A New Jersey Neighborhood Gets a Gorgeous Passive House

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By Melissa Dalton
With a client wish list including ample natural light, high ceilings, outdoor connection, and peak energy efficiency, Mowery Marsh Architects check off all the boxes and more.

"The most challenging aspect of achieving these goals was the location of the home on a typical residential street in Madison, New Jersey," explain architects Jennifer and Brian Marsh of the Hoboken–based firm Mowery Marsh Architects. They wrapped this project in 2017. "We felt it was important to be sensitive to the context given the proximity to the neighbors." 

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The four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath Passive House presents a welcoming and streamlined front porch to the street. "Fortunately, the positioning of the house allowed us to provide more traditionally proportioned windows at the front on the north side, with larger, lean metal units that open views to the backyard," explain the architects.

The four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath Passive House presents a welcoming and streamlined front porch to the street. "Fortunately, the positioning of the house allowed us to provide more traditionally proportioned windows at the front on the north side, with larger, lean metal units that open views to the backyard," explain the architects.

For the home's style, the clients sought "something timeless that couldn't be labeled traditional or contemporary," note the architects, with open and airy interior spaces that convey warmth. 

An exterior light from Barn Light Electric illuminates the entry.

An exterior light from Barn Light Electric illuminates the entry.

"Having been from Belgium, they had a unique perspective on the design and desire for the home to be energy efficient," the architects continue. 

"We always offer the potential of a high-performing house to our clients and then discuss with them their level of commitment to that approach. Once we explained the Passive House concepts, they were fully onboard, which allowed us to design without worrying about integrating bulky HVAC systems."

An L-shaped living, dining, and kitchen area overlook the backyard via full-height, triple-paned units from European Architectural Supply. "These high-performing European windows have substantial frames that are designed to not conduct cold and are also very well-sealed," the architects add. They used Schuco AWS75 Aluminium for the large first-floor units and Schuco SI82 uPVC for the smaller second-floor units. The striking drapery is from The Shade Store.

An L-shaped living, dining, and kitchen area overlook the backyard via full-height, triple-paned units from European Architectural Supply. "These high-performing European windows have substantial frames that are designed to not conduct cold and are also very well-sealed," the architects add. They used Schuco AWS75 Aluminium for the large first-floor units and Schuco SI82 uPVC for the smaller second-floor units. The striking drapery is from The Shade Store.

According to the firm, there are two common misconceptions in the U.S. about Passive Houses, regarding their design and style. "Firstly, when you say Passive House, often people assume you are talking about passive solar strategies, but that's only one component," they add. "But when it's passive with a capital P & H, the house becomes a 'thermos' that retains cold in the summer and warmth in the winter, while having continuous fresh air." 

A two-story window floods the inside with light. The planters are from West Elm.

A two-story window floods the inside with light. The planters are from West Elm.

Key components of a Passive House (in addition to its siting) include continuous insulation without thermal bridging, high-performance windows and doors, a well-sealed envelope, and efficient ventilation. 

"The big misconception is that a house has to look a certain way to achieve these goals. That is not true," the architects note. "Most of the houses we design employ Passive House standards, and they can range from townhouses to Victorians to vernacular barns."   

In the kitchen, White Oak floors, inset walnut cabinets, Fireclay subway tile, and Caesartone countertops read more classic vibes, while the furnishings—such as the Reno Table from Structube, Channel Chairs by Industry West, and ADAM Stools by Frama Denmark—are modern counterpoints. Appliances include a Thermador 36" Freedom Induction Cooktop and an inconspicuous Thermador 36" Downdraft Ventilation, as well as a Miele Dishwasher, convection oven, and speed oven.

In the kitchen, White Oak floors, inset walnut cabinets, Fireclay subway tile, and Caesartone countertops read more classic vibes, while the furnishings—such as the Reno Table from Structube, Channel Chairs by Industry West, and ADAM Stools by Frama Denmark—are modern counterpoints. Appliances include a Thermador 36" Freedom Induction Cooktop and an inconspicuous Thermador 36" Downdraft Ventilation, as well as a Miele Dishwasher, convection oven, and speed oven.

A modern desk was incorporated into the built-in walnut unit that separates the kitchen from the dining room, and has been accented with a Hans J. Wegner Wishbone Chair. The refrigerator and freezer columns are Thermador and the wall sconces are by Cedar & Moss.

A modern desk was incorporated into the built-in walnut unit that separates the kitchen from the dining room, and has been accented with a Hans J. Wegner Wishbone Chair. The refrigerator and freezer columns are Thermador and the wall sconces are by Cedar & Moss.

In the dining room, a table custom-made in Denmark by KBH is surrounded by Wishbone Chairs. The oversized pendants are from Luminaire Authentik.

In the dining room, a table custom-made in Denmark by KBH is surrounded by Wishbone Chairs. The oversized pendants are from Luminaire Authentik.

Walnut storage, both open and closed, frames a black-painted wall with a fireplace at its center. The wall treatment can also hide a future television. "A dark wall is a great way to keep a large screen from feeling like a big black hole on the wall," notes the firm.

Walnut storage, both open and closed, frames a black-painted wall with a fireplace at its center. The wall treatment can also hide a future television. "A dark wall is a great way to keep a large screen from feeling like a big black hole on the wall," notes the firm.

"The composition needed to create a compelling focal point, relate to the scale of the room, and keep the clean uncluttered lines of the rest of the architecture," the architects explain. "We liked the idea of the fireplace being centered in a traditional way, yet having the other elements push and pull so it doesn't feel like a static arrangement." 

In the master bathroom, the Clé Tile floor, custom walnut vanity, and marble counter fashion a luxe retreat. Lighting is from a mix of manufacturers, including One Forty Three, Rejuvenation, Cedar & Moss, and Atelier de Troupe. The faucet is from Watermark.

In the master bathroom, the Clé Tile floor, custom walnut vanity, and marble counter fashion a luxe retreat. Lighting is from a mix of manufacturers, including One Forty Three, Rejuvenation, Cedar & Moss, and Atelier de Troupe. The faucet is from Watermark.

The view into the bedroom shows closet. Cabinetry has been integrated on both sides, and the walls have been painted with Benjamin Moore Flint.

The view into the bedroom shows closet. Cabinetry has been integrated on both sides, and the walls have been painted with Benjamin Moore Flint.

The headboard is also painted in Benjamin Moore Flint and sports a bedside niche, which is adorned with a walnut shelf and sconce from Rejuvenation. The delightful drapery on the windows is from The Shade Store.

The headboard is also painted in Benjamin Moore Flint and sports a bedside niche, which is adorned with a walnut shelf and sconce from Rejuvenation. The delightful drapery on the windows is from The Shade Store.

The white subway tile on the tub surround and cream penny rounds on the floor (both from Nemo Tile) create textural contrast in the same color palette. The stool is from Serena & Lily.

The white subway tile on the tub surround and cream penny rounds on the floor (both from Nemo Tile) create textural contrast in the same color palette. The stool is from Serena & Lily.

A limestone terrace beckons off the main living areas. The white outdoor chairs are from IKEA.

A limestone terrace beckons off the main living areas. The white outdoor chairs are from IKEA.

Resysta decking surrounds the pool. A second charcoal-colored structure houses equipment, storage, a kitchenette, as well as a covered seating area. 

Resysta decking surrounds the pool. A second charcoal-colored structure houses equipment, storage, a kitchenette, as well as a covered seating area. 

The second seating area features furniture from All Modern.

The second seating area features furniture from All Modern.

Why build a Passive House? "The obvious answer is low heating and cooling bills, but we find people most appreciate the other benefits, like consistent thermal comfort, sound proofing, and air quality," say the architects. 

Why build a Passive House? "The obvious answer is low heating and cooling bills, but we find people most appreciate the other benefits, like consistent thermal comfort, sound proofing, and air quality," say the architects. 

Project Credits:

Architect: Mowery Marsh Architects  / @mowerymarsharchitects

Builder: Mike Passafiume of Home Improvements Plus LLC

Passive House Subcontractor: Endres Home Builders, Inc

Structural Engineer: Proper & O'Leary Engineering

Building Science: Levy Partnership

Pool Install: Rusk Pools 

Cabinetry Install: Charles Cimmino Woodworking

Photography: Haris Kenjar / @haris.kenjar