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Posted on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 10:17 a.m.

Gone green: The Nautilus House in Ann Arbor is eco-friendly in more ways than one

By Janet Miller

Claudette Jocelyn Stern works inside her remodeled Ann Arbor home with her dog Kona. Jim Haefner | Jim Haefner Photography

For Claudette Jocelyn Stern, a house is more than a place to live. It’s a work of art.

The “found object” artist has taken her 1953 tri-level house on Evergreen Place near Nichols Arboretum, shed its skin, lifted its roof and incorporated found and discarded items to create the Nautilus House.

With its distinguishing curved roof, two-story wall of cast-off windows and exterior of Tuscan gold and sage green, the Nautilus House is also soft on the environment: It will become only the second house in Michigan to receive the LEED green building system’s Platinum rating, said Michael Klement, principal of Architectural Resource, architect on the project. LEED is a third-party certification program.

The major renovation project, completed in late spring, started when Stern went looking for an on-demand water heater and a geothermal heating and cooling system. That led her to builder Doug Selby, of Meadowlark Building, and that lead her to Klement.

The house needed other work: The roof was leaking and the kitchen cabinets were peeling. But Stern didn’t want to simply improve the house. She wanted it to be environmentally friendly. And she wanted it to reflect her work as an artist.

While it’s an environmentally friendly house in traditional ways - when her budget made she chose between new kitchen cabinets and solar panels, Stern went with the solar panels - it’s also green in unconventional ways.

Stern raided trash bins, looked on the sides of roads and appealed to others, looking for lost treasures and incorporating them into the house. Found objects include concrete highway medians that have been chiseled and used as a garden wall, tile that had used for a neighbor’s project that had been discarded in the street, bamboo poles from a trash bin used as a sculpture in the backyard, a rain chain that hangs at the front of the house that was used in a corn crib and reclaimed telephone poles that support the front awning.

The remodeling project added 547 square feet to the house, bringing the house total to 3,387 square feet, but didn’t expand the house’s footprint, Klement said. The space was added when the roof was lifted and the attic converted into an open room with a tall ceiling and a loft.

One of the most striking features of the project is the east-facing wall, with a cacophony of windows that were headed back to the Pella window factory from other building projects around town.

“All builders make mistakes when ordering walls,” said Selby, the builder. “Things change or they don’t fit. We were able to reclaim these windows. And the nice part is the (positive) impact it had on the budget.”

There are small windows with frosted panels, a picture window, double hung windows and casement windows that crank open.

This wall of windows frames one side of the biosolarium, a new room that occupied the former space of the screened porch. Brick from the chimney - fireplaces are heat eaters and was removed - was used to pave the biosolarium floor. A shaft - they call it the monolith - was added between the dining room and biosolarium that captures heat as it rises and brings it back down to the living space, where the brick floor acts as thermal storage.

“The house is a collection of events that congealed into something we call a house,” Klement said.



Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 1:30 p.m.

Wow, I love the wall of windows... nice to see someone use cast-off items in such a creative way... one of my favorite forms on environmentalism... taking what is already here and recreating it into a new use. Awesome.

Paula Gardner

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 9:44 a.m.

This house has been fun to watch over time. Here are two links to previous stories from Ann Arbor Business Review's coverage of the house and the architect & builder's LEED efforts in the city: