When the young Fleischauer family met with Chapel Hill architect Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA, to discuss the new house they wanted her to design, they told her they wanted something “very, very simple…reminiscent of the vernacular tobacco barns and farm cottages of old North Carolina” that would complement their commitment to healthy living. They also wanted their new home to be very environmentally responsible and “soft modern” with an open floorplan.
Schechter didn’t blink. She knew just what to do.
She knew a shiny metal roof was called for -- a roof that would reflect the sky. bring the eye up, and repel heat in the summer.
She knew a wrap-around porch -- one of her favorite elements of vernacular architecture -- would be perfect on the family’s wooded site just outside Chapel Hill in a clearing surrounded by lofty deciduous trees. Screened at the west-facing main entrance then wrapped around, unscreened, on the south, the porch would give the family several options for enjoying the natural environment around them at different times of the year. It would also help shade those elevations from the high, harsh summer sun yet allow the low winter sun to enter the house and warm the interior.
She knew the open “great room” blending kitchen, dining, and living spaces, should have a high ceiling to create the feeling of lightness and airiness that the family wanted, and a polished concrete floor to minimize maintenance and absorb the warmth of the winter sunshine.
She also knew carefully arranged and sized windows would capture prevailing breezes in spring, summer, and fall for natural ventilation and allow natural light to fill the house so fully that electric lights would rarely be needed except at night.
Arielle Schechter knew just what to do for this family. She would design a modern, passive, Net Zero farmhouse. It would embody the simplicity, personality, and warmth of the old farmhouses they’d admired while producing as much renewable energy as it uses – hence zero net energy consumption.
So behind its relaxed, down-to-earth charm, this seemingly simple farmhouse, with its wrap-around porch and sun-filled interior, was built to PHIUS standards. PHIUS is one of the strictest sustainable building standards in the world. As a result, all the house needed to produce its own energy and achieve Net Zero was a small solar array.
Programmatically, the house includes the open living/dining/kitchen area, two bedrooms, and full bath on the main level. The loft level, overlooking the living space below, features a home office, study/guest bedroom, and another full bath.
Soon after the family moved in, one of the owners emailed the architect: "We are in the house and it’s wonderful. It’s so beautiful. I am amazed at how clean the air feels."
The family’s favorite space, he said, is the great room. “It’s so open, clean, and has views of the woods. It's almost like living in a ski chalet."
The client wanted something “very, very simple…reminiscent of the vernacular tobacco barns and farmhouses of old North Carolina.”
A circular gravel driveway leads to this modern, passive, Net Zero farmhouse that embodies the simplicity, personality, and warmth of old farmhouses with the 21st century ability to produce as much energy as it consumes.
The wrap-around porch is perfect for wooded site in a clearing surrounded by deciduous trees. The front portion of the porch overlooks gardens and play space.
Like old farmhouses, the porch is meant for relaxing and enjoying nature. It also helps shade the interior from the high summer sun.
Wire fencing is a simple, honest solution for the porch railings.
Screening on the side porch, facing the driveway, keeps insects at bay during the Southern summer.
Immediately inside the front door, the home’s modern underpinning Is revealed by the open floor plan. The kitchen (left), dining area (center) and living space (right) become one “great room,” united not only by fluid space but also by the polished concrete floor.
Distressed metal stools and a large wooden dining table with bench seats on the sides are perfectly at home within this modern farmhouse’s simple, clean lines devoid of superfluous moldings and fussy woodwork.
A small fireplace is tucked into built-in bookcases. The owners’ collection of prints and photographs wrap around the two windows.
The open kitchen is a study in simplicity. White subway tile defines the vertical space beneath the high, vaulted ceiling and edges of a large window over the sink. In a modern farmhouse, minimal wood cabinetry, countertops, and open shelving are the antithesis of country kitsch.
A view from the living space over to the kitchen.
The custom cupboard at the end of the kitchen is thoroughly modern yet it recalls the rustic cupboards of pre-1920s farmhouses before built-in cabinets existed. A thoughtful detail: The lower cabinets and island also have “feet” like old freestanding cupboards.
Except for the layered-paper pendant over the dining table, light fixtures throughout the farmhouse strike an industrial note.
An open staircase at the center of the house rises to a multi-purpose loft. Along with a storage room tucked under the stairs, the owners use the wall there to display a collection of mirrors.
The tall ceiling helps make the house feel airy and spacious despite its modest size.
Behind its relaxed, farmhouse charm, this seemingly simple house was built to PHIUS standards, one of the strictest sustainable building standards in the world.
Beyond the staircase, a “hidden” hallway leads the bedrooms and bath.
Wire fencing first seen on the porch reappears at the staircase and loft above.
The loft provides a guest room, bath, and home office.
The view from the loft.