Engineered for Comfort
A prime lot in Yarmouth inspired an eco-friendly contemporary house filled with stylish details.
Christine and Eric thought the house would be a fixer-upper. “We bought it thinking that we’d do a restoration and a flip,” Eric recalls of their Yarmouth property. But, once the couple had the deed, they began to rethink their plan. Maybe they didn’t want to resell the house. Maybe they wanted to stay.
Eric is a structural engineer, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that the little red ranch wasn’t the right fit for their family. Although Christine was hoping it was “an old house with good bones,” they realized it wasn’t. But the land—that was perfect. The 1900s house was tucked away on a side street not far from Yarmouth center or from the beach. The lot was a little under a half acre with great light pouring in from the south, and pretty trees offered shelter for birds in the backyard. They saw potential in the green grass and the quiet neighborhood, so they began doing something they hadn’t expected. They began a custom build.
The project, they admit, still isn’t entirely finished. That’s because Eric has done much of the work himself. “We like to have things a certain way,” explains Christine. The couple has a clear and cohesive vision for their home: they want it to be contemporary but still speak to New England aesthetics, and they want it to feel natural and bright without looking beachy. To achieve this balance, they’ve done much of the work themselves. There was no interior designer to pick out fabrics—Christine handled the decor. And where some homeowners might call in a professional, Eric stepped in with his own expertise. Not only did he build custom furniture for the deck, front entryway, and powder room, he also put down flooring, painted walls, and worked alongside his wife to select all the finishes and fixtures for their contemporary farmhouse.
While much of the house was DIY, Eric and Christine were savvy enough to know when they needed outside influence. They brought in architect David Matero of David Matero Architecture in Bath to develop the floor plans and create an exterior that would speak to the local architecture while asserting its independence as a twenty-first-century creation. Unlike most projects, explains Matero, “we didn’t have to provide every last detail. Eric is good at detailing and very good at working with his hands. He just needed us to pull it through with the final design.” The architect and engineer had collaborated many times over the past decade, and they already knew each other’s styles and preferences. “I work with David on a weekly basis,” says Eric. The design process was “fantastic,” he adds. Christine spent hours on Houzz, looking for images of spaces and structures she liked, which she shared with Matero. “The house was informed by what we liked, but even more so by the site,” she says. Matero took into account “what we wanted to do with solar, what size we wanted to achieve, and how we wanted it to fit into the neighborhood,” Christine says, pointing out that a flat-roofed contemporary concrete shelter wouldn’t look right plopped into this sleepy neighborhood. Instead, Matero used a “transitional style that is becoming more common,” he says. “It relates to the architecture of Yarmouth with the gabled roof, but it also has slim lines, and no ornate eves.” The black-and white palette, he points out,makes it feel even more streamlined and contemporary.
The orientation of the home basically “laid itself out,” according to Matero. He knew it would make sense to have the side of the gables facing south, so that the house could harvest natural energy with a robust solar panel system. He also wanted the front of the house to face the streets and sidewalk. From there, it all came together easily, with the deck on the south side, the living room in the southern back corner, the kitchen at the front, and the four bedrooms tucked away upstairs. To ensure optimum temperatures yearround, wooden shades were built over the windows on the deck to keep the house cool in the summer but allow winter light to come through unimpeded.Unlike many of Matero’s previous clients, Matero never had to talk Eric into investing in highquality insulation, European- style windows, or heat pumps. “They came into the process knowing they wanted double-thick walls and triple-glazed windows,” Matero says. “Americans aren’t always good at long-term investments, but he is in the business, and he’s looking at homes all the time. He came to us with ideas about insulation.” (Matero also notes that he’s never, not once, had a client tell him, “Boy, I wish we hadn’t put all that insulation in.” It’s the kind of thing, he explains, you may not know you need, but you certainly don’t regret.) After living in their new 3,500-square-foot home for over a year, Christine and Eric both say that, notonly is the style utterly them—from the stunning owners’ bathroom with its concrete floors and teak sinks to the soaring one-and-a-half story living room outfitted with reclaimed barn wood and peppered with plants—but it’s also comfortable. As in, they’re never too cold or too hot. They never feel like the house is too big or too small. It’s just right for entertaining, just open enough to throw parties, just small enough to feel manageable, and just private enough that the couple and their two teenaged daughters can all enjoy their own space. They can invite guests to come over for movie night on the porch, where a big screen and a projector turn one side of the house into a sophisticated outdoor theater. Or they can snuggle up as a family by the living room fireplace in the dead of winter, when the wind is screaming and the snow is coming down thick. The windows let the light in but keep the frigid air out, and the heatpump circulates warm air easily throughout the semi-open-concept home.
The house is more than livable, but it’s still not quite done. Eric and Christine say they’re still working on it. “It’s ongoing,” says Eric. They only recently put the finishing touches on their contemporary black and white downstairs bathroom, which features black industrial pipe fixtures, a live-edge countertop, concrete floors, and a dramatic black toilet. They’re also still touching up paint in the hallway, building storage for the basement, and turning the room above the garage into a spare bedroom. Eric plans to keep tinkering, and Christine will keep her eye out for elements that fit with their sparse, yet warm and neutral, design scheme.
While Eric and Christine polish up their project, the yard will grow in, becoming more and more lush, until the couple’s boldly designed house will blend seamlessly into the surrounding neighborhood. Landscape architect Tony Cowles of Cowles Studio in Yarmouth helped the family put down roots by planting a line of trees by the road and surrounding the deck with native shrubbery. “I brought in plants that would provide four-season color,” he says. The goal was to provide visual interest, delineate the property line, and provide depth to the sunny lot. Soon, lilacs will bloom with a fragrant purple haze and the creeping sumac will start to unfurl its red leaves. Pine, spruce, and hemlock will grow taller and taller, adding shade to the yard.
For now, even if the house isn’t quite complete, it still feels like a fantastic fit for this family of four. Eric and Christine have never regretted their choice to tear down the old house and build anew. They have enjoyed the process of creating a space that reflects their style, needs, and values. “It’s hard to narrow it down to one favorite thing about this house,” Christine says. “But we love the energy-efficient aspect. We’re really happy we made the effort. It’s something we can feel good about.”