design, the 430-square-foot home is simply named Micro House.
After a search for land in Vermont, the homeowner started looking into architects in the area and happened upon Elizabeth Herrmann. They hit it off, and before long were working toward a design—but not without a few switchbacks along the way.
“I actually came to Elizabeth with a picture of a house that was completely different than this,” the homeowner explains, referencing a late 19th-, early 20th-century design. “[The image was of] a very small structure on the West Coast and it was stunning. It looked like an agricultural worker’s home that was turned into a little house.”
After working toward this design for some time, the homeowner realized he wasn’t willing to make the compromises on proportions that the style of the home would demand. “If [it] was going to have those proportions, absolutely everything would need to be custom,” he says. So, partly because of budget, he and Herrmann diverged from the original plan.
At that point, “every move became about [the homeowner],” Herrmann says. “His program, his site, his budget. It became his house entirely, rather than a sampling from images.” Herrmann also says that she didn’t want the home to end up feeling like a box, or that it was missing anything a normal home might have. “I wanted the house to feel really dynamic, because I know that small houses can have the tendency to feel claustrophobic,” she says.
The homeowner refers to the artist Henri Matisse as he explains the new direction the home’s design took. “Matisse wanted you to walk around his sculptures and be surprised [about] what would happen. And, in a way, that’s what I wanted to have happen with my house,” he says. “The house [looks so different] from the four sides and angles. It’s shocking to me and that has always made me happy.”
Clad in cedar stained a light gray, with a burst of color in the sunflower-yellow front door, the structure is topped with a shed roof and two cutouts on opposite sides—one for the front porch and another where a sleeping loft is located.
The open plan interiors include a kitchen with custom built-in cabinetry by Vermont-based Randy Dragon, a bathroom with a Duravit tub, a sleeping area and second, lofted bed, additional built-in storage, and a dining table. Materials were chosen for durability and their unadorned good looks.
The home’s small size pleases the homeowner, and he jokes it’s only “too small for about two weeks a year” when there are guests, adding that the house is “a studio apartment in the country with a roof.” But he acknowledges that the full basement, for storage, a washing machine, and mechanical equipment, helps keep things feeling expansive. “No space is any bigger than it needs to be,” Herrmann adds.
The homeowner credits time spent working in New York City’s blue chip galleries as influential on his interior aesthetic. “Some [of the galleries] also had apartments, and the apartments were like the galleries,” he says. “They were white boxes that were carefully thought out proportionally.” (He adds that a friend nicknamed his house “the refrigerator” because when “you step inside, it’s just all white.”)
White concrete countertops and backsplash by Nathan Christner of MergeCrete complement birch plywood used for built-ins. The flooring is local maple cut into short lengths, which hides a hatch door in the kitchen that leads to the basement. It also lends a ripples-in-water effect to the floors, Herrmann says. “Iit makes [the home] feel really open,” she explains. “You don’t get distracted by the linear geometry [of the floorboards]. It has this textural feel [that’s] unique.” Energy efficiency was also top of mind for Herrmann, and they made sure they insulated the space well while building in enough strategically-placed windows to provide ventilation and airflow in the warmer months.
The big picture window wasn’t meant to be so large when the homeowner and Herrmann began collaborating on the design. After seeing it in person during construction, they decided together to adjust its size on site. “We were both in full agreement,” Herrmann laughs. “It had to be bigger and move slightly because I think what we were really aiming for was to make each window feel like it defined a space.” She points to other windows in the home that achieve this, like the kitchen window, which allows you to see people coming without focusing on the driveway, or the window above the built-in sofa that frames a row of mountains.
Changing the large window was also about creating a feeling of privacy. “There’s this house right below [the home] that, because we raised [the window] up a little bit, you can barely see the roof of [that house].”
The homeowner brought pops of color into the home’s interior through specific touches, like that bright front door, a bright-red light fixture, and cool-colored textiles. But the real focal points in the house are what turn your attention outside, to the view.
“You know, what’s amazing about this house?” the homeowner begins. “The view you get out of the different windows. You can lie in the bathtub, and when put your head [down] and look out the window, you can see the moon.”