A Green Home Surrounded by Wetlands Is the Perfect Refuge From the Big Apple

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By Marissa Hermanson
Located on Long Island amid 15 acres of restored tidal wetlands, this low-energy vacation home offers up panoramic views of Peconic Bay.

"It’s a house that is about looking out," says architect William Ryall at Ryall Sheridan Architects, a Manhattan-based firm that specializes in designing low-energy residences. "We started with the land and looking at the views." 

A 100-mile drive from the Big Apple, the 15-acre property in Orient, New York, serves as a vacation retreat and refuge for a Brooklyn couple.

A 100-mile drive from the Big Apple, the 15-acre property in Orient, New York, serves as a vacation retreat and refuge for a Brooklyn couple.

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The vistas and great outdoors naturally took precedent when designing the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house. "You can always get outside, wherever you are," says Ryall.

Formerly farmland, the low-lying area is comprised of marshes, and it’s susceptible to storm surges due to its location on Peconic Bay. Taking into account the site’s unique topography and natural surroundings, Ryall wanted to make sure that the house connected to the landscape.

To bring the property back to its natural glory, landscape architect Lillian Ball removed invasive plantings and replaced them with indigenous landscaping. 

To bring the property back to its natural glory, landscape architect Lillian Ball removed invasive plantings and replaced them with indigenous landscaping. 

The new natural habitat now is home to insects, butterflies, and birds. "It was a heck of a lot of work to make it look like nothing had happened there," says Ryall.

Tall indigenous wetland grasses grow fecund, right up to the border of the saltwater swimming pool. 

Tall indigenous wetland grasses grow fecund, right up to the border of the saltwater swimming pool. 

The saltwater pool provides relief on hot summer days, and a neighboring mahogany deck is the perfect perch for lolling in the sun.

The saltwater pool provides relief on hot summer days, and a neighboring mahogany deck is the perfect perch for lolling in the sun.

To avoid flooding from storm surges, Ryall constructed the main living area ten feet above sea level. The lofty elevation opens up the space to panoramic views of the bay and its surrounding wetlands. Sliding doors with industrial-grade metal screens provide the option of al fresco living, but with protection from insects.

Floor-to-ceiling glazing fills the entryway with light. 

Floor-to-ceiling glazing fills the entryway with light. 

Throughout the 3,275-square-foot home Douglas fir wood floors and panels from Denmark warm the space. The wood’s blond finish and natural grain is highlighted by an abundance of natural light pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Gray cabinets are paired with granite countertops and a white marble island from Vermont.

Gray cabinets are paired with granite countertops and a white marble island from Vermont.

The home features expansive wetland views.

The home features expansive wetland views.

The master suite is located upstairs from the main living area, with a balcony carved in an indentation off the room. A shower and sitting area makes good use of the house’s outdoor living space. 

In the living room, the design team poured concrete in place using smooth board formwork to create the seamless fireplace. 

In the living room, the design team poured concrete in place using smooth board formwork to create the seamless fireplace. 

Half a flight below the living area, two guest rooms open out onto the meadow, which Ryall slightly elevated to protect the space from floodwaters.

A cantilevered birch and plywood desk appears to effortlessly float in midair. The wood box is attached to the wall with a blackened structural steel angle. "It’s a place to make a phone call, put down keys, plug in the iPhones," says Ryall. "We liked the contrast of the structural steel and the more refined wood box, kind of the like the house, which itself is full of contrasts—rough/smooth, dark/light, open/closed."

A cantilevered birch and plywood desk appears to effortlessly float in midair. The wood box is attached to the wall with a blackened structural steel angle. "It’s a place to make a phone call, put down keys, plug in the iPhones," says Ryall. "We liked the contrast of the structural steel and the more refined wood box, kind of the like the house, which itself is full of contrasts—rough/smooth, dark/light, open/closed."

Ryall took a minimalist approach when designing the exterior. The main structure is perched on a concrete wall and foundation. Cedar boards are stained in a dark, almost black-looking gray, and underneath a high-tech membrane holds up against wind and rain, protecting the home from the elements. Industrial-grade stainless steel screens resist rust and hold up against the salty, humid atmosphere.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors open to the great outdoors, and industrial-grade metal screens keep bugs from entering and provide protection for those standing up against windows.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors open to the great outdoors, and industrial-grade metal screens keep bugs from entering and provide protection for those standing up against windows.

The home also incorporates low-energy design and materials. It's powered by a solar panels, features triple-paned windows from Germany throughout, and the walls are insulated with environmentally friendly cellulose.

Concrete walls support the living space and elevate it from storm surges. 

Concrete walls support the living space and elevate it from storm surges. 

"The fireplace extends the season," says Ryall. "The owners probably use that porch six months out of the year." The design team formed the fireplace’s concrete facade using rough wood boards to give it a rugged texture.

"The fireplace extends the season," says Ryall. "The owners probably use that porch six months out of the year." The design team formed the fireplace’s concrete facade using rough wood boards to give it a rugged texture.

"The house performs so well with its energy," says Ryall—the owner’s energy bill hovers around $20 per month. "It’s comfortable to have a well-insulated house."

Ryall deftly integrated the home into its natural setting.

Ryall deftly integrated the home into its natural setting.

Related Reading: A Long Island Summer Home Gets a Modern Addition

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: William Ryall, Ryall Sheridan Architects / @ryallsheridanarchitects

Builder: Philip Manuele, Manuele Contracting 

Structural Engineer: Ben Rosenberg, Silman / @silman.structural

Civil Engineer: Michael De Giglio, Cameron Engineering 

Landscape Design: Lillian Ball Studio

Lighting Design: Star Lighting 

Interior Design: Shaker Studio

Cabinetry Design: Robert Russell Design