Comfort meets energy efficiency in an Anne Arundel County home

When homeowners Judy and Craig purchased 57 acres in Deale, Anne Arundel County, on which to build their dream home, they weren’t building just a shelter from the elements or a place to keep their belongings. They were creating an environment that would be the foundation for a lifestyle. Judy, who had always wanted a farm, would finally have room to house her driving ponies and raise her own food. For Craig, an engineer, the new house would be an expression of his desire for a sustainable, energy-efficient lifestyle.

After more than 20 years living in Columbia, the couple spent two years locating a large, secluded, wooded tract of land, the antithesis of their former suburban life.

“In Columbia, we had a community garden plot, and I boarded a horse. I wanted to bring that all home,” Judy says. “I wanted to be in the woods where no one could find me!”

She certainly succeeded; the couple cleared 10 acres at the end of a long and winding drive. Much of the remaining land is in permanent forest easement. It was clear to architect Peter Twohy that this couple was looking for a unique home when they presented their list of non-negotiable items the home required: an old-fashioned root cellar, an orchid room, plenty of porches (including a sleeping porch), a greenhouse and barns. The house was to be energy efficient and utilize passive solar energy with a design that would naturally keep it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

The house also needed to be flexible for multi-generational visitors. According to Craig, “We didn’t want to rattle around a big house,” but the couple still wanted space to host visits from their two grown sons and aging parents. Twohy’s 3,000-square-foot design includes two guest rooms and a breakfast bar on the ground floor that connect upstairs via an elevator. When there are no guests, the rooms are out of sight, out of mind.

The goal was always to create an efficient home, not a net-zero home. The couple admits they were willing to make efficiency compromises for the sake of comfort, just as they were willing to make energy-efficient choices where it made sense.

“We were careful to create a balance between energy efficiency and the reality that someone was going to live in this house,” says Twohy. He explains that the first step to designing an energy-efficient home is site planning. He worked with contractor Rick Raphael of Raphael Homes to build the home with a south-facing side of enormous windows oriented toward the forest. In summer, when the woods are in full leaf, the home is cool; in winter, when the leaves are gone, sunlight heats the stained concrete floors. (Judy points out that the concrete floors are also easy to maintain.)

Jordan Goldman, LEED AP, of the Boston-based firm Zero Energy Design, provided expertise on the particulars of insulation, windows, passive solar, active solar and ground source heat pumps. He also designed the HVAC system. Special consideration needed to be given to seemingly innocuous things. The root cellar, for example, is a naturally humid environment, requiring special seals to keep that humidity from leaking into the main house. The only wood-burning fireplace is on the screened porch because fireplaces are notorious for leaking air in and out of the home. Most of the home’s solar panels are located on the metal roof of a tractor shed where they blended in.

Craig explains that since the couple moved in February of 2013, “Practically speaking, there are no electric bills.”

“Even running the air conditioning, the meter’s been running backward all summer,” adds Judy.

For Twohy, the greatest challenge was melding several design styles into a cohesive whole. “[Craig and Judy] liked a lot of competing styles – farmhouse, Adirondack and Arts and Crafts,” he explains. “I gleaned from that that what the house needed was to be rustic with some refinement and elegance.”

The home’s angled exterior is clad in Hardiplank — siding made from wood fibers and cement — stone and steel, giving it the appearance of a contemporary Adirondack retreat. Stained birch ceilings begin outside under the porches and overhangs and carry directly into the home’s interior, creating a connection between inside and out. The wood ceilings are also a warm contrast to the cool, contemporary stained concrete floors. The wall of windows in the main living/dining area is designed with panes of different sizes and shapes, helping create a cozy center for the home. The required orchid room has pride of place at the heart of the home, creating a warm, light-filled focal point

Judy and Craig say they have very simple furnishing tastes, which allows the interior architecture to shine. The kitchen, for example, is one place where Craig was able to express his more contemporary aesthetic, with industrial touches married to character-grade cherry and hickory cabinets — displaying the natural variations and imperfections in the wood — built by Rackl-Christopher Associates, Inc. All the interior doors are stained wood in an Arts and Crafts style. Given the couple’s love of books, Twohy designed numerous bookcases, including a “jigsaw” case with cantilevered shelves, ideal for storing oversized books and displaying mementos.

The central staircase is its own architectural interest point, with wood treads, glass risers and a glass railing. “I think of stairs like furniture rather than a part of the house,” Twohy explains. “Anything you touch in the house, like a newel post, I pay close attention to.”

Upstairs the rooms are warmed by random-width wood flooring. The master suite has an angled wall with a gas fireplace. A three-quarter-height wall separates the bedroom from the dressing room and master bath. “[This] shapes the volume of the space so there are interior vistas,” explains Twohy. The bath employs materials that evoke the Adirondack style, including dark-wood cabinetry, green granite countertops and floor tile with a wood grain. The floating vanity has under-cabinet lighting on a motion sensor so there’s never danger of stubbing a toe in the middle of the night.

From her second-floor office and porch, Judy can overlook the barn housing her Shetland and Welsh ponies. It’s one of several metal structures the couple had built for farm equipment and animals.

“When Peter heard about the metal barns, he almost died,” Judy laughs. To make them palatable to Twohy’s design, the barns were dressed up with covered porches and stone walls built by Old World Stone Masonry, Inc.

The office has a vista to the greenhouse, where Twohy did have a say. The design is similar to the house and has its own kitchen where Judy dyes wool and cans fruits from the couple’s raised bed garden, which is watered from a cistern that collects rainwater.

It’s this view that perhaps best sums up what this home is about. It’s an homage to a desire to live closely with and lightly on the land, a place where Judy can fully express her farming heritage and love of animals and Craig can exercise his engineering mindset, embracing both comfort and sustainability. There’s a distinct sense that the completed house isn’t an end but a means to a greater purpose — one that was achieved through much discerning conversation between the homeowners and the design team. Says Twohy: “Knowing why people want something is as important as knowing what people want.”

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