1 living room
2 pellet stove
6 utilities closet
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1 master bath
2 master bed
4 family room
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Maryann Thompson has always felt a need to help protect the
planet’s resources. She recalls developing a strong connection to
nature as a child, and later, an equally strong concern about the
effect that human actions could have on the earth.
“I have a deep motivation to not tread really heavily,” she says.
She brings that motivation to her work as an architect. Her firm,
Maryann Thompson Architects in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, is known for
its commitment to sustainable design.
Some of her current projects include
converting an old warehouse near New
York’s Brooklyn Bridge into an exercise
facility, building a park pavilion in Toronto
that is outfitted with solar panels that will
provide additional electricity to the city,
and converting a firehouse in Belmont,
Massachusetts, into a residence.
To bring the principles of sustainability to her building design,
Maryann Thompson follows these tenets:
incorporate technology Thompson’s projects have included
everything from solar panels to geothermal heat to “green” roofs
covered in plants that help both cool and insulate, depending on
balance form and function While Thompson’s designs are
usually contemporary in style, she says strategies that benefit the
planet do not have to look out-of-the-ordinary. Simply situating a
building so it takes advantage of the sun in different seasons can
reduce a homeowner’s use of fossil fuels for heating and cooling.
Her first project to incorporate this strategy was a school she
designed in Hadley, Massachusetts, nearly 20 years ago.
educate clients Thompson acknowledges that architecture is
ultimately a “service industry” and that clients have to be on board
with the idea of sustainable design if they truly want to reduce the
impact their homes have on the earth’s resources. “It needs to be
important to them,” she says. With sustainable technologies
becoming more streamlined and homeowners becoming more
knowledgeable, Thompson is excited about the future of green
design. “You can really take a house off the grid,” she says.
that skeptical visitors are often charmed by the home’s warm, inviting
interior. The open-concept first floor combines a comfortable family
living space with the kitchen and dining area. Heat is provided in part
by a stove that burns pellets made of sawdust, and many of the fixtures
— energy-efficient appliances, a kitchen countertop made of recycled
scrap metal fashioned to look like granite, a backsplash made of recycled glass — were chosen for their environmental friendliness.
However, it may be the home’s less obvious features that are the
most impressive. The nectarine-colored ground floor, for example, is
made of concrete poured over layers of gravel. In winter, that feature
acts as a passive solar heating element, absorbing heat from sunlight
that passes through a wall of floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows. In
summer, when the sun is higher, the deep overhang of the asymmetric roof helps block the windows from direct sunlight, so the house
stays cool. In addition, a radiant-floor heating system can supplement
the pellet stove in the evenings and on sunless days.
Upstairs, the eco-sensitive mission is enhanced by Lyptus flooring, a sturdy eucalyptus hybrid considered sustainable because it
grows quickly ( 14 to 16 years to maturity), and bedroom walls plastered with clay tinted with a natural dye. Because the
clay breathes, the walls help control moisture in the
house. The shower floor in the master bathroom is
made of smooth natural stones, and a Japanese soaking
tub uses less water than a traditional bathtub.
The house, which is shared by the Bennetts’ two teenagers, was
partially inspired by a family cabin in Vermont, a retreat that is is off
the grid. Though the Easton house still uses some electricity and gas
heat, the Bennetts’ utility bills are about one-third what they were in
their previous home.
Last year, the Bennetts’ house was one of the first in the state
to be certified under the US Green Building Council’s Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program, which
rates homes based on their energy efficiency and use of sustainable
resources. Across the country, 400 homes, including about 20 in Massachusetts, have been LEED-certified, and there are an additional
10,300 in the pipeline.
In part, the Bennetts stuck to a minimalist design to keep costs
down, but they also love the elegance of what they have built. “It’s
very simple,” Kyla says. “It’s certainly not typical of New England and