Sustainable living is a passion for a growing segment of the people of Fairfield. Along with its sprawling mansions, the city boasts some wonderful examples of homes that sit lightly on the earth.
- June 2005
  • Small is beautiful
  • Sustainable is beautiful
  • Smart design is beautiful

At least three kinds of beautiful are rolled up in Sally Gavre’s new house in Fairfield. Vowing to design a house that was different from any she had seen, she set out to manifest the principles of her vision:

The house would be small. (An 830 sq. ft. footprint, just 907 with the attached greenhouse. Bucking the trends of sprawling McMansions and mega-houses.)

It would be sustainable. (Completely off the grid, powered by solar arrays and a windmill, with earth tubes aiding the heating and cooling, passive solar gain, insulated with foot-thick walls and 18ft. ceilings, its waste water treated by a methane digester and wetlands, rainwater reused via a catchment system. It should use a tenth of the energy of a conventional house.)

It would be based on smart design. (Belying its size, feeling spacious, avoiding the cramped and broken-up effect of many small homes, with good daylighting, windows placed to connect you with the outdoors without sacrificing privacy, multiple uses for its open spaces, and large porches reaching into the surroundings.)

What may be most interesting about this house is how it was born. Sally is a Sierra Club member, prairie restorer, and sustainability advocate — with a long-standing interest in design but no prior experience as a builder. She realized, last year, that she was "sick to death of talking about sustainability," of hearing others talk about it, and generally tired of "concepts." She felt compelled, now, "to do it, to live it." The market was missing the kind of sustainable house that she envisioned, so she decided it was her job to go out and make one.

With her husband Marshall, and a couple of partners, Sam James and builder John Loin, she pulled together the assets to build a spec home — which she hopes will be the first of many. She admits it has been a huge challenge, this first home (as building a house nearly always is), but she has succeeded admirably.

Fairfield’s Abundance Ecovillage is the site of this house, a sustainable community that, to a degree virtually unique across the country, truly walks its talk. Ecovillage is totally off the grid, providing all its own utilities, and features extensive gardens and greenhouse space to supply food for itself and the surrounding area. The community also embodies, in all its buildings, the ideals of the ancient principles of proportion and orientation known as Sthapatya-Veda. Sally capitalized on Ecovillage’s existing leading-edge infrastructure and the expertise of founder Lonnie Gamble and consultant Michael Havelka to create this sustainable home much more simply than would have been possible on almost any other site in the world.

The goal, for Sally, was not just to create a house based on sustainable principles; she wanted the sustainability to be unobtrusive, almost invisible. This house is small yet spacious; it is radical yet comfortably familiar. The materials are natural (wood floors, granite counters, travertine tiles), the finish simple yet elegant. In its encapsulation of the familiar, one can almost imagine one’s parents or even grandparents being comfortable with this "revolutionary" house.

"Most people are intimidated by what it takes to create a sustainable house," Sally says. She decided to be a pioneer. Her mission is to "eliminate the learning curve and the overwhelm" involved in stepping up to a sustainable home. By designing and building a series of such homes, she plans to make it easier than ever for people to join the revolution.

That's a lot of kinds of beautiful.