By Nicole Delmage, Associate
In the beginning we knew that working on a new residence for ceramic artists Michael and Nancy Linsley was going to be a creative adventure. They emphasized that to truly support and express who they were, the home would incorporate growing way beyond the regular houseplant. To be clear, we’re talking about year-round indoor growing of veggies, herbs and lemons!
Challenge #1: Seamlessly integrate green growing spaces into a new contemporary home. No tacked on glass structure. No section of the house that screams “greenhouse!” We were asked to create a logical extension of the architecture.
Challenge #2: Make it a zero energy greenhouse. For zero energy you need to have thick mass, you have to optimize the size of the windows, and you need to have high insulation and white reflective surfaces. Even if a traditional all-glass greenhouse was wanted, this year-round zero energy requirement made that impossible. Traditional greenhouses extend the season but don’t grow all year round without adding energy or heat. This client’s integrated greenhouse would be a different archetype altogether.
We, as architects, loved this project: creation of architecture that supports, encourages, enhances, and befriends deeper meaning in the day-to-day life of its inhabitants.
At Barrett Studio, we are strong believers in co-creation, which is one of the reasons the Linsleys were drawn to work with us. We added Larry Kinney of Synergistic Building Technologies as a greenhouse systems consultant, and Cottonwood Custom Builders as general contractors, into the collaborative mix. This team, and more importantly, Michael’s unwavering commitment to the idea, was what made the greenhouse part of the project come true.
Two strategies were required to meet the project goals: Indoor planters within the combined living and kitchen spaces, and an integrated greenhouse separate from the living space, just around the corner.
The end result was a completely practical, beautiful, and productive greenhouse with clients fully engaged in the process as co-designers.
We were curious, five years after the house was completed, what did our two artist friends have to say, and what had they learned?
An interview with Michael Linsley turned out some interesting topics:
Why is it important to have indoor gardening rather than waiting for the natural seasons to do it all outdoors?
If you wait for the natural seasons you have five months with nothing. You are in competition with rats, mice, deer, squirrels, bears, you name it. If you are going to garden outside, you have to create a fortress of mesh wires and electrification to keep them all out. Up here I don’t want to be in a war with nature to get 1/10th of my produce after the squirrels have taken one bite of everything.
Tomatoes year round, you can’t do that outside. I still do canning, preserving, drying and freezing because vegetables in the height of summer are still better than in winter. We do like to capture the summer flavors and harvest when things are at their best.
What about the aesthetics of having a garden in the living space? Gardens go through phases, they are not always perfect.
Yes, there are cycles of renewal. There are times when I tear everything out of a bed and start the bed over. But it doesn’t take long. Even if you take a bed down to bare dirt and reseed it, within one week you have green things growing. To me that’s fascinating. We’re talking about the intersection between function and art.
A lot of times I let plants duke it out for sun and space and air, and I see who wins. The stronger plant is going to be the better tasting thing.
You can nurse plants along, but they never produce much. It’s better to throw that plant away and start over than to put in all this energy and valuable real estate into nursing an ineffective competitor. You are the chain saw instead of the forest fire.
In Colorado we are so concerned with connecting inside with outside all year round so we feel like we get the best of our 300 days of sun a year. How is that year round connection experienced in your greenhouse?
We do really well with light here between the skylights and the exposure. We don’t put any energy into the greenhouse space. There is a climate battery that takes the hottest air from the top of the skylight space and stores that heat in the dirt. We function four seasons without putting in any energy.
Even on the freezing bitter cold days, ice will form on the inside of the windows from condensation. Even then it’s okay. In winter we drastically reduce the watering – far less water than I thought – because the moisture stores better in the soil. We do get drip lines down the walls and skylights. That has to be acceptable some times.
We should be connected to the idea of growing food, intrinsically. It’s essentially free, in a way. All we need is light, air, and dirt. We stick things in the dirt and this miracle happens and you get free food.
What have you learned over the years that you didn’t anticipate?
Bugs, they’re a given. If you grow inside you will have bugs. I put in a fertilizer injector, and that’s where I put in my bug control stuff. The aphids you have to hand spray and it’s a long process to knock them down.
It’s a question whether you screen the windows or don’t. Because if you screen the windows, the bug predators can’t get in.
One thing we would change is to make the operable windows in the cultivation space higher. Creatures can walk in the windows through the open windows, and have!
I hope you enjoyed hearing Michael’s perspective on his integrated greenhouse. And if your interest is peaked about zero energy greenhouses, take a look at this previous blog post: The Practically Zero Energy Year Round Greenhouse.