Interview with Garnie Nygren, Serenbe

Image introducing an interview with Garnie Nygren of Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia

Can you tell us a little bit about your background/history that has led you to this point?

I grew up in Atlanta until my family took a weekend outing to Chattahoochee Hills, where we discovered a 1905 farmhouse that inspired us to relocate there full-time. We all loved and preferred the countryside over the city, where we could explore the woods and play outside with farm animals. It was my family’s sanctuary for years, until we turned our country home into a B&B for friends and family to stay while visiting. My two sisters and I would check people in, cook and serve breakfast and it was an instant hit. That space is now a fully-functioning inn and restaurant known as The Inn at Serenbe and The Farmhouse restaurant.

I graduated from Cornell University’s Hotel School with plans to travel the world and open hotels. Now, I live in Serenbe and work as Director of Operations for Serenbe Development and Serenbe Real Estate.

Tell us about Serenbe and the inspiration behind it?

Serenbe is my family’s project and was born out of an effort to save the rural countryside of Georgia known as Chattahoochee Hills. My dad, Steve Nygren, and I were on a run one morning when we discovered a bulldozer taking down trees. Once we learned that urban sprawl was coming our way, my dad jumped to action and brought together landowners, developers, architects and others to bypass regulations and figure out a way to build in conjunction with the land rather than against it.

My dad grew up on a farm in Colorado, then opened 36 restaurants in his career, so his knowledge and love of nature blended with his hospitality background gave him a unique lens to develop through – one that embraces nature, agriculture, arts and community. These are the principles in which Serenbe was built upon.  

The Inn at Serenbe

How does sustainability play a role in your brand development? How important has this been to consumers?

We started with the intention of preserving land and then built the community around biophilic principles. Biophilia is the hypothesis that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life, so we built Serenbe with that in mind. The land plan calls for a minimum of 70% protected greenspace, an implementation not only for Serenbe land but the entire 65,000-acre region known as Chattahoochee Hills. This concept allows for residents to have a direct connection and easy access to nature.

Some of the biophilic principles implemented here include clustered homes for social connectivity, porches pulled close to the street and sidewalks to encourage communication. Neighborhoods are designed in omega-shapes, so the community is out your front door while nature is right outside your back door. Edible landscaping is placed at every crosswalk in Serenbe, and our wastewater treatment plant is an all-natural filtration system using no chemicals. Finally, houses in the area are required to be geothermal and EarthCraft certified and dark sky regulations are implemented so we can see more stars at night.

Consumers find sustainability and biophilic principles here very important because people are realizing that where they live affects their everyday life.

What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet?

Sustainability is obviously incredibly important and necessary for the health of our planet and I think it should be at the forefront of everyone’s lives, professionally and personally. Luckily, more and more studies are released every day warning everyone of how our environmental efforts should change, and I’m hoping Serenbe can be a model of how to implement those changes and create a sustainable place for people to live, work and play.  

Serenbe's beautiful and serene campus

How does technology and innovation play a role in your business?

With modern technological advances, we’ve been able to take sustainable building and living to a whole new level. Not only do our homes feature smart appliances that lower your utility bills each month, but most are now geothermal heated and cooled so innovation certainly comes into play here. For example, our 30,000-square-foot, One Mado commercial building is completely geothermal, which means we had to create a man-made pond for the geothermal appliance to live and use a helicopter for installation.

What does wilderness mean to you?

Wilderness, to me, is land untouched by humans. Wilderness and nature mean everything to me, and I believe it should be incorporated into everyone’s everyday lives.

Studies show how spending time in nature can reduce anxiety and depression, increase productivity and even aid in healing diseases. We’ve started the Biophilic Leadership Summit here at Serenbe to educate more people on how effective biophilic design and practices can be on everyday life.

The Serenbe woods in fall with a group of children strolling through

Do you have a favorite item- it may be an heirloom handed down from a grandparent, friend or relative of some kind- that has great meaning to you?

My name, Garnett Marie Nygren, comes from various members of my family: Garnett is from my grandmother, Marie is from my mother, and of course, my last name is from my father.

If you had to choose one place to live with only the basics available to you where would it be and what would you take with you apart from the obvious survival gear?

It’s honestly hard to choose anywhere but Serenbe since everything I’d ever need is here. Besides the obvious survival gear, I’d bring my family.  

Serenbe's beautiful winding paths

Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for Serenbe to leave behind?

My wish is that Serenbe lives on to be fully realized as a beacon of wellbeing, hope and fulfillment. I want people to come here and be inspired on how to live a rich and fulfilled life.

What message do you have for those starting their own business in regards to sustainability and innovation?

Stay persistent and always ask the question, “why?” Many times, barriers don’t have well-defined reasons, so it’s important to question why rather than give in and settle for something that wasn’t a part of your vision.

The labyrinth at Serenbe and a beautiful trail lit by lanterns

Do you have a quote, saying or poem that you find inspirational and what is it?

“Life is service – the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow men a little more – a little better service.” – E. M. Statler

What brands do you admire?

I admire brands that are doing well and doing good for the environment. Patagonia, Rothy’s and Lyft are some of my favorites.

Farm tables set for dinner at a Serenbe events

How important do you think transparency and authenticity in brands is to consumers?

Incredibly important. If you lack authenticity, people will see right through you and today, there’s nowhere to hide behind an inauthentic brand. People want authenticity and real experiences, so every brand should figure out exactly what that is for them and go from there.

Can you tell us something about your personal journey that might surprise us to know?

Shortly after I graduated from Cornell, the recession hit in ’08. Those were what I call the dark days - the most unexpected, worst economy for real estate, and I was fresh out of college. The challenge was being able to keep the company alive, which created an opportunity to be more creative and pushed us to be more innovative. With those factors in mind, we made it through.

Stunning, spring trees on Serenbe's property

What is your favorite animal and why?

My Persian cats because of their sweet faces and calm personalities. They’re super laid back, but also pretty glamorous.

What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind?

Plastic water bottles and ideally ALL plastic, but I’ve started by eliminating all plastic water bottles from my life. I recycle glass bottles and use reusable ones, something everyone should strive to do.