Although the new house is about the size of the old, at 2, 600 square feet, the living area is much larger because of the outdoor spaces and the interior connection to them.
The critical difference, Meditch said, is that the hulking cube of the old abode was replaced with an L-shaped house that is no more than one room wide. This configuration fills interior spaces with cross-flowing light and air along with the exterior views.
The house uses little energy from off-site: It has geothermal heating and cooling; a generous array of solar panels on the roof; thick, insulated walls; and several green roofs, including diminutive ones protecting the couple’s bicycle storage areas and one above the enclosure for the trash bins.
The attention to ventilation, ceiling fans and banks of automatic, weather-controlled blinds delay the need for summer air conditioning. The house’s gutters tie in to a 1, 500-gallon cistern, and the rainwater is used to irrigate the garden.
In corners of the house where the owners wanted natural light but privacy, they placed translucent glass manufactured in Germany for industrial use. In other parts, they worked with Clinton to frame views of neighboring landscapes in a way that didn’t compromise privacy.
The master bedroom leads to a spacious balcony. The wall is clad in tulip poplar bark, a feature repeated on the outside of the house. (Michael Moran/OTTO)
The house has several green roofs, including diminutive ones protecting the couple’s bicycle storage areas and one above the enclosure for the trash bins. (Michael Moran/OTTO)
A recurring material, inside and out, is the bark of the tulip poplar tree, applied as great sheets. The bark pattern, of interlacing ridges, is the defining feature and experience of arrival, cladding the curved wall that leads to the entrance. The bark continues on interior walls. In the master bedroom, it sheathes a wall floor to ceiling. It must be like waking up in a treehouse.
A front portion of the roof is pitched to hide the bank of solar panels, but the house is essentially flat-roofed.
This allows the creation of a fourth level of living: the rooftop, where a sitting terrace is bounded by a deep planter housing a specimen Japanese maple and perennial ground covers. Nearby is a sizable vegetable garden whose soil depth — 14 inches — is generous enough for carrots and other root veggies. (Many green roofs have a mere four inches of growing medium.) The aerial garden also features a structure containing a dumbwaiter. “The tomatoes go down, ” said Murphey, “and the Manhattans come up.”
The idea of the roof as living space came from visits to Guatemala, but the same spirit of elevated perches is found on the lower levels, including a generous balcony terrace off the master bedroom.
The outdoor dining terrace fills much of the space between the wings of the house and is defined by vine-clad arbors built from salvaged classical columns. Once the vegetation grows seasonally, the structures enclose the space and screen the neighboring house. A row of Japanese cedars behind provides an additional veil.
A lower, naturalistic garden — defined by a semicircular path of flagstones and a grove of river birches — wraps around the back of the house, providing the rain garden, native ground covers and many of the perennials that Meditch saved from the old garden. Dozens of plants were lifted and held at a makeshift nursery at the nearby home they rented while the site was transformed.