Rebuilding Green

A new home-with a spacious and comfortable kitchen-is built from elements salvaged from the old.
When writer Katrina Kenison, together with her husband Steven Lewers, first bought the two-hundred-year-old saltbox on eleven acres in Peterborough in October 2004, she hoped to restore it. For one glorious summer, they moved into the ramshackle, uninsulated house with their two boys, became accustomed to the sight of the Pack and North Pack Mountains at sunset, and took in the meadows and crisscrossing stone walls from their generous screened porch. But when it came time to start the renovation, the Lewers family heard only bad news from the architects and contractors who came to look at the property. “Unfortunately, they told us there wasn’t much to save,” Kenison says.”Old house experts deemed the sills and structure beyond repair,” recalls Jay Purcell, principal of J.L. Purcell Architects AIA. Thus began a long discussion about what the family wanted to do with their gorgeous hilltop. The final decision: Rebuild.Along the way, one decision was easy-the new structure should maximize the sweeping southern exposures. “Because I spend so much time in the kitchen, Jay began designing the house with one small corner of that room-the spot with the best view. Once we all agreed that that corner was just right, he worked his way out from there,” Kenison says.With an open floor plan, there are excellent sightlines from the kitchen to the adjacent living areas. In fact, Kenison can work in the kitchen while listening to one of her children play the piano nearby.”No one ever feels trapped in this kitchen. I can work all day there and always feel close to the outdoors,” Kenison says. “There’s an herb garden right outside the door.” The shape of the newhome-long and low to the ground-contributes to the sense of continuity between indoors and out. The green grass is always just one step away.Green outside and inThe meadow isn’t the only green aspect to the home. Purcell designed the home to reap the benefits of passive solar heat. The banks of south-facing windows work hard for the house in the wintertime. Not only does the sun move across the windows as the winter day progresses, the glazing is an efficient, high solar-heat-gain insulating glass to let in more of the sun’s heat in wintertime than is allowed to escape over the season. In hot weather, the house’s eaves shade the glass from the high summer sun.And heat isn’t the only benefit of the carefully chosen windows. “There are transoms in the kitchen and living room,” Purcell says, “which assist in day-lighting those rooms.” These additional high panes of glass allow natural light to penetrate deeper inside the house, ultimately saving money on the electric bill.Some of the home’s greenest features aren’t visible to the naked eye. The structural insulated panels (SIPs) and air barrier membrane make the exterior extremely tight and provide highly effective insulation. This airtight construction is offset by fresh-air ventilation using a heat recovery air-to-air heat exchanger. With the aid of this high-performance insulation, the home is efficiently heated or cooled entirely by its geothermal heat pump system, using ductwork that also serves to distribute the ventilated air.Other green features help the new house look less like a modern day interloper. In the kitchen, the floor and island countertop are made from reclaimed wood-a choice that helped preserve virgin forest while adding the sort of gravitas and character that the Lewers had hoped to save in the old cottage. The locally harvested post-and-beam frame is another source of natural beauty on the interior. The curved braces were made by local artisans. The joinery is splined with pegs.”It’s not a fancy kitchen, but it’s very comfortable,” says Kenison. “It’s not about impressing people. There’s nothing shiny.”In fact, “some would find it an inconvenient kitchen,” says Kenison. There aren’t any upper cabinets, for example. They would only have blocked the view. Instead, nearly all the food is stored in a little pantry down the hall. The pantry was built of reclaimed wood, too. Just before the cottage was to be demolished, Kenison met local salvage craftsman Steven Graves. She offered him wood and fixtures from the antique home. After the new house was complete, he came back to build the pantry from timber salvaged from three old homes, including her original one and her parents’ 1760 Milford house. “And from the dump,” adds Kenison.In her memoir The Gift of an Ordinary Day (Springboard, 2009) Kenison explores the spiritual side of rebuilding the family home after the disappointment of losing the antique one. “There’s guilt in tearing down an old cottage,” she admits. And so the house they built, on the footprint of the old one, is in keeping with the history of the property. “People who didn’t pay close attention might drive by and think, ‘There’s the old house those people renovated,’ instead of, ‘Those are the people who tore the old house down.'”