Were George Washington alive today, he wouldn’t have to apologize for cutting down the cherry tree: He would repurpose it. That’s what Susan Goldstein did with two cherry trees that were in decline on her North Haven property, one of which was more than 100 years old. Instead of letting the wood end up in a landfill, she challenged Will Paulson, a Mattituck cabinetmaker, to find uses for it. He turned out a massive dining room table, a living room cocktail table, stair treads, a bathroom counter, and several decorative pieces for the house.
But the cherry trees are only part of the story, albeit a metaphor for the conceptual basis of the house she was to build. Ms. Goldstein had owned a ranch house on Ferry Road since 1981, but she was not there when, in October 2005, two powerful northeasters caused flooding and erosion on the property.
“I tried to live there for a year, thinking I could salvage it, but I couldn’t,” she said. The house had sustained water damage and mold had taken over. As she began to consider rebuilding, she thought about the environmental organizations she was involved with, Save Sag Harbor and the Group for the East End. Eventually, she said, she “realized the extent to which I could incorporate principles of sustainability and conservation into my own home.”
The result is North Haven’s first building to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification from the United States Green Building Council. Ms. Goldstein chose Dominick R. Pilla Associates, a firm based in Nyack, N.Y., to be her architects when she learned that the head of the firm was LEED-accredited. Mr. Pilla worked with Richard Kissane Builders, Tony Piazza, the landscape architect, Richard Mervis, the interior designer, and the cabinetmaker to build an environmentally responsible residence.
Cynthia Poulton, the architect in charge of the job, said, “Susan was a phenomenal client, probably the best client I’ll ever have. She definitely pushed to make this a LEED for Homes project.” Mr. Kissane concurred. “Susan was such a wonderful client and encouraged the creativity of all the parties involved,” he said.
The house, which overlooks Sag Harbor Cove and was completed in 2011, doesn’t sacrifice beauty for responsibility. Materials, furnishings, and landscaping create a dramatic contemporary structure. “It was a team effort involving client, architect, contractor, designer, and landscaper,” Ms. Poulton said. “I have rarely been on a project that was so collaborative for such a long time.”
The overall horizontality of the front of the house is bisected by a 30-foot-tall rotunda, which serves as an axis. The siding combines fieldstone, glass, and cypress, which was reclaimed from an old winery. “When it was first delivered,” Mr. Kissane said, “the smell of alcohol was so heavy we wondered who on our team was hitting the bottle.”
Overall, the house’s strong horizontals, flat roof, cantilevered balconies, and butt-glazed corner windows suggest the vocabulary of Frank Lloyd Wright. Mahogany window frames as well as the exterior cypress provide warmth, while the fieldstone, which is used both inside and out, adds a bit of rusticity.
“The design was determined to a large extent by the push for a contemporary home within the parameters of its lot coverage and its restrictions, as well as utilizing as much as we could of the existing foundation,” Ms. Poulton said. “There’s a push and pull of volumes that came about through what was dictated by the landscape itself, the view, and the program.”
Artwork and surprising design elements punctuate the interior. A glass wall that separates two living areas is actually a water wall. Water runs down one side, creating an ever-changing view and a gentle sound. The rotunda is open from the ground floor to the ceiling, and the interior walls around it are curved. There are two “living walls” with flowering plants which are watered automatically from troughs. “I was trying to figure out what to put on those curved walls, and I wanted a lot of outside inside,” Ms. Goldstein said. “In the summer I put orchids in with the ivy.”
Most of the artwork is by friends or family. A colorful abstract painting in the living room was painted by a friend to design specifications. “We gave her a specific size. When you open it, it’s a liquor cabinet.” Another friend, Peter Bynum, is an artist known for illuminated paintings, which are constructed from layers of tempered glass on which he paints organic images in acrylic. “He works mostly with colors,” Ms. Goldstein said, “but I really liked the white, which he created for me. It was more celestial or water-like. I didn’t want color.” Indeed, the painting enters into a dialogue with the water wall in the living room.
The walls throughout the house are of Venetian diamond bit plaster. “Susan has great taste in finishes,” Ms. Poulton said. “She had seen Venetian plaster in several other homes the contractor built, and it was something she really liked.”
The ceiling above the breakfast table rises to a circular skylight that, Ms. Poulton said, recalls the Pantheon. A circular balcony at the second level of the rotunda affords a view to the ground floor. Two multi-panel photographs of cherry trees are on the walls. “They aren’t my cherry trees,” Ms. Goldstein said. “They’re an ode to cherry trees.” Hallways lead from the balcony to five bedrooms, creating a transition from the lofty, dramatic rotunda to the private areas, which all have views of the outdoors.
As a LEED house, however, what you don’t see is as important as what you do. Photovoltaic panels on the roof provide 10 kilowatts of power, while necessary equipment is concealed from view at ground level. During the winter, when the house is used infrequently, the PV panels feed the energy they collect into the Long Island power grid, for which Ms. Goldstein is credited.
An efficient geothermal system provides radiant heating and also cools the house. Solar thermal panels heat the water in the sinks and swimming pool, which, due to systems installed by SRK pools of Wainscott, are purified without chemicals. The choice of windows, which were fabricated and installed by Reilly Windows and Doors of Calverton, was important, as approximately one-quarter of all interior heat can be lost through them. The rear façade windows are Argon-filled, double paneled, and have a coating that lowers the cost of heating and cooling. The combined systems make the building 44 percent more efficient than the standard set by the International Energy Conservation Code.
The landscape also played a major role in gaining LEED gold certification. “It was designed for low water requirement, noninvasive plant species, and low maintenance in an effort to promote a toxin-free, low impact landscape management system,” Mr. Piazza said. A buried 12,000-gallon cistern collects rainwater from downspouts and is stored for irrigation.
One environmentally correct experiment that didn’t work out was a no-mow lawn with dwarf grass that grows to only three inches. “Susan was so committed to the project that at great expense she decided to give it a try,” Mr. Piazza said. She gave it up when weeds couldn’t be controlled organically. The lawn is now seeded with traditional grasses and is maintained in a toxin-free manner with lots of compost.
“I feel so proud of the house,” Ms. Goldstein said. “Even the builder had to go back to school to learn some of the stuff. I started this project to do my part in preserving our world and to show others that it can be done.”