This Eco-Friendly Home Prioritizes the View in Jamestown
Location and forethought are everything in this net zero electricity home.
Vistas like this are the crux of Jamestown’s allure. Is any sight capable of competing? Oh, yes: Today, a kaleidoscope of butterflies wafts among the flora that encircles the home. The image is surreal. Wildflowers and other pollinator plants bloom everywhere in lieu of grass. Permeable pavers, which mitigate stormwater runoff and allow greenery to peek through, create meandering gridded paths through the still-maturing vegetation. This is some scenery.
At first glance the house seems ironic, its gray aluminum facade juxtaposed against rambling wildflowers and the natural brilliance of the bay. But board and batten is coastal New England all the way, and the horizontal standing seams imitate clapboard. While its interpretative design honors tradition, the materials used to construct it — aluminum siding and roofing that are manufactured with some recycled materails and are also recycleable, as well as solar panels — respect the environment, which is what these owners demanded of C and H Architects and Caldwell and Johnson builders during the design/build process.
“Our priority was to be as green as we could,” says the homeowner, whose husband has led a nonprofit environmental conservation organization for more than three decades. “I think we succeeded, start to finish.”
Big (Little) Impact
Until 2015, the property hosted a single-story seasonal home that dated to the ’70s. Architect Garth Schwellenbach designed a highly efficient, net-zero electricity replacement that used the existing foundation and deck perimeters but extended the north side with a three-foot cantilever. Keeping
with the new owners’ desire to have a minimal impact on the environment, volunteers stripped the home prior to demo. All salvageable materials — including fixtures, copper, aluminum, vents, wood, decking, doors and appliances — were donated to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore center. “It was important to us that stuff didn’t just go to the landfill,” says the owner.
The new layout features an open kitchen, dining and living space with lofty ceilings and a panoramic view of the shoreline. In the kitchen, a gray glass backsplash evokes the bay outside, and copper accents brighten the subdued palette. Elsewhere, family pieces (a dining table made from heart pine procured from the Broad Street Market in Baltimore) mix with locally sourced treasures (a beautifully restored buffet cabinet and an original painting scored from a Newport gallery).
Everything about this house is dedicated to its surroundings. Schwellenbach’s clean design incorporates ample windows to capitalize on the picturesque setting. Along the south side, the home’s sunniest, overhangs extend three feet beyond the windows to provide shade and allay heat.
An intimate sitting room off the main living area, which benefits from one of these overhangs, offers views of the bay in addition to the southerly pollinator garden. Like the rest of the house, the furnishings in here are refined yet approachable; natural materials, such as wicker and cane — apropos in a beach house — mingle with metal. Even the sofa, with its low backs and bolsters, sits below the windows to maintain unobstructed views. Unlike the primary living area, pops of red are absent in here. Instead, the palette is solely devoted to the coastal locale: Shades of teal, blue and gray dominate, while beige creates balance.
With pragmatism driving their every decision, a splurge was warranted somewhere. “That white marble,” says the homeowner lovingly of the stone that rules in the master bath. “I saw it and fell in love.”
“Rhode Island is wonderful, even with gray skies and storms on the coast,” says the homeowner. A porch with floor-to-ceiling screened windows off the kitchen blurs the boundary between inside and outside, providing the owners with a sheltered area to enjoy the bay views in all types of skies. Skylights in this bonus living and entertaining space admit additional natural light overhead, providing an even more immersive experience into the natural surroundings. The decking underfoot, like all the decking used for the project, is Alaskan yellow cedar, which will weather to a handsome silver in time. Its lifespan is nearly equivalent to more popular exterior materials, but it’s free of environmentally hazardous chemicals. “Pressure-treated wood is highly toxic to marine life,” explains the owner. “It’s the last thing that should have been used here.”
The screened porch opens to a wraparound deck, where a cable railing keeps sightlines clear. Because this really is the place to be (would you want to be anywhere else?), the deck is outfitted with multiple seating areas capable of accommodating both loungers and diners.
“This was truly a labor of love for me,” says the homeowner, and while it sounds a touch cliche, the results speak for themselves.