House of Sand and Sea -July 2011

The trend toward building and living “green” on Nantucket is slowly taking root.

by: Terry Pommett

photography by: Terry Pommett

Wind power is becoming more acceptable and solar has been around for some time and growing in popularity. Alan Worden, co-founder of Windwalker Real Estate and CEO of Scout Capital, has created a home on Esther’s Island whose alternative concepts could well serve as a guide for future construction on the island.

There are only three homes on Esther’s Island, that west- ern spit of sand past Madaket. All look similar in construction from a distance. Appearances, however, can be deceiving, as weathered shingles and their relative size are all they have in common. Worden’s home is a state-of-the-art “off the grid” renovation, sitting on a seven- acre parcel, and built with the advantages of modern tech- nology and smart design. It’s eco-friendly inside and out, and rests unobtrusively in the landscape with the look of old Nantucket.

Once Windwalker was given the listing for the property, Worden quickly saw the potential it presented in fulfilling a dream and a personal goal.

“When you live on Nantucket, you can’t vacation there. I thought Esther’s was one of the most beautiful properties I’ve ever seen and considered it to be a place ‘away’ from Nantucket. Still, there were all kinds of permitting issues regarding setbacks, septic, Historic District Commission and Conservation Commission,” he said.

This could be daunting for most potential buyers, but Worden was up to the task. “Scout Capital, as a hospitality and investment development company, has a com- mitment to sustainability. We looked at the project and saw an opportunity to build a house that would serve as a ‘green laboratory’. This would be a way to test systems, materials and processes to see what works and in the end transfer the results to other projects,” Worden said.

Not only was the home to be eco-sensitive, but interior designer Linda Woodrum ensured the bedding, furniture and fabrics were all natural and derived from sustain- able sources. The idea of living lavishly and unconsciously in a fragile environment made no sense. Fresh water was another issue. With limited resources, there was no question of irrigation, although that was never desirable. Native plantings were the objective.

“The well water is delicious,” said Worden. “We went down 13 feet. With every foot of depth, the taste was different. At 18 feet, it’s brackish.”

Aside from showers, there aren’t many instances where the water runs freely from the faucet. Worden’s son Henry once chastised him for leaving the faucet open while shaving. Henry was brushing his teeth at the time, with the water off.

“We just get into the habit of turning off lights when not in use and things like that. It actually carries over to our living on Nantucket,” Worden said.

There are three renewable-power systems serving the home. Photovoltaic solar panels provide five kilowatts of electricity. The power is stored in batteries in the sys- tems shed. Solar-thermal takes care of the hot water and a vertical-axis wind turbine also pro- vides electricity. A back-up generator was also installed.

The original structure was three buildings nailed together, connected to the garage with a makeshift roof.

“The history of the house is a bit sketchy,” Worden said. “One of the buildings was a gas sta- tion, one was a barbershop from Madaket and they were floated or dragged over. So what we had to work with was four boxes created by the land- owner, no architect involved.”

Once Worden presented the aerial photos and “as-built” plans to his architect, Doug Wright, it took all of one hour for the core idea to come together. It was inspirational for him. “No architect would be smart enough to design a building this interesting. The rooflines are all different with two oriented north-south and two oriented east-west. It was an odd collection of roof styles, one being a hip,” Wright said.

“The advantage of having this mish-mash of buildings is that you end up with great views to all points on the compass. “The buildings are so pushed and pulled, you get maximum views.”

Six-hundred square feet of living space was added to the original 1,600 square feet. The struc- ture sits off the ground on 87 piles screwed into the ground with an I-beam frame perimeter and a plat- form on top. Raising the home enhances the views to the water over the surrounding vegetation.

In keeping with a common cottage feel, all the ceilings are open studs with ship lap on the walls used in different ways. The house has a great room combining living, dining and kitchen space, a long south-facing porch and three bedrooms – master, kids and guest – each with a private bath- room and outdoor shower.

“One goal was to have the best outdoor show- ers ever,” Worden said.

Privacy was not an issue with the house sitting just three feet above the ground. Worden was able to lower the walls of the shower enclosures to five feet, thus providing phenomenal views. It’s com- mon for guests at dinner parties to congregate in the outdoor shower with their clothes on, sipping cocktails and remarking on the view.

The great room is the centerpiece of the home, with a dramatic vaulted ceiling supported by beams imported from Maine. It gives the impres- sion of a ship’s hull, very warm and sturdy. The stone fireplace, designed by island mason John Doyle, is framed by doors leading to the large out- door deck. Worden said the deck is arguably the most important room in the house. It faces north, protected from southwest winds.

The large doors leading into the house open entirely, giving an expansive continuous flow. With the deck height the same as the interior floor, the two spaces mesh as one.

“The advantage is it feels like one room shar- ing space inside and outside. We are grilling con- stantly and use the deck almost as much as the kitchen,” Worden said.

The deck faces north to Madaket Harbor and is where Worden arrives if he travels by boat. The south side of the property is more dynamic, and has expanded since the house was built.

“Esther’s natural position is to be attached to Nantucket. The cut moves and more than four mil- lion cubic yards of sand have been deposited in the past year,” Worden said.

A tidal pond, connected to the harbor around the side of the house, has become an ideal swim- ming hole.

Worden’s dream cottage has become a vision for a home he’d like to build as a year-round res- idence on Nantucket proper.

“It doesn’t have to be on the water. But all these systems have now been tested. There’s not a lot I would change except to add some closets and a basement,” he said. O

Terry Pommett is a photojournalist based on Nantucket.

Latest issue...

To view the magazine full size, click the image above.