Photography by Phillp Ennis
Front entrance off porch.
Sparkling chandeliers, Venetian plaster, marble countertops, flat-screen televisions, and a home theater—a peek inside Westchester Magazine’s DreamHome in Armonk (the culmination of a partnership with area builders, designers, and businesses) reveals every furnishing, appliance, amenity, and décor treatment you could ever wish for. But what may not be as obvious at first glance is that this dream home is also a green home. More than 2,300 visitors to the DreamHome, opened this past May as a fundraiser for Open Door Family Medical Centers, got to see firsthand that it’s possible to decorate in an elegant and eco-friendly way.
Confirming that “green” and “dream” can coexist, Bedford-based architect and interior designer Carol Kurth says, “From eco-friendly paints and fabrics to green wall and floor coverings, pillows, and draperies, there are many different styles out there for pretty much every taste, and they can be absolutely beautiful and sophisticated.” Kurth, who accessorized several of the rooms in the DreamHome and has her own eco-friendly collection called OOCK, points out, “The days when everything looked like hippie macramé are long gone.”
According to a recent National Association of Home Builders/McGraw-Hill Construction survey, almost 40 percent of Americans who recently renovated their dwellings did so with at least some green products. Locally, Kurth says, requests for green design have significantly increased over the past two to three years, and “in the last year, it’s really been a hot topic—it seems the public is finally catching on.”
So what exactly is environmentally correct when it comes to home design? You might immediately think of those energy-saving squiggly light bulbs, but as can be seen in the DreamHome, green is so much more—it’s in the wood, glass, and paint as well as the plumbing fixtures and appliances, even in places in which you’d never suspect it (but you’ll have to read on to find out!). Just as important, these elements not only are friendly to the environment but also to the eyes.
Take, for example, the wood in the DreamHome, in which more than 18,000 board feet of salvaged oak was used to create the hardwood floors in the foyer, kitchen, and family room. The “vintage” wood was stained a deep, warm brown, creating a beautiful patina and a “natural, timeless look that goes well with any style,” says Hochstin Design Group’s Stacy Hochstin, who worked (in conjunction with her partner, Julie Hochstin) with the builders, designers, and Westchester Magazine to create a cohesive look throughout the DreamHome. “The more the wood ages, the more beautiful it is. It really has a soul to it.”
Not just for floors, reclaimed wood also can be used on kitchen countertops as a striking alternative for granite, marble, or Corian. The DreamHome’s four-inch-thick, antique white oak center island was salvaged from a recently demolished upstate New York grain mill built in the late 19th century. “The island’s hand-hammered black iron accents on the corners look like straps from an old steamer chest,” says Diane Murphy, chief designer for Murphy Brothers Contracting, the company that built the 7,100-square-foot DreamHome. “In fact, the countertop was inspired by a Louis Vuitton trunk.”
Additional wood from the old grain mill was used to create ceiling beams, adding warmth and architectural detail to both the family room and master bedroom suite’s sitting area. And again, wood makes a statement in the lower level entertainment room, where the 1,250-bottle wine cellar door was made from reclaimed wood from the mill.
In addition to using salvaged wood, wood grown using eco-friendly practices is another option that can “green up” a home’s décor. Take the taupe-colored Rutt kitchen cabinets expertly crafted from wood that came from a well-managed forest or the handsome American Artisan X-base table and coordinating sideboard in the dining room. According to David Connolly, partner at Landau Ethan Allen in Hartsdale, “The furniture is made from Appalachian pine that comes from a sustainable forest in North Carolina.” He adds, “There is a water-based finish on the furniture instead of traditional lacquer, making it an environmentally responsible project.”
Paint has gone green, too. According to Patti Seymour and Robert Piciulli of Decorative Faux Finishes, the DreamHome’s pantry walls are covered in a sandstone finish made with crushed walnut shells that impart a beige, textured appearance. In the kitchen, Seymour says, “We put the sandstone underneath to create this organic looking texture and then went over it with subsequent layers of LusterStone in sparkling silver and taupe. It makes for a pretty and interesting wall–and all the materials are green and environmentally safe.”
Paints with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were used throughout the DreamHome, adding a striking red accent wall in the family room and creating a Venetian plaster treatment in the living room. As Hochstin points out, “We were able to accomplish this elegant and sophisticated style with a paint that’s ‘green.’” Yet another way to be eco-friendly is to use paints made of natural products, such as the light-brown-colored clay used on the walls of the upstairs laundry room.
High-end appliance brands have joined the green team as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the DreamHome kitchen, in which an oversized SubZero refrigerator is hidden behind deep-red acrylic panels with gold, hand-painted Chinese stencils. Not only does this eye-catching furnishing set the Asian-inspired tone as well as the color scheme for the first floor, it’s also an Energy Star-rated appliance (along with the Wolf dual-fuel range and the Miele dishwasher).
Plumbing fixtures are also on the list of items that can be eco-friendly. A look inside the DreamHome’s marble master bathroom reveals polished nickel fixtures on the “his and her” sinks, bathtub, and glass-encased shower featuring two shower heads, one straight and one angled outward to simulate the experience of standing in the rain. Even here, in the lap of luxury, the green theme is kept alive by utilizing water-saving shower heads and fixtures. In the cabana bathroom on the lower level, the shower head has a special technology that allows air to be sucked into each drop of water; when droplets hit the body, they get absorbed rather than roll off.
Doors and windows are also key elements to green design. Not only does the DreamHome’s mahogany front door have Low-E (low emissivity) glass with argon, so do all the exterior doors and windows, making the house more energy-efficient by keeping warm air in during the winter months and out during the summer. Keeping in line with the Arts & Crafts style of the home, designed by Mount Kisco architect R. Barry Goewey, the windows have been enhanced with geometrically shaped grills reflecting American Craftsman design. The green elements continue down to the hardware on the doors, many with handles made of 90- to 95-percent recycled bronze.
New technologies have rolled in an ever-widening array of eco-friendly products, even in places where you would never expect them. No one looking at the upstairs laundry-room counters would ever suspect that they were made of recycled paper. “It’s compressed and polished so that it looks smooth and clean, just like Corian,” Murphy says. “It looks like brown leather.” Also in the laundry room are white, black, and gray laundry baskets made out of 100-percent repurposed newspaper. If that’s not enough to excite you, then how about the lawn chairs out by the pool? They’re made from recycled plastic bottles!
When it comes to green, the outside of the house can be just as important as the interior. On the two-acre DreamHome site, Murphy Brothers used stones found on the site to create 90 percent of all the retaining and decorative walls on the grounds, and the garden design incorporates both native and sustainable plantings.
Landscape architect Jay Archer of John Jay Landscape Development says his goal was to “create a low-impact, high-performance landscape.” He selected a wide array of native plants such as white-flowering viburnum and pink-flowering clethra as well as sparkleberries and blueberries (which are both edible). According to Archer, these native plants attract beneficial wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and other insects, which are healthy for the local ecosystem. In addition, sustainable plantings such as weeping cherry trees, boxwoods, and spirea were chosen because “they are not susceptible to insects and disease, so they preclude the need for insecticides that release toxins into the environment,” Archer says.
Not only is the DreamHome green in all the design elements you can see inside and out, it’s also green behind the scenes. The certified-gold (by the National Association of Home Builders National Green Building Program) home features energy-efficient elements that range from something so simple as dimmer switches to state-of-the-art technologies such as a geothermal heating/cooling system and closed-cell spray insulation.
“Green really is starting to creep into the design world, so that now it’s a standard that has to be integrated into whatever you’re doing, whether it’s paint, flooring, fabrics, wall coverings, or even adding on a room or building a house,” says Hochstin. “There can be a real integration of great design and eco-friendly resources. It might not be standard yet, but I think we are definitely going in that direction.”
Laura Mogil is a freelance writer residing in Briarlcliff Manor. She frequently writes about art and design for Westchester Magazine, Westchester Home and The New York Times.