Step Inside a Sustainable Modern Greenwich Home

Home Tour Greenwich Berman Kotchen

After winning the Sustainable Design Competition of New Orleans in 2005 (sponsored by Brad Pitt and Global Green USA) for their affordable and energy-efficient neighborhood housing concept, architects Matthew Berman and Andrew Kotchen made a decision. “We determined from that point on, sustainable packages would be a routine part of all our projects, and we would take a holistic approach from the beginning that includes certain green variables as givens,” says Kotchen who, along with his partner, viewed designing a residence in Old Greenwich as an opportunity to do just that. “There has been some green building in this area but not a total package, and we believe urbanites moving out of the city are seeking more sustainable and modern homes like this one.”

With that demographic in mind, the principals of Workshop/apd crafted a four-bedroom home with a casual, eco-sensitive, 21st-century family lifestyle in mind. The intentionally open 3,550-square-foot floor plan allows for a seamless blending of spaces with different functions. “If you’re cooking in one room, why would you want to have to walk someplace else to ask a family member a question?” asks Kotchen. “It just makes sense to cook, lounge and dine in one area.” Complementing the easy-living philosophy is an eco-concious materials palette that includes walls and custom millwork coated with no-VOC paints, a bamboo-topped kitchen island, and white oak floors stained gray with a no-VOC finish and rubbed with vegetable oil.

In lieu of walls, shifting ceiling planes signal transitions. “The living room is a double-height space, and elsewhere there are subtle drops in beams and ceiling heights,” says Berman. Further delineating spaces are display elements like open wood shelving and cold-rolled steel panels, the latter doing double duty as a fireplace wall and room divider in the living room.

Ever mindful of their suburban context, the architects consistently sought a balance that allowed for a modern aesthetic without going over the top, pointing to the staircase with its open, horizontal-slatted, stained white-oak bands and painted risers to make their case. “We could have used steel cables and glass. Instead, we chose to use common materials that people recognize, but in a different way,” says Berman.

Throughout the interiors, the architects practiced their belief in simplicity by keeping materials and colors natural and to a minimum. All the walls and cabinets sport a crisp, neutral white, and with the exception of the bedrooms and baths, the same gray-stained floors serve as connective tissue. Similar diligence on the exterior, where elements like clapboard siding and the standing seam wood roof with copper edging are intentionally referential, guaranteed the contemporary thrust wouldn’t upset the venerable Greenwich applecart.

“The typical suburban home from this area is overstuffed with ornate detailing, while this one has classic massing but a more stripped-down aesthetic,” explains Kotchen, who cites renowned modernist architect Hugh Jacobsen as one of his design heroes. “He could take a classic form like the gable and give it a modern twist.” In that spirit, Berman and Kotchen connected the traditional gable roof forms of the main house and garage with a flat-roofed cedar-slatted entry, topped with drought-tolerant sedum-filled trays that form a colorful roof garden.

The home’s street side boasts a pair of cisterns poised to collect water for irrigation. But many of the structure’s essential green features are not so noticeable. Among the unseen eco elements are a geothermal heating system, fly ash in the foundation concrete (the coal combustion byproduct improves concrete performance), spray foam insulation, and a super-tight building envelope. With the added use of Forest Stewardship Council–certified woods and healthy finishes, the architects anticipate a LEED silver or gold rating for the project. “There are challenges to building this way because many of the practices and construction methods are not common and there are not a lot of expert green builders yet,” says Kotchen who, along with Berman, is determined to stay on the environmental bandwagon. “Our goal is to continue to push the movement forward.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 2012 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Greenwich Green Time.