by Rick Reynolds
When Igal Toledano, a professional interior designer, mentioned building a modern coastal home he and his wife planned on retiring to, an associate of his (and past Bensonwood client) recommended he give us a call. Armed with a sketch, Mr. Toledano met with Bensonwood architect, Bill Holtz. Together, they refined the design and modified it for Bensonwood’s method of Montage building, where the panelized and timberframe elements would be precision-fabricated off site in New Hampshire, packed flat on trucks, and rapidly assembled on site using a crane.
Beginning with the inside and working out, the interior layout of the 3-bedroom, single-story home indicated an open space plan flanked by bedroom spaces on either side of the house. With the master suite on one end and two guest rooms on the other (one for a grown daughter when visiting), both private and gathering areas could be optimized. Tying together the two bedroom wings, a large window wall would bathe the common areas of the home natural light. The cellar level encompasses a rec room, mechanical room, and storage areas.
Moving outside, the East Hampton NY home site, well out to sea on the South Fork of Long Island, presented the usual engineering challenges faced by exposed coastal towns. Though well above sea level, and not prone to flooding, the home needed to be robust enough to withstand 120-mph wind loads while maintaining its crisp, mid-century, contemporary design aesthetic and airy, light-filled spaces. Many robust shear walls would be required to ensure the glass and wood home could withstand the hurricane force winds that periodically pummel Long Island’s eastern shore.
According to Bensonwood structural engineer, Chris Carbone, “Once the shear wall strategies were addressed, we needed to hold the home down so it wouldn’t blow away like a tent in a storm. Coordinating all the anchors in our prefab panels with the pre-cast foundation system was a quite a job by our internal Virtual Fabrication team! Additionally, they, along with our Building Systems specialists, developed a new detail to allow for slight field adjustability of hold down locations — as we know the concrete is never perfect.”
In approaching their retirement years, the Toledano’s were especially interested in obtaining an energy-sipping, high-performance building shell that they could build-out themselves; a cost-saving option, initially, that would keep paying dividends year-after-year through drastically lower heating and cooling costs.
Utilizing a 4 foot grid, 2 feet on center, scaled the building so that standard size building materials could be used, helping to contain cost. For maximum light, the house has eastern and northern facing curtain walls with 8 foot windows; an evolution of Bensonwood’s Nordic Lam wall system.
According to Bensonwood Building Systems head, Jay Lepple, “The window wall itself needed to have significantly tight tolerances to allow the window to fit inside it. Working under controlled shop conditions, we were able to insert the massive windows into these Nordic window wall assemblies. Additionally, it was essential that each panelized window assembly line up horizontally and vertically to its consecutive mate on site. The 3.5″ fin/mull between each window had multiple purposes: It had to be aesthetically pleasing plus meet all of the structural considerations for wind, point loading, panel-to-panel fastening, and serve as the key element for holding the building down. Panelizing these systems off site and having them installed by our crew led to great precision which will directly translate into performance.”
Now, with the home shell completed, Bill Holtz had this story to relate about the design collaboration, including the homeowner’s and neighbor’s comments : “Igal called to tell me he was walking around his house and marveling at the way that the trees, sky and great sunlight of this part of Long Island reflected in the large windows. He remarked: ‘Bill, we both may have designed the house, but nature has completed it. From the exterior this could have been just a big, plain box. But instead it is a collection of gallery walls with windows that reflect and exhibit beautifully framed and changing vignettes of nature throughout the day.’
Igal also mentioned that one of his soon to be neighbors, an 84-year-old architect from just down the road, stopped by the site to say hello. After mentioning that he knew Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson and others of the ‘International Style,’ this architect neighbor also remarked, ‘I am a humble old architect, but I think THIS is a beautiful building’.”
Low maintenance, wide fiber cement boards on the home’s exterior will offer excellent protection against the elements and Bensonwood’s standard R-35 OB PlusWalls™ and airtight gasketing throughout will provide superior thermal and sealing properties. A shallow-pitched, membrane (rubber) roof rounds out the weatherization complement.
Michael Kochanacz prepared the site, built the foundation, and prepped it for our installation. John Barrows, of Performance Path Solutions, is the onsite builder and construction manager.