For Bobby and Kristi Walters a lot has changed over the five years since they approached Vinny Petrarca, Assoc. AIA, to design their house in Greenville, North Carolina. They’ve gotten married, Bobby made partner in his medical practice, they’re expecting their first child, and they’ve moved into the home designed and built by Petrarca’s firms Tonic Design and Tonic Construction. A lot too, occurred with the process of designing and building the house, including at least one rejection from local authorities for permits to build this Modern house. “It didn’t matter that the design integrated sustainability and new technology,” says Petrarca. “They just turned it down.”
Petrarca was as happy as the Walters when they found an alternative three-acre plot in a newly developed coastal plain area of Greenville where the design was met with encouragement rather than objections. At just over 4,700-square feet, it’s not a small project, but Petrarca and project manager Robby Johnston argue that the house—which is expected to be rated LEED Silver in the next few months has the performance of one half its size.
Central to the program is a large double-height public space that extends in three different directions with narrow rectangular volumes that continue out into the landscape, creating courtyards and allowing for cross ventilation. Exterior cladding is a mix of brick veneer, zinc, and vertical cedar panels. At the end of each bar, overhangs with photovoltaic panels provide shading as well as solar energy. The central space where the three bars meet, with a highest point of 22 feet, has a kitchen, dining, and living spaces and is open to the second story and continuous balcony above. Visual connections are the essence of the house, which boasts a combination of storefront floor-to-ceiling and aluminum-framed operable and non-operable windows. “It’s not like living in a glass house where you can only see out,” says Petrarca. “In this house you can see into other parts of the house from within.” Kristi Walters says she’s especially happy about this aspect of the design. “It will be so nice to be in the master bedroom and be able to watch our children playing in the living room.”
Maple built-ins and cabinets designed by Tonic Design line many of the rooms. Floors are maple as well, and decks outside are ipe wood. Johnston admits that ensuring all wood used was FSC certified meant educating every subcontractor and supplier. “It takes planning to get exotic woods that are FSC certified, and that was crucial to this project,” he says. “The chain of custody had to be verified.”
The house effectively captures natural light in every room, and careful placement of electrical lighting both inside and out creates a warm feel enhanced by the sculpted ceilings and soffits. This is not a stark box. “But some of those alcoves and niche spaces hide plumbing and electrical pipes which can get clunky if not positioned carefully,” admits Petrarca. “Bobby Walters was a great client because he pushed the performance of the house in so many ways, so the mechanical systems are all highly sophisticated. This house is wired for anything the future may hold.” A geothermal HVAC system heats and cools, while a drip-irrigation system outside captures rainwater and stores it in an underground cistern.
It’s a sophisticated house, and according to the clients, well worth the hurdles—most of which came before the less-than-a-year construction process took place. “It took four years to design and find a site,” says Bobby Walters, “but what we ended up with is completely satisfying. Not a day goes by that I don’t notice something new.” Kristi agrees, and says she’s even getting used to the cars that pull up in the driveway regularly to gawk. “I don’t blame them,” she says, “it’s a really fun house.”