The Power of Nature
Drawing its energy from the sun and wind, this newly built off-the-grid cottage combines the charm of old Nantucket with state-of-the-art sustainable design.
As a boy growing up near Cape Cod, Alan Worden spent freewheeling summers digging clams, roaming beaches, and waging Ping-Pong wars with pals on a table that morphed at dusk into a spot for dinner. Today, on Esther’s Island off Nantucket, he has re-created this spirit of freedom for his own boys, Henry, 7, and Charlie, 5, right down to the dinner table, custom-designed with Ping-Pong stripes and regulation proportions.
Every room of their shingled house overlooks water and sand, and every night, the family falls asleep to lapping waves. Best of all for Alan―CEO of Scout Real Estate Capital, a sustainable resort development and operating company―the house sits lightly on the land, demanding little from its setting. “I love the idea of using Yankee thrift and ingenuity to avoid waste,” he says.
Built in 2007 near the site of a ramshackle cottage one family had owned since the 1950s, his house is totally off the grid: Solar panels and a wind turbine capture the elements to make power; a high-tech system purifies wastewater. The house incorporates bits of the old cottage―cedar shingles, wood studs. But far from screaming “green,” it has an air of slightly worn, unpretentious New England ease. Because it doesn’t look like it was just built, “you’d never know it was ‘green’ unless I told you,” Alan says.
“Nantucketers don’t throw things away,” he adds. Alan began summering on that former whaling island in 1988 and moved there full-time in 2002. Four years later, 7 acres on a smaller island nearby came up for sale. “The existing house was four nailed-together shacks,” Alan recalls. “One was a Nantucket barber shop that otherwise would have been torn down; another had been a gas station. They were uninsulated, with different rooflines, and in pretty bad shape.”
Nevertheless, they perched atop a small island between Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic, surrounded by 50 wild acres and only two other summer homes. Water came from a brackish well; a polluting generator powered lights. But the cottage’s family-friendly configuration―bedrooms grouped around a central gathering place―charmed Alan.
Because the house was too frail to keep, he decided to build a new one as modest and detailed as the original but technologically modern. For help with the concept, he consulted designers he was working with on a hotel: architect Doug Wright of the international firm Hart Howerton, and Linda Woodrum of T.S. Hudson Interiors in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Doug sketched a plan for three pavilion-style bedrooms, linked by a deck and covered porch to one large room that serves kitchen, living, and dining functions. Set back 50 feet from the unstable dune line and built on screw piles above storm-surge level, the new house is slightly larger than the first (2,400 vs. 1,600 square feet) and similarly sheathed in natural, no-maintenance cedar.
Inside, recycled pine ceilings, farmed-mahogany floors, and beaded-board walls suggest timeless New England life. The bow-beamed family room evokes a boat’s hull; the rock chimney salutes the days when ships’ ballasts wound up cobbling Nantucket’s streets.
Wild At Heart
Throughout the building, which Doug calls “a supporting frame for the views,” Linda mixed old and new furnishings, avoiding anything precious. “You’re engaged here with what’s outside, the drama of wind and water,” she says. “You sit in a chair and put your feet up. That’s the spirit of this house.” Linda paired upholstered pieces with vintage Americana―painted dressers, turned bedposts, blanket trunks.
In the family room, reading chairs by the fireplace and a sofa grouping for parties are all constructed with sustainable wood and organic padding. The boys’ room is the splashiest with a green-painted floor and beds; the master’s scheme captures the blues of sea and sky. Accents come from vintage textures―the weathered shingles from the old house that line the porch, the patina of painted chests. Other details subtly discourage waste; for example, numbered napkins and towels belong to guests for a week, reminding them to reuse.
“When I was a boy,” Alan reflects, “summer camp began at the back door. It’s like that here for Henry and Charlie. They’ll spend a whole day in shorts and Crocs, with fishing poles and nets, finding things to drag home.”