Apr 29, 2013

Making Good Homes: Beauty in Order

by Rolf Kielman

In a February blog post, Lee Grutchfield and I discussed the challenges involved in making good and affordable places to live. We’ve made some progress on this front, and we’re back to share what we’ve done to date.

The criteria, as we described it, is to design a home that is affordable, easy to build, healthy, beautiful, durable and energy efficient. We want to make these houses so they can be manufactured under controlled circumstances and then shipped in manageable parts to the building site. And we want to erect houses in 2 months rather than the 4-6 months often required for homes of modest proportion and size.

So together with Josh Chafe, our young and creative cohort, we have begun to define and execute homes that fulfill the criteria we described. Thus far we’ve been working with designs that are basically one room wide. We’ve looked at archtypes in the factory housing of Sheldon Springs, going back 25 years to work that Rolf did with Roland Batten, and we looked carefully at the houses strung along Mansfield Avenue in Burlington, Vermont. There are lessons in these houses worth studying, such as advantages in ventilation and ease of shipping attributable to building widths of one room.

We are also working on a standard system of dimensioning. This is not a new concept: witness Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses spread through portions of North America. Wright’s work exhibits both elegance and quiet beauty in the establishment of order and hierarchy. In this vein, we are utilizing modules of 48” increments and utilizing common window widths and room sizes to achieve this order.

In our work, we are utilizing a standard system of components applicable to homes of differing overall size. By this we mean that a single bathroom or kitchen layout can be used in a 1400 square foot house as well as one that is 1800 square feet. By using common components, we can drive down the cost and increase the efficiency.

In our sketches below we show 3 slightly different houses. They vary in size and program but have strong similarities. They exhibit options that will give home buyers discretion in how they arrange component parts. The designs can be pre-made or manufactured off site and they exhibit simple dimensioning systems that are economical and elegant. The designs run from 1400 to 2200 square feet and contain different program components for those with larger families or those who have chosen to work at home.

Our hope is to build several of these homes in a new development near Burlington. If you have suggestions, questions or comments, we would love to hear from you!

Apr 18, 2013

TruexCullins Offices Under Construction

Our earthbag wall is rising!  Well, in this case, we are using air, but the end result is the same:  we are building an "earthbag" structure inside our offices at 209 Battery Street to symbolize and celebrate our work in Nepal.

In an earlier post, we described this method of earthbag construction, being used by Edge of Seven to build new schools for disadvantaged girls in rural Nepal.  Diantha Korzun is currently assisting Edge of Seven with the design of the latest earthbag construction project, a new school and community center at Mankhu Village Farm.

So what's our airbag wall all about?  You will see it in the front lobby of our space, where the walls are forming a makeshift classroom facing Battery Street.  We acquired some polypropylene rice bags and have been inflating them to emulate the real earthbag walls being built in Nepal.  The room that is forming has become an ad-hoc meeting space.  It has become a teaching tool.  And the rising walls have become a symbol of the upward mobility that these projects are affording to the girls of Nepal. 

At Sparky's retirement party on May 9, everyone will be invited to help us expand the construction.  We are looking forward to this being a fun, interactive event! 

We've collected all the info about our extended campaign with Edge of Seven into one mini-website:   For info about the earthbag construction projects, Sparky's party on May 9, and the October trek to Everest Base Camp, check out: www.truexcullins.com/sparky
And to make a donation to Sparky's fund now, please go to:

Apr 12, 2013

Capturing Vermont in Metal and Wood

You've heard us say that the interiors of the new Hotel Vermont will be all about Vermont, reveling in all its funky, earthy, independent spirit. This is true both in style and execution.

Case in point: see if you can figure out what this is a photo of:

Stumped?  These are the legs of the lounge chairs that will grace the lobby in the new hotel.  We based our original design of these chair bases on the rails of a classic winter sled.

They are being made by our friends at Beekon Parsons, a woodshop run by a couple of talented furniture makers who have been creating fine wood furniture in Vermont for 30 years. We think you'll agree that the wood and metalwork on these chairs is coming out beautifully.

We have worked with Bruce and Jeff on many projects, and we are thrilled that their work will be featured in Hotel Vermont.  Here are a few more photos from their studio workshop in Shelburne where this furniture is taking shape:

Apr 8, 2013

Building Hope, One Bag at a Time

In an earlier blog post, we described the innovative building technique known as earthbag construction that is being used to build schools in the rural countryside of Nepal. We shared the details of our own earthbag construction project that we are designing with Edge of Seven. And we invited you to celebrate with us as we commemorate the transition for Sparky Millikin from TruexCullins Managing Principal to Himalayan mountain climber.

Well, these is one more surprise we have in store. To build excitement for our earthbag construction project in Mankhu Village in Nepal, we are building a wall of our own in our offices at 209 Battery Street in Burlington.


The “earthbags” will come together during Sparky’s retirement party on Thursday, May 9th. For a $50 tax-deductible donation to Edge of Seven, we will place your name on a polypropylene bag like the ones we will use to construct a new community center for Nepalese girls. As our wall rises, it will symbolize our collective efforts to lift up these girls out of poverty and raise opportunities for all.

In Nepal, your donation will go far to educate and empower girls and break the cycle of poverty. Edge of Seven is a non-profit organization that works closely with local NGOs to ensure that all projects are carried out in a cost-effective manner. In 2010 and 2011, less than 10% of donations went toward administrative costs.

Donate Today!  You can make a donation through our crowdrise site at:

And please join us on May 9 to celebrate Sparky’s lifelong career and support the work of the Edge of Seven in Nepal!

Apr 2, 2013

A Celebration and a Call to Action


After a long and distinguished career in design and construction, Robert “Sparky” Millikin is now retiring as Managing Principal of TruexCullins. Sparky has been instrumental in the success of this firm. He is respected in the office and the community at large as a trusted business leader and mentor.

Please join us on Thursday May 9 from 5 to 9pm to celebrate the career of Sparky Millikin.

A graduate of Dartmouth College and the Yale School of Management, Sparky combined studies in architecture and business with practical construction experience. Prior to his construction and architecture career, Sparky spent over a decade sharing his love of the outdoors with others as a climbing instructor, ski coach, and Outward Bound leader. On his honeymoon he led his wife up the Middle Teton in Wyoming and had many adventures in places like Yosemite, Joshua Tree, the Sawtooths, and the White Mountains. Having always aspired to be among the “big mountains” of the Himalayas, Sparky has now opened up a new chapter with his recent trek in the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal with the Edge of Seven.

The party will be catered by Sherpa Kitchen, Burlington’s own Nepalese restaurant.

As a gesture of goodwill to Sparky for his retirement, please consider joining us in supporting his work with Edge of Seven. You may make a donation through our crowdrise site at

So please join us on May 9 to learn about upcoming adventure opportunities, taste Nepalese food from Sherpa Kitchen, and wish Sparky "happy trails" in his retirement.