Green Goddess–Energy efficiency and style make for a hip, healthy home
When Jill and Kevin Brenner were looking to downsize from their 6,000-square-foot farmhouse in Pound Ridge, their search had a narrow scope. The new location had to be a buildable lot within the Bedford/Pound Ridge community and preferably closer to I-684, to facilitate Kevin’s work throughout the Hudson Valley as a home-energy and indoor-air-quality consultant. They found the perfect spot just five miles west in Bedford.
“I like to build, and we wanted to reduce our energy use. Our old house was bigger than we needed, and it wasn’t very energy-efficient,” says Kevin who was a builder for three decades before he immersed himself in all things green and founded Healthy Home Energy & Consulting.
Kevin’s mission was to build an energy-efficient house that was “easy to maintain and sustainable—to the extent that I could source local materials, and if someone someday wanted to deconstruct this house, a lot of the materials that we used here could be re-purposed, so they didn’t end up in a landfill.”
“Of course, I wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing, and I wanted it to work for us,” he says in reference to his and Jill’s lives as parents of three grown children and one little Cavapoo named Schlomie. Looking forward to retirement years, the Brenners planned for the rooms that they spend 99 percent of the time in to be on the first floor. Soon after purchasing the property, Jill sought out architect Ritch Holben to create the design, and Kevin contributed input that would facilitate making the structure both Energy Star LEED- and Pearl-certified as well as net-zero (producing as much or more energy than it uses).
“Jill and I both feel very strongly that we, as individuals, have to do whatever we can to save this planet, and to reduce global warming and climate change,” Kevin explains. “In our daily lives, we actively recycle, compost, and avoid waste. Likewise, when it came to building our home, we wanted to be responsible about the techniques and materials we used.”
To ensure efficiency, Kevin installed solar panels on the roof and built the house tight with lots of insulation. He installed a wood-burning fireplace from Wittus (in Pound Ridge) to supplement the air-source heat pumps. These pumps bring outside air in, then three whole-house, fresh-air systems pull stale air from the bathrooms and kitchen to preheat that fresh air, and finally, they distribute it to areas like bedrooms and living spaces. Ultimately, the heating and cooling of the house is both efficient and maintains a constantly comfortable indoor environment without using fossil fuels.
The construction was completed in 2018, and a gravel drive now leads past a wildflower meadow to the two-story house, clad in a combination of stacked stone, copper, and shou sugi ban wood. Inside, a dramatic, light-filled staircase designed by Holben, visually draws visitors inside. To the left is the great room that incorporates kitchen, living, and dining, all in one. “I wanted it to be cozy, warm, and welcoming,” says Jill, who masterminded its décor and functionality. “It’s our home, but we also want guests to feel free to just come in and plop themselves down.”
Holben presented the couple with an architectural design that included windows above and below the kitchen upper cabinets (serving as both backsplash and light source), a massive fireplace on the opposing wall, and a vaulted ceiling. Then, Jill got to work on the details. “We chose black stainless refrigerators, cement floors, and a marble and brass island, so that added up to four ‘cold’ materials,” she explains. “To warm things up, we added wood cabinets in the kitchen and a timber ceiling overhead. And then, I chose this delicious white, custom Verellen couch in yummy fabrics, and the Flokati carpet that you just want to roll around in. The final element was the greens; I asked Kevin to build this sliding door to hide the television, and we created a “living wall” that Amy Wilbur from Sweet Dirt Designs filled with plants.”
The dining area is furnished with an oversized table that Kevin’s crew custom crafted from a massive piece of wood the couple found in the Berkshires. Outside the window, elevated louvers are pitched to allow sunlight to warm the room in winter and shade it in summer.
Around the corner, the pantry is chockfull of eco-friendly household solutions. Reusable mason jars and produce bags, beeswax wraps, and eco-friendly cleaning solutions line the shelves, and a chute sends recyclables swiftly down to a bin in the garage.
Just down the hall is Kevin’s office that Jill outfitted with custom shelving, a sumptuous sofa, and an overhead brass and glass lighting system that the couple designed and Kevin fabricated in his workshop. Jill’s workspace (she has a design and organization business, Orderly, with her friend and partner, Jody Froehlich) is across the way, and the master suite serves as an anchor at the end of the hall. The bedroom features refurbished oak and lighting. The adjacent bathroom is stocked with personal care products that come in reusable metal containers, and the plumbing system recovers heat from the drains of the tub and showers to pre-heat cold water coming into the hot water heater, saving both energy and dollars.
Kevin’s getaway in the house is not surprisingly his workshop. Outfitted with repurposed cabinetry he salvaged from a construction job and every tool or machine a handyman could dream of, this is where he goes to unwind.
Tucked away on the second floor are three bedroom suites, and in the basement, there is a gym. What aspect are the Brenners most delighted with, now that they’ve settled in? “Just frickin’ everything,” says Kevin with a grin. “I mean, I say that to Jill maybe once a week—frickin’ everything.”