Guest Cottages for Musicians Enable Relaxation and Creativity

Thoughtfully designed cottages strike a chord for the musicians of this storied Vermont festival.

March 7, 2022

Located in the rolling hills of Vermont’s Green Mountains, the annual Marlboro Music Festival is a prestigious retreat that has influenced the world of chamber music since 1951. Every summer for seven weeks, students and professional musicians gather on the small campus of Marlboro College to rehearse and play music. Over the years, a housing shortage for senior artists caused the festival’s organizers to look to a 15-acre parcel of land adjacent to the school. It’s on this bucolic acreage that five modest-yet-inspired cottages were built.

When Joan Soranno, FAIA of HGA Architects and Engineers, was chosen to design the cottages, she initially envisioned the structures to be contemporary in style. “But so much of what the festival is about is this kind of picturesque, New England farmhouse look,” Sorrano said. “To switch gears would be playing against what people think about Marlboro Music.”

Taking her cue from the buildings that dot the campus, Soranno “riffed off the simple, gabled classic Cape Cod structures” to integrate the cottages. But unlike the white painted buildings on campus, the new cottages were reimagined in natural cedar to blend with the surrounding woods and allowed to weather to a pale grey over time.

An old logging road leads to the 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom cottages, which range from 1,400 to 2,300 square feet. Incorporating tall gabled ceilings and large Marvin Ultimate windows that frame the view of the woods, the cottages appear spacious and belie their actual square footage.

“The additional height of the white pine sloped ceilings with heavy timber rafters along with the big windows make the main rooms feel bigger and more open to the outside,” Sorrano said.

Orienting the structures for privacy and maximizing daylight was also key to their design. “We really wanted people, when they’re inside, to feel like they are connected to the surrounding woods,” Soranno said.  
Integrating upwards of 22 natural wood trimmed windows encouraged the organic meshing of the outside to the inside. “We wanted to harvest as much natural light as we could,” Soranno said. “There really isn’t a need for a lot of artificial light, which is wonderful.”  
Blackout blinds in the bedrooms were a necessity, however, because the musicians have been known to practice late into the night and do not want to be awakened by the rising sun.   

Another important consideration in the siting of the cottages and the window placement was to maximize natural ventilation since there is no air conditioning. Cross ventilation through the untrimmed casement windows positioned mostly on the east and west sides of the structures allow natural cooling to occur. “It’s not like it gets to be 100 degrees,” Soranno said, since “the cottages are up in the mountains.”

Since the purpose of these cottages was to house world-class musicians who would rehearse within their walls, an obvious critical element to their construction was the need for exemplary acoustics. To that end, Soranno consulted with musicians for guidance and as a result she steered away from using drywall as well as flat ceilings and added area rugs. All these steps helped significantly with sound absorption.

“The musicians have said that it is really nice to play music in these cottages,” she said.  Which, in the end, puts these cottages squarely in tune with their environs and its notable occupants.

Related Content