The Beauty of Balance
“The stair is a light modern open rise stair, and the stair tower itself bumps out from the main massing of the house itself,” describes Alessi. “The stair tower has lots of oversized windows bringing light into the home and providing a variety of interesting views that frame the beach beyond.” The vertical orientation was important to achieving these desirable views, which only get better the farther up you ascend the two-and-a-half stories, and on a bright summer day, the home is flooded with light. At dusk, elegant recessed lighting illuminates the stairs and reflects off of the modern stainless steel cable railing. “The floating stair finished with custom railing details immediately communicates the clean, contemporary aesthetic,” says Contonio. “The homeowner really wanted a modern clean style that emphasizes the views and location.”
“The home is unique in the sense that it’s not what you would expect on the Cape…but it’s still at the beach,” adds McPhee. “We have collaborated with A3 in the past, and this project really stands out. Lines of communication were open, problem solving was more about opportunity identification and the creative spirit was evident in everyone’s approach.”
One of the most standout aspects of this home is that it is 100% net zero, meaning that it’s designed to produce as much energy as it uses. “There is a +/- 8640 kWh photovoltaic system on the roof by E2 Solar. It’s hard to see but it’s there!” enthuses Alessi. “We also designed the whole house with electric systems since the PV panels produce electricity.” For 20 years Alessi has focused her architectural expertise toward designing environmentally responsible homes, collaborating with clients on conceptualizing projects that are not only sleek and beautiful, but sustainable as well. Her designs are both insightful and responsible, so that families building lives and homes on Cape Cod can look forward to a lasting and vibrant future. For these West Dennis homeowners, Alessi’s eye for design and passion for sustainability made A3 the perfect pairing to McPhee.
“The mechanicals are all electric,” continues Alessi about the home, “and with enhanced insulation strategies and triple glazed windows we are able to reduce the mechanical loads enough so that the solar produces all that is needed.” The benefits of net zero design are clear. A 2019 report found that buildings and construction are responsible for just under 40% of CO2 emissions. Architects have a profound responsibility—and as Alessi likes to view it, opportunity—to work toward a greener future. Sustainable design comes in many forms, and even among net zero homes there are various ways to achieve the same end goal, but the expertise of a team like A3 is important for creating a home that is both durable and creative, as well as lasting and personable. And for a vivacious family of five, durability is key.
The homeowner explains how and why A3 was her architect of choice. “I knew that I wanted a modern home and I found A3 from searching for projects on the Cape. When I got in touch with Alison, I started to learn about net zero homes and it was clear, they were the right choice for what I was looking for: a modern aesthetic and sustainability.”
“Building a net zero home for us is about balance,” explains Alessi. “Balancing the energy used, of course, but also balancing the space. On the Cape you have these incredible opportunities to connect a home to the outdoors, but it’s important to also create spaces that are cozy and inviting even when it’s cold and rainy.” The homeowners, too, have a unique appreciation for balance, and worked well with Alessi and McPhee to create spaces that found the elusive line between sophistication and playfulness. “We loved their aesthetic and the blend of modern materials they chose,” says Alessi about working with the homeowners. “For example, more traditional wood accents and lap siding were mixed with more modern fiber cement panels to create a unique exterior.”
Detailed accents like large doors and windows to capture dynamic, expansive views of sparkling Nantucket Sound; exterior folding doors; and wide plank flooring make the space feel thoughtful and complete. Colorful furnishings and elements—like the teal front door leading into the mudroom with deep navy geometric tiles—bring a spirited energy that complements the modern aesthetic. Under the stairs on the first floor is a unique play area. “Kids only!” laughs Alessi. The home is all at once contemporary yet retro (with accents of hot pink and detailed wallpapers); sleek yet bubbly (think contemporary chandeliers next to an electric blue couch); and structural yet seamless. It oozes personality, encouraging experiences and adventures to come, and above all, finds an almost intangible balance.
“My favorite part about our house is the way Alison has framed every view through every window, like an artist,” the homeowner states. Each window acts like a picture frame. She took the time to consider every opportunity in the design to be able to fully appreciate the views.”
“We wanted to make sure that the home was resilient and would last for many generations,” says Alessi. Especially with a vulnerable location along the beach and in a flood zone, finding that space between durability and creativity, inviting interiors and relaxing exteriors, and contemporary and coastal aesthetics was essential. It’s an undertaking that McPhee and A3 handled with an easy commitment to collaboration and teamwork. “I’m proud of my whole team,” says McPhee. “It’s not that they were stepping out of their comfort zone. Instead, it is like they had an opportunity to push the envelope to try something completely different and that was an invigorating experience for everyone.”
Allyson Plessner is a frequent contributor to Cape Cod Life Publications
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