Suburban Simplicity

A professional couple with two young children lived in a glassy corner condo on the water, dreaming of gardens, grass, stars and fireflies. So they bought a 1950s house in a leafy neighborhood north of downtown.

From the moment we met, this project was on a very tight schedule, with closing coming in two months. A design-build approach was the best way to meet the clients’ needs. We started with a design workshop to get a feel for the bones of the house and begin to speculate how it might be altered to fit their taste and lifestyle. Design work included a master plan to tie the house to its site with gardens, trellises, terraces, and a swimming pool, and to locate a future guesthouse for grandparents.

The focus was on simplifying and reducing the space to essentials. We substantially altered the first floor by removing two later additions, shrinking the house’s footprint. Two walls were also removed to open up the living spaces and allow sweeping views of the outdoors.

Stair composite_610w

An airy, modern stair connects to the second floor. Separate his and hers bathrooms became one master bathroom, taking advantage of an old back stair to create a laundry chute. The other bedrooms received new windows and finishes, and bathrooms were updated.

The new master bath was made snug with recycled denim insulation

The new master bath was made snug with recycled denim insulation

Family room, before and after

Living room, before and after

Exterior before-after_450w

Front entry, before and after

Composite demo_450w

After removal of rear addition

With new, energy-efficient windows and a fresh coat of paint, the updated house is ready for landscaping, which will include a front entry trellis and back terrace. The fireplace and chimney were retained when the old family room addition was removed, extending the indoor living room to the outdoors.

A fast-tracked design and construction made good communication critical. We made use of web sharing technology and 3-D computer visualizations to keep the team up to date and help the client through the many decisions required. Having Greenbuilders involved from the beginning made it possible to complete the project on time and on budget.

 

 

 

 

This video has many great views of the house interiors, as well as comments by industry experts and project team members on the collaborative design process.

21st Century Craftsman Bungalow

This new home is nestled at the end of a quiet street in Takoma Park, Maryland. The lot is surrounded by great Tulip Poplars and historic bungalows. Because of new setbacks on the small site, the original one-story house had to be completely deconstructed.

Left: existing house Right: new design

The design and detail is based on the traditional bungalow. A significant amount of space is deftly contained within pleasing proportions and scale that fit the neighborhood. The house has a full basement, two complete living floors and a sizable attic for storage and kids’ lofts.

Care was taken to create a comfortable and efficient home that is well-knit with the site. Orientation of “winter” and “summer” spaces takes advantage of the path of the sun through the day and seasons, allowing for passive heating and cooling. The sunroom, screened porch, and deck with outdoor shower are in-between spaces from which to engage with the outdoors.

A deep commitment to environmental sustainability informed every aspect of the design and construction. A computer energy model helped the team to coordinate the interactions of the building orientation, envelope, and the mechanical system.

Materials:

The existing house was carefully deconstructed so that salvaged materials could be donated or sold, including brick, framing lumber, oak flooring, paneled doors, kitchen appliances, copper and steel pipe, and aluminum. Even the mercury from the old thermostats was recycled, rather than landfilled. Stone from the original chimney was incorporated into the new house.

85% of the construction waste was recycled.

The concrete has a high percentage of fly-ash, a waste product from coal-fired electricity plants that is usually landfilled. Fly-ash offsets the use of cement, the production of which is highly energy –intensive and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Hardie board siding made from cement and recycled wood fibers; front porch timbers from urban salvaged trees; zero-VOC paint; FSC certified wood floors; bamboo floors; water-based stain and varnish; oak trim from urban salvaged trees (cured in a solar-powered kiln); formaldehyde-free cabinetry; cast concrete & recycled glass counters and soaking tub; LED and fluorescent lighting; interior doors of oak veneer over compressed wheat core.

Energy:

Great attention was paid in the construction to proper insulation of all walls and slabs; and air sealing at joints and openings.

Ceiling fans in all bedrooms, the sunroom, dining room and den are a very low-energy way to stay comfortable during swing seasons.

Heat: High-efficiency “Munchkin” boiler, some rooms have radiant floor heat; Tulikivi ceramic stove in Great Room (a few logs can keep the first floor warm for twelve hours)

Energy Star appliances .

Water:

Plumbing: PEX instead of copper. Low-flush and dual-flush toilets; low-flow faucets and shower heads.

Native plant landscaping.

Epstein Residence, photo by Julie Gabrielli

Forest Retreat

The steep path crosses wetlands and streams as it winds through the forest up the hill and into a clearing. Our clients’ priorities were to maintain a deep connection with the forest and to build with non-toxic materials. We designed an earth-sheltered house with passive solar heating, natural ventilation, and other energy- and resource-efficient elements. Computer energy modeling and building science helped us to optimize the orientation, building elements and heating and cooling systems.

Brown1

 

 

 

 

 

Visitors arrive at the house from the north, through a modest walled garden passageway set into a gentle rise near the top of the site. From within, the house gradually opens outward, towards a dramatic ravine to the southeast. Part buried, part pavilion in the woods, the house alternately acts as cave (refuge) and treehouse (prospect).

House from southeast

Brown3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main structure is foam and steel prefabricated panels, for maximum insulation with minimum embodied energy. We found historic chestnut logs salvaged from an 18th century church and a traditional timber framer to build the structure of the Great Room. The clients love it because it feels like a lodge to them.

Brown4

 

 

 

 

 

Brown5b

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other features:

  • open and screened porches at the forest edge
  • radiant heat floors
  • eco-friendly finish materials such as cork, rubber, and locally quarried stone
  • concrete countertops and Japanese soaking tub made by a local artisan
  • rain garden and native landscaping
  • no gutters; rain drips off the roof into a gravel bed and percolates back into the water table
  • durable Hardi-board siding on the outside

Brown7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house has grown into its surroundings over time and provides sensual delights year-round. Great Blue Herons have been known to visit – brazenly stealing fish from the pond. Hints of the client’s experiences of serenity, beauty and wonder can be glimpsed in her album of photographs below.

Brown6