Yankee Ingenuity: A New England Home

An alternative-energy home in Maine showcases a New Englander’s sense of beauty and self-reliance.


| September/October 2008



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Tony and Sally Grassi’s house blends New England tradition with cutting-edge green technology. Run entirely by renewable energy, it fits beautifully into Maine’s coastal ecosystem.

Photography By Brian Vanden Brink

Clad in unpretentious wood-shingle siding, Sally and Tony Grassi’s coastal Maine home looks every bit the stoic New England farmhouse. Yet beneath its traditional exterior is cutting-edge environmental innovation: A blend of geothermal and solar power generates the energy the couple uses, plus the home employs a host of environmentally sensitive building techniques.

Tony and Sally’s goal was to create a nontoxic, eco-friendly home that reflects their environmental ideals. They declared independence from nonrenewable energy and banned PVC, a planet-polluting plastic, from their house. They also insisted on sustainably forested, formaldehyde-free wood for both framing and finishes.

Set back from the ocean on an 18-acre parcel of field and forest, the house and accompanying buildings occupy the site of a house removed by a former landowner. “We didn’t want to make a new scar on the land,” Tony says. The couple built a cluster of buildings around a central courtyard: the main house (with kitchen, living room, dining room, office, master bedroom and guest room), a guest house (with three more bedrooms) and a workshop/garden house. A pony barn, which houses the complex’s solar panels, is farther away in an open field. No trees were cut to make room for the new buildings.

“We wanted to keep the house small but have enough room for our extended family for holidays,” Sally says. Locating most of the guest rooms in a separate building allows them to turn off the power there until company comes.

Learning and leading

The Grassis worked closely with architects Dwayne Flynn  and Matthew Elliott of Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture and builder Jay Fischer of Cold Mountain Builders. “Lessons from the Grassi house continue to influence our firm’s decisions on new projects,” Flynn says. “Tony and Sally were intensely involved in choosing materials. They wanted to know how everything was made, how durable it was and whether it was reusable or recyclable in the distant future.”





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