Net-zero Home combines contemporary and earthy on the Essex River

Kim Radochia, an artist, and her husband, a former IT professional, had long wanted to build a house together. Although their tastes are aligned — both favor modern architecture with interiors that blend old and new — their goals were a bit different. “Kim wanted an artistic, sculptural home and her husband wanted it to be net zero,” says Will Ruhl, who along with Sandra Jahnes designed the couple’s home on the Essex River in Gloucester. “We have achieved both.”

Thanks to arrays of solar panels on the garage and barn, as well as smart building practices, the 2,236-square-foot home generates more energy than it uses and powers two electric vehicles. Artistic elements abound too. There’s the roof that seems to slide off the garage; the Mondrianesque plan of aluminum panels on the front facade; and, of course, Radochia’s own metal sculptures that dot the landscape.

That the house merges with the natural landscape was imperative. “They are wonderful environmentalists who wanted to live with respect for the land,” says landscape designer Laura Gibson. To help restore the eight-acre site to its natural splendour, Gibson and the owners converted the area between the house and the marsh from environmentally insensitive lawns to bird-hungry meadows. “We immediately noticed that it was a migration route,” explains Radochia. “Birds literally land on our property to eat en route to Canada.”

On the arrival side of the house, the team discovered beautiful rock formations that lay under what Ruhl describes as “enough asphalt to park a few buses.” Radochia worked with Gibson to incorporate native plants around the rock ledges and native grasses along the new irregularly shaped Vermont shale cobblestone driveway.

The team hauled stone – shale from a quarry in Turners Falls – into the wedge-shaped entrance, past oversized windows that let visitors see the marsh behind the house, just ahead. The shale floor, swamp view, oversized Radochia torn paper artwork depicting slot canyons, and silver reclaimed wood lining the main wall and entryway ceiling seamlessly ease the transition from the living room. ‘outside. “The house kind of beckons and embraces you as you enter it,” Ruhl says, referring to the earthy welcome and the way the entrance sits at the intersection of the V-shaped structure.

The Den, painted a saturated blue that plays off Radochia’s artwork, sits to the right in the two-story portion of the building that also includes the mudroom, garage, and two guest bedrooms on the second floor. This is the couple’s retreat to watch TV and read. “There’s a different feel there: cooler, darker, cozier,” Radochia says.

The couple’s bedroom is discreetly tucked away at the entrance at the northeast end of the long, low part of the house that stretches along the marsh. The modestly sized, rhomboid-shaped bedroom with a sloping ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows nestles into the wooded landscape. Clerestory windows draw light from the wall behind the bed, which is lined with 100+ year old hemlock. Old planks repeat as a backdrop for the freestanding tub in the tub, which channels a rustic spa vibe.

The house opens wide to the left side of the entrance, showcasing a 50ft long wall of glass that overlooks spectacular views of the marsh and Essex Bay beyond. A colorful collection of artwork hangs above a teal velvet section on a wall that slopes into the space. “The sofa wall is angled to expand the view into the living room,” Ruhl explains. “That same wall closes off the view in their upside-down bedroom, giving it that cozy rhomboid shape.” As well as enjoying how the diagonal plan maximizes the view into the main living space, Radochia simply relishes the sculptural forms. “I wanted active, salient angles,” she says.

The contemporary kitchen anchors the other end of the 56 foot long living space. A white geometric tile backsplash blends with the wall while providing a subtle pattern; the rectilinear stainless steel hood echoes the metal elements outside; and the black island melts the area while the adjacent black cabinets recede into the background. An industrial-style chandelier of blue cords and exposed bulbs creates abstract squiggles across the island, filling the sloping volume that reaches 17 feet high.

The couple’s favorite spot is the covered kitchen porch, which is furnished with a modern outdoor sectional and a dining table with Bertoia chairs. The porch overlooks the river on one side and the rock formations surrounded by ancient trees on the other. “Inside, the views are immersive,” says Radochia. “From the porch, there is only one step into the landscape.”

Architect: Rühl | Jahnes, ruhljahnes.com, Zero energy design, zeroenergy.com

Landscaping: Laura Gibson Landscape Design, lauragibsonlandscapedesign.com

Stonecutter: Timothy Braier, timothybraierstonemasonry.com

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