Serenbe, a sustainable community less than 30 minutes from Atlanta, serves as the location of HGTV Green Home 2012. Founder Steve Nygren shares the inspirational story of his family's life-changing decision to move the country.
In the early 1990s, Steve and Marie Nygren were living what they thought was the dream. True urbanites, the couple owned a home in the affluent Atlanta neighborhood of Ansley Park, were active community members and managed thriving restaurant businesses. "We could walk three blocks one way to the symphony and the High Museum, and four blocks the other way to the botanical gardens and Piedmont Park," Steve recalls.
A Sunday drive in the country changed everything.
Marie spied an ad for a historic farm for sale, located just 20 minutes south of the Atlanta airport. The couple, with three daughters, ages 3, 5 and 7, had no intention of buying, but they were curious to see open land so close to an urban center. The Nygrens connected with the sellers on that lazy day in the country and fell in love with the circa-1905 farmstead. After buying the 60-acre property, weekend visits became more frequent, and Steve noticed a value shift — a connection to nature and community. "It was an eye opener for me, watching our family leave this fabulous house in the city," he says. "My girls could hardly wait to get out here, where we had no toys except a puzzle for rainy days."
In 1994, the Nygrens sold their city home, walked away from business and community responsibilities in Atlanta, and settled full-time at the farm, where a small bed-and-breakfast business satisfied their creative impulse. Six years later, encroaching development prompted Steve to purchase land surrounding his farmstead and join partners in the formation of Chattahoochee Hills, a 40,000-acre city in which 70 percent of the acreage is protected from development.
Serenbe, a 1,000-acre community that includes the Nygrens' original farmstead-turned-inn-and-restaurant, is the first hamlet to exist within Chattahoochee Hills. Marie conjoined two words, "serenity" and "be," to coin the community's name. "Everything we were searching for was here, and we could slow down and simply be," says Steve. "If you spend an afternoon, a weekend or a lifetime at Serenbe, I hope that's what you will discover."
Serenbe's master plan is inspired by English hamlets and villages, with an emphasis on balanced growth, a mix of architectural styles, sustainability and land preservation. Three key neighborhoods within the community are divided by a commercial center. Selborne focuses on the arts, with antique shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries and a photography center situated within its confines. The crafts- and organic farming-centric Grange, the location of HGTV Green Home 2012, will boast a blacksmith's shop, glass blowing studio, weaving center, feed store, tack store, farm grocer and casual restaurant overlooking the community lake. Mado, a neighborhood dedicated to wellness, will include a community pool, an early learning center, a gym, assisted living and memory care facilities, senior housing, doctor's offices and the community's own charter school.
At Serenbe, a focus on community encourages residents to interact. The pedestrian grid makes walking far easier than driving; front porches on every home and mailboxes located at busy community centers further foster socialization. But quiet time certainly has its place. Steve considers the neighborhood's green space a "restart button" for any life stressor. "If you go out the front door, be ready to socialize," he says. "If you don't feel like socializing, walk down a wooded path."
The founders of Serenbe take living green seriously. Along with a 25-acre organic farm that provides produce for Serenbe's restaurants, Atlanta restaurants and the neighborhood CSA program, the community boasts a natural wastewater treatment facility and storm water management areas built along wooded trails. Smaller homes, smaller properties, the elimination of lawns and energy conservation are among the community's key principles. In Serenbe, green issues are linked arm and arm with artistic pursuits, as evidenced by The Serenbe Institute, a nonprofit resident-funded organization. The institute fosters visual and performing arts, as well as the community's ecological programs. "Well-being is more than an energy efficient house," says Steve. "It's about feeding the soul, the stomach and our minds." And Serenbe is determined to do just that.