By Trish Holder
Carla Royal insists that she is an introvert, but her neighbors in Serenbe aren’t so sure. After all, she calls them by name when she bumps into them at the Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop. She converses casually with them each week at the Serenbe farmers market. They see her at all the Serenbe concerts, gallery openings, and theater events. If Carla is an introvert, she’s become quite social at it.
She and her partner, Karen Windham, who shares a home with her in the “Nest” section of Serenbe, both say they learned more residents’ names their first 3 weeks living in Serenbe than all the years they lived in Decateur, Georgia. When I asked the two of them if the sustainable community of Serenbe, GA, was really as great as it seems, it was Carla that stepped forward with an answer.
“Our experience is that it is pretty darn great, “ said Carla. “Karen and I have been both city and country girls but we have always loved nature. We tried the country life but found community missing.
We tried intentional communities but found the rigidity suffocating. We tried all out “doomer sustainability” and found it unbearably dark and unrealistic at this time in our culture. We believe we’ve found a livable balance here and more than we could ever have imagined. After years of searching, we have finally put down roots. We are here to stay as far as we can tell.”
That doesn’t mean that she and Karen don’t hear the occasional complaint from residents in the community. While they believe that most are just as happy with their decision to take up the Serenbe brand of a sustainable lifestyle, some have not found the utopian existence they had hoped for.
“I often wonder if some folks come here with the expectation that this place will make them happy. No, it will not. Happiness doesn’t exist outside us,” said Carla, a Certified Professional Life Coach. “But, this place can certainly contribute to happiness and well-being.”
Carla and Karen, a Senior Management Consultant, moved to Serenbe in 2012. They purchased a home in the Nest section of Serenbe where the homes have the smallest footprint of any in the community. Even so, their two-story home has 1800 sq. ft., plus a full basement with an office, bedroom, bathroom, and equipment room. Like all the other homes in Serenbe, it is a certified Earthcraft home. It is laden with “green” features, including sprayed foam insulation, a geothermal heat pump, low flow plumbing fixtures, high efficiency windows, native and drought tolerant plants, etc.
All those perks, along with numerous aesthetic features both inside and out, come at a price. The Serenbe Real Estate website suggests that the modestly sized Nest homes range in price from $295,000 to $400,000.00. This doesn’t surprise me. I have a home with those same features; I know all too well what they cost. Combined with the lovely interior details of the home, which Karen and Carla were kind enough to let me tour, and the location itself, the price tag sounds relatively competitive.
Whatever Karen and Carla paid, however, was far more than they planned on spending.
“We were looking for a lifestyle,” said Karen. “Otherwise we would have never spent this much money on a home. Never.”
Nevertheless, they have no regrets – and no real complaints about their home to date. The community suits them very much, and they take advantage of all that it has to offer, including the miles and miles of walking trails, the numerous arts activities, and the restaurants.
“We eat out too much but it is just so convenient,” said Karen.
They are regulars at the local restaurants, all of which feature menu items that include farm fresh ingredients from the Serenbe Organic Farm. Like most everyone else in Serenbe, they are regulars for breakfast and lunch at the Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop.
The Priceless Aspects of Serenbe
Anonymity is difficult in a place like Serenbe. By design, the community fosters a lot of interaction, as well as support for its local businesses. Karen and Carla, two women that clearly appreciate a private, understated lifestyle, have embraced the subtly interactive routines of Serenbe. They’ve also voluntarily taken a more active role in the development of the community. Karen is involved with the planning of the new Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, which will bring an affordable public school option to the families of Serenbe. Carla publishes a blog, “Living in Serenbe”, a pictorial journal that tends to focus more on the pastoral landscape and often “non-human” residents of Serenbe.
If you have four legs and happen to reside anywhere on Serenbe acreage, you’ve most likely been photographed by Carla. She loves to visit and photograph the horses, ponies, cows, burros, goats, etc. that graze the pastures. She also likes to capture the colorful surprises one is likely to encounter on any of the walking trails – a wildflower, a lizard, a butterfly.
As I peruse the photo gallery on Carla’s blog I find myself envying not the adults but the children that live in Serenbe. Not only are they surrounded by so much that naturally interests them and feeds their spirit, unlike the rest of us, they won’t have to rely on vague childhood memories of it all. Someone has already captured the details of what a child notices, smells, and touches in their home landscape. I have no doubt that at some point some of these kids will reconnect with their childhood through these pictures in a far more intimate way than most of us ever will.
That alone feels me with a certain longing for what this community has to offer its residents.