Design-As-You-Go

Green Architect

Whether you choose to go green by timing your showers, buying an energy-efficient furnace, or learning to love bamboo, one thing is certain: Green is an adjustment for all of us. It requires not just a change in habits, technology, and materials, but also a change in the way we think and the way we do.

The typical home design process — whether new construction or gut renovation — is the execution of a carefully-planned vision… often via the selection and arrangement of items from a catalog. As designers and homeowners, we’ve come to expect that if we can imagine it, we can also buy it with a few clicks and have it delivered next day. And, of course, we’d never dream of picking up a sledgehammer before picking out our finishes. But maybe the greatest adjustment that we must make to “go green” is to give up just a little bit of control. To stretch out our expectations. To begin with the sledgehammer and trust that a design-as-you-go process (assisted by intuition and serendipity) can lead to a beautiful, if not carefully-planned, finish. I’ll explain:

In the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, Gennaro Brooks-Church and his crew are busily proving that green design is, naturally, a process art. Their Eco Brooklyn Show House, which is currently under construction but open to the public, will serve as an example of the best green practices in brownstone renovation. The home will feature a green roof, photovoltaic panels, a solar hot water heater, a greywater system, and a radiant floor. Yet, if you ask Gennaro exactly what the home will look like when it’s finished, he can only promise that it will be beautiful.

Beyond the featured systems, Gennaro has let his instincts and fate guide him through each design decision. His steadfast commitment to conservation (both ecological and architectural) led him to reseat and restore the original staircase for a premium. But a lucky dumpster-dive turned up free hardwood floors for the great room that easily offset that cost. The light-colored floors then inspired a matching kitchen. On and on, step by step, Gennaro and his crew are designing the house as they go… and it is gradually turning into nothing they planned but everything they dreamed.

Still, this process is not for everyone. Moving along in fits and starts, construction has been halted multiple times while the crew has wrestled over a decision or awaited the next opportune find. Gennaro estimates that the renovation will take twice as long as a typical renovation but cost half as much — coming in at about 2 years and $500,000. And while it is certain is that the house will be at least twice as “green,” it will be up to the beholder to decide if the design-as-you-go process has produced a home that’s twice (or only half) as beautiful.

You can continue to follow the process here, but check back with us at Re-Nest in a few months for coverage of the completed project!

Images: Julia Brooke Hustwit