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Shades of green
Being environmentally responsible was high on MacPartland’s punch list. He prides himself on “building green without spending a lot of it.” For starters, he says he got a good price on the undesirable lot. Then, because he drew up the plans himself (and acted as general contractor), he was able to shave quite a bit off construction costs, which came in at around $150 per square foot. Granted, his situation is unique, but there are green takeaways inside and out.
Since the house was built predominantly on rock, the foundation itself (a slab on grade) was able to serve as a finished floor by simply “putting an integral stain in the concrete mix and installing radiant heat in the slab,” says MacPartland. Most of the windows, clerestories and skylights were oriented to maximize southern exposure. Wood stud walls were specified as 2-by-8 construction (wider than the standard 2-by-6) to provide a larger cavity for spray-foam insulation. Recycled engineered lumber was used for floor framing, and energy-efficient windows (with low-e glazing) were specified throughout. “I used awning windows for their ability to act as a canopy on rainy summer days,” the architect explains, “so that you can keep the windows open with screens to allow for natural ventilation.” A standing-seam metal roof offers high solar reflectivity and eliminates ice damming at the eaves during snowy Connecticut winters. Long rain chains were designed as a practical and visually pleasing alternative to the usual downspouts.
A lasting impression
MacPartland is a forward-thinking man who’d like to live here for as long as possible, so he included elements of universal design. Hidden away in the wall opposite the open stairwell is a shaft that can accommodate a residential elevator—should he and Lynn ever decide they need one. All the interior doors were outfitted with levers for ease in opening, and the architect used sound to provide orientation for the visually impaired. A reflecting pool on the ground floor fills the space with the soothing sounds of falling water, and metal stairs connect all three levels of the house. “Every step has a sound associated with it each time you take a step up or down . . . so you can count footfalls,” says MacPartland.
Inside and out
The work of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired many of MacPartland’s design decisions. He chose cypress siding cut to 8-inch-wide planks, installed it with ship-lap joints and preserved it with a vibrant redwood stain. When viewed with the standing-seam roof, they “provide the yin and yang—and keep the house in scale because it is so tall in front,” says MacPartland.
The architect describes his house as boxy, “a diagonal through a square.” Inside, surprises abound.
The front door opens to an octagonal foyer and the architect’s home office, including a conference room painted in Cherokee Red (Wright’s favorite color). The reflecting pool comes immediately into view, its two cascading fountains providing gentle background music. Traverse a custom-fabricated grate over the water and at once all the natural transitions—from public spaces below to private at top—become apparent. A few steps up there are discrete areas within the open plan for reading, resting, dining, visiting and watching TV. Ascend the stairs to the uppermost level for a peek at the master suite, which is open to the spaces below.
The decor is modern but not stark. Windows, skylights and strategically placed fixtures bathe the angled space in light. A texturally pleasing mix of materials includes floors of Brazilian cherry laid on a diagonal. Neutrals provide an ideal canvas for organic trees and houseplants. Furnishings are classic and simple—elegantly modern; notable designers include Eames and Breuer. Metal balustrades, exposed ductwork, cantilevers and ceiling fans lend an industrial feeling to the voluminous rooms.
But beyond the modernity and architectural excellence lies a sense of purpose.
MacPartland designs beautiful houses for his clients, upscale residences in the Victorian, Arts and Crafts and Shingle styles, but this house . . . this is different. By his own account a deeply religious person, he explains, “I feel very blessed to fulfill a longstanding dream of mine. I wanted that blessing to be reflected in the landscape and the architecture of my home.”
And so the reflecting pool was designed for the very heart of the home—both literally and figuratively, because “water is such an important part of scripture,” he says. Recurring octagons represent spiritual regeneration. A long church pew occupies a place of honor in his conference room. A small sculpture garden is encircled by native rock out front, while nestled into the hill out back, in the grotto he envisioned from day one, is a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and her mother, St. Ann, to whom the architect has a special devotion. “When I design for other people, I try to do what they want, so it made sense to me that this would be a very personal project,” he says. “It truly was a way for me to give praise.”