A soaring, rusting metal silo attached to a barn is hardly the aesthetic that most homeowners would go for. But the structure in the sprawling countryside of Delaplane, Va., is quirky enough to suit Mark Turner.
Turner, a developer, built “One Nest” as a second home for his family. But it also has become his experiment — a prototype for new ways of thinking about living space, the environment and construction. The home was built in about 100 days, in an era in which a kitchen renovation can take just as long. Construction costs totaled about $150,000, which in some neighborhoods will buy you a master suite addition.
His aim was to see whether he could make the home cutting-edge efficient yet idiosyncratic and stylish — all on a tight budget.
“We wanted to do something inspirational from a building-science point of view and something with an artistic point of view,” says Turner, 38.
“One Nest” has 21 / 2 bathrooms and three bedrooms if you count the kids’ bunks in the loft. There is very little cement, no drywall, no foundation. And the house is a little more than 1,000 square feet — which has the project architect scratching his head.
“After walking through the house, I came back and checked the drawings twice,” says David Bagnoli, 44, principal at McGraw Bagnoli Architects. “Some of those views, especially the long diagonal vistas, make it feel larger, with the natural light coming in from all directions.”
Turner grew up in the wide-open spaces around Jackson Hole, Wyo., and he draws inspiration from the natural environment of the West, a legacy that shows up in the home’s design. “I’ve always been in love with the classic barn-and-silo relationship,” he says.
In this case, the silo is played by a three-story section of the house clad in unfinished steel left to rust into a unique patina of time. A home office, the master bathroom, the guest room and the kids’ loft are housed in the silo. The design and window placement allow the structure to take advantage of natural convection to help cool and ventilate the space.
The influence of green design is also evident in the “barn” section of the house, where Turner used an unusual twist on SIPs, or “structural insulated panels,” to build the walls. SIP panels sandwich high-performance insulation between two layers of cladding to create a more energy-efficient wall system.
Turner and Bagnoli went a step further by choosing a type of SIP with magnesium oxide on the inner side. “Magnesium oxide is used in the mortar of the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army,” Turner says. “It’s been around longer than Portland cement.” The material is fireproof, mimicking the look and feel of plaster walls and negating the use of drywall. Some of the wall sections were assembled off-site, trucked in, and reassembled as modules.
Rather than dig a basement, the design team chose a pier-style foundation. “We wanted the house to lie gently on the land,” Turner says. “We used less concrete, cut costs, and the house rests on a steel chassis that won’t rot or burn.”
The pier foundation and modular construction allow the house to be easily replicated and built anywhere without major excavation. “This kind of foundation can be assembled by local crews with very little training, and the whole system can be easily packed and shipped anywhere,” Bagnoli says.
Although the house shows what’s possible in a new vision of village-style real estate development, it’s also been totally customized by its owner. Turner used his experience working on other people’s fine dwellings to incorporate upscale appliances and fixtures, but he also included low-cost kitchen cabinetry from Ikea. Lumber used in floors and exterior siding was recycled from a smokehouse that dates to the 1860s. “The smoke from the fires are a natural preservative, protecting it from bugs,” Turner says.
Re-purposing unconventional items extends to a pair of horse troughs hidden under the utility-room floor that function as a reach-in wine cellar. The rustic features include a custom headboard in the master bedroom fashioned from recycled lumber complete with an outdoor lighting fixture re-imagined as a reading lamp. The homeowner designed and manufactured the adjustable overhead lights in the main living area.
Creature comforts are in place, taking the form of twin vanities in the master bathroom, along with a soaking tub and an oversize, doorless shower. “Every square inch is important in here,” Turner says, “so we used a trenched drain to eliminate the shower door and the threshold.”
To make the house truly one of a kind, Turner collaborated with sister Kathryn Mapes Turner, 41, an artist based in Jackson Hole, to create a house full of art. Some of the pieces already existed and were flown across the country. The rest were created on-site. “I was here for a month and did 12 new paintings for the house,” she says.
Kathryn wanted to create two large pieces for the living-room walls. “I sent my brother to the art supply store for two pieces of Masonite, and he came back with a 4-by-8-foot SIPs panel instead,” she says. With the house nearing completion, she painted a landscape directly onto the SIP panel and hung it on the wall. “It’s a really durable surface. You can paint on it, sand it back down, then paint on it again,” she says.
The home’s heating and air conditioning are handled by wall-mounted units that don’t require any ductwork. Turner divided the home into five heating and cooling zones that can be switched on or off as needed. Large windows face the south to bring in natural light, and the high R-factor provided by the SIPs ensures low energy bills. “So far, we’re paying about $42 a month,” he says.
Sustainable design seems like common sense when building a home from scratch on a blank palette, but it’s more challenging when developing an existing structure. Turner cites his early work experience with Abdo Development as an inspiration. Abdo specializes in multi-family, urban infill projects that often start with restoring a troubled, older building and reusing whatever can be salvaged.
“To a small degree, sustainable design is built into the real estate development equation, but it’s still in the early stages of being economically justified,” says Jim Abdo, 53, the firm’s president. Abdo shares Turner’s passion for maintaining links to the past and talks about pulling old bricks out of a trash can to use in the lobby of a condo building he was rehabbing. “The brick created a historic thread we needed on the inside. It’s a challenge, but it’s achievable,” he says.
Abdo’s buildings frequently feature high ceilings that create the sense of spaciousness in compact rooms, and the same effect can be felt in Mark Turner’s living area.
Adapting the building methods to a more urban surrounding is also past the design phase. “We have a similar project underway in Falls Church that will fully comply with all the local building codes,” Turner says.
Aesthetic adjustments are easily manipulated thanks to the construction methods the team is employing. “Modular construction has come a long way, and we’re not really interested in building the same house twice — the systems we use are very flexible,” he says.
The project’s role as a prototype raises questions about the future, and Turner has already sketched out drawings of “pocket communities” based on groundwork laid by the new urbanism movement.
“The idea is to create courtyard neighborhoods, where all the front porches face each other across a common area,” he says. “When neighbors can see each other and interact, you’re celebrating community and helping to reinforce the social structure.”
Although he thinks big, Turner is also realistic about what he hopes to achieve with his experimental abode in the Virginia countryside. “We know it’s only one house and it’s not going to change the world, but we would like to change the conversation.”
Scott Sowers is a freelance writer.