A Community of Eco-Friendly Cottages Pops Up in Massachusetts

A Community of Eco-Friendly Cottages Pops Up in Massachusetts

By Stephen Zacks
Modeled after New England barns and surrounding a shared garden, these sustainable homes form a forward-thinking co-housing community.

In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a trio of timber-framed houses peer out on a clearing previously occupied by an assemblage of 1940s and 1950s greenhouses that once served as nurseries for a florist. A developer and interior designer bought the lots in 2012 and hired Hillsdale, New York–based Grigori Fateyev of Art Forms Architecture to design a co-housing community of small-footprint, ecologically sustainable homes on the site.

The Green Houses by Grigori Fateyev of Art Forms Architecture are designed in a regionalist, modern vernacular modeled after modified New England barns.

The existing, preserved Victorian on the site was meant to provide shared amenities, but as contingencies pressed against plans, the collection took another form: a set of extremely energy-efficient, 2,000-square-foot homes adopting a near-passive building approach, oriented around an edible landscape on the edge of the Housatonic River. 

The riverfront site brought zoning challenges—much of the lot was inside the 200-foot limit for new construction near the water. Demolition of the midcentury greenhouses allowed a grandfathered right to build, but the design had to be extremely sensitive to the landscape. 

A Cooper Union graduate born in Saint Petersburg and a former architect at Rockwell Associates, Fateyev orchestrated a series of procedures before construction. He elevated the ground above flood levels and created a terraced catchment area for rain to filter through the soil. The city required room for fire trucks to enter and turn around, so he oriented the driveway around a large granite boulder left over from an old quarry. The rest of the yard is pricked with an edible landscape of fruit trees and plots forecasted for communal vegetable gardens.  

"The idea was a series of overlapping loops that allow you to navigate the property in different modes," Fateyev says. "It was a balance between how much it would cost to construct versus how much site we were going to occupy…but also leaving enough room that you feel like you’re surrounded by landscape."

The entry foyer is a flexible, pergola-like element between the two gables.

The dual high-gabled forms are modeled after New England barns updated for modern living, engineered to perform 50% better than the expanded energy-efficiency standard adopted by 186 towns in Massachusetts. A flat-roofed, glazed foyer forms a pergola-like element between the two gables. The peaked volumes are sheathed in stained tongue-and-groove cedar strapping that functions as a breathable rain screen. 

Twelve-inch SIP panels insulate the rooftops. Three inches of foam cushion the walls, punctured by fiberglass-clad Marvin window frames. A layer of dense cellulose wraps around the walls and structural elements to provide a continuous thermal break. Inside, the larger peak is occupied by an open-plan kitchen, living, and dining room, conceived as a food-oriented social space for the household.

The open-plan kitchen is conceived as a food-oriented social space.

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Locally sourced hemlock timbers are exposed, joints splayed, rabbeted, and locked with a peg to span the nearly 60-foot length. The load of the rooftop is distributed down to hemlock cross-beams that form a series of proscenia within the barn-like structure, substituting for a typical ridge beam at the top. An accessory loft is a bonus bedroom above the front guest room with an en-suite bathroom. 

"I looked for a way to simplify the gesture of the frame to have a more abstract quality to it," Fateyev says. "I was looking for a way to make it very simple and expressive."

Exposed hemlock beams form a series of proscenia that distribute the roof load.

In the kitchen, Fateyev collaborated with the client on custom details like naturally finished blond wood cabinets topped in white marble, fabricated from ash trees. (Ash trees suffer from a beetle infestation throughout the Berkshires/Catskills region, and are widely reclaimed by local craftsmen.) Hot water courses through the polished concrete slab floors, powered by a natural gas boiler, supplying radiant heat throughout. 

On the other side of the central foyer, a smaller gabled structure contains the master bedroom, a walk-in closet lit with a window, and a bathroom featuring a matching marble-covered ash vanity with a double-sink. A hatch in the ceiling conceals the building mechanicals, including heat-recovery ventilator, boiler, and heat pump.

The master bedrooms are within the smaller of the two gables.

The eventual construction cost totaled around $300 per square foot, not including acquisition and site work. Between the glazed pergola-like entrance and the kitchen, sliding doors reveal a deck with a hemlock trellis and a gravel-covered lounging area facing the river. 

"The integration with the exterior was very important," Fateyev says. "In the warmer months, that’s the on-and-off rhythm that the Berkshires have, where in the winter you shrink, and in the summer you expand….The idea is to immediately connect you and visitors to the space outdoors." 

Related Reading: These 3 Co-Living Companies Are Transforming Urban Living

Project Credits: 

Owner: GreenHouses Partners, LLC 

Bobby Houston Eric Shamie 

Architect: AFORMSA, Grigori Fateyev, RA/ @art_forms_architecture 

Structural Engineer: Taconic Engineering, DPC 

General Contractor: Alander Constrcution, LLC

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