Frozen Music

There is an old saying, one of many incorrectly attributed to Mies Van der Rohe, that “Architecture is frozen music.” This was actually first published by German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Here’s the full quote.

“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.”

I love music, and I love architecture. Yes, that quote is very poetic, and to some of you may seem like complete bull, until you’ve experienced what he was trying to capture. This happened to me a few times in my life. One particular example relevant to the Tiny House ideas that burn in my belly came from spending the night in the Fern House. Built by my very close friend, and college alumni Robert ‘Bob’ Swinburne, at his family homestead, the Fern House is a very simple structure. It’s what is often called an architectural folly. Measuring approximately 50 square feet, composed of 2×4 wood studs, insect screen, and polycarbonate roof, it is built on top of an old tent platform. Bob and his wife Rachelle bought this sprawling Southern Vermont property nearly 14 years ago where they’ve since made a delightful home and are raising two adorable children. He’s even built his own barn, completely solo. That’s a different story.

Way before I’d ever heard of the term ‘glamping’, or glamorous camping, I had stayed a weekend with my friends in this little guest bedroom. For lack of a better term for it, that’s what it is, having one simple piece of furniture, a bed suspended from bright red parachute cord. It was here that as the day faded into night, and a bit of moonlight crept in, I truly knew what that quote meant. Frozen music.

Not only could I hear the quiet sounds of the wildlife from all around, crickets like a distant orchestra tuning their instruments, but I could also hear – nothingness. Peace, tranquility, and a soft wind blowing through the forest ferns and spindly trees. It was as if there was no one else around. It was romantic – both because my then fiancée was with me, and it seemed a bit overly luxurious. Like we were in our own private cathedral, both grand and sized just right for two; simultaneously simple and posh. That combination had never occurred to me. Perhaps it had a more long-lasting effect than the moon those first two nights.

I haven’t been back to Vermont to visit, and of course nap at my friends’ place nearly enough. A nap sounds fantastic right about now. I truly hope to recapture that feeling with my own tiny house. Like everyday is a vacation. Everyday is fresh and you cannot shut out the renewing light of the sunrise. Will my house feel exactly like being in the Fern House? Probably not.

If you wanted to create your own version of the Fern House, Bob will happily sell you the plans to create one, at $150. You won’t regret it. Someone in Wisconsin has already built one and it turned out very well. I know that once I’ve got a slice of land somewhere, I plan to build my own folly in the woods, maybe even one like Bob’s, just a short hike from the tiny house.

Last year, a professional filmmaker interviewed Bob, and the resulting short clip below gives a great flavor to what I’m describing. This really is a must see.

A few more images, showing the seasons’ change. No ferns in autumn or winter and sleeping outdoors is a little more brisk these times of year.

Fern House in Fall

Fern House in Winter

Check out Robert Swinburne’s blog (Vermont Architect) and his work (Bluetime Collaborative) here: