All Together: An Off-Grid Family Home in Rural New Hampshire

An off-the-grid New Hampshire home reunites a far-flung family.


| September/October 2011



Von Mertens baby room

Anna and Chris preserved healthy indoor air quality with zero-VOC paints and nontoxic finishes.

Photo By Eric Roth

From the beginning, they had a plan. “Almost from when we met, the plan was always, we’ll move back to Peterborough when we want to start a family, and we’ll build a house with my dad,” says Anna Von Mertens.

Anna, a textile artist, and her husband, Chris Anderson, had both moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1995, shortly after graduating from separate East Coast colleges. They met in the Bay Area playing ultimate Frisbee and started dating two years later.

“Six years went by,” Anna continues. Though they both knew they wanted to return to the East Coast, they weren’t in a rush to make the move back to Anna’s hometown of Peterborough, New Hampshire. “We had a lot of friends in California, so it was hard to tear ourselves away. It wasn’t until we said, ‘OK, we really are ready for kids. We really are ready for a change,’ that we finally decided to do it.”

Once they made the decision, they went all out, creating a family home that would provide their future children a sense of place and a connection with nature. The couple wanted to complete the house before they relocated, so they traveled to New Hampshire and chose a lot with a view on 187 acres Anna’s mother owns in southern New Hampshire. Then they got started on their off-the-grid dream house.

An Inside Job 

Designing and building the home was a project that eventually involved Chris and Anna’s entire family, plus a lot of good friends. First, Chris and Anna spent two years planning their future home in collaboration with Chris’ longtime best friend, architect Peter Larsen. Next, Anna’s father, Carl Von Mertens, a high school teacher with building experience, oversaw the pouring of the foundation and preparation of the site. A family-owned Peterborough company felled and milled about two dozen pine trees on site, which were dried for a year before construction. The home is constructed using those pines, which make up the stairs, the upstairs flooring and much of the furniture, most of which Anna’s father and brother made.





elderberry, echinacea, bee hive

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