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Right. At Home.

Forget the gym. Drop the smoothie. Perhaps the most potent element in the health and wellness formula is a true understanding of your place in the Big Picture.

By James Scolari

Inside and out, the home is an exemplar of how to live well in the modern world. Photos by James Scolari.

 

f one came upon the home of Jakob Bogenberger and Susan Swift by accident —an unlikely scenario, tucked away as it is on forty acres in the hills of Ojai—a passerby would quickly recognize there’s a different ethic at play here. That the home is “green” is readily apparent; the colorblind could see that. But the property as a whole suggests more: it hints at a higher level of sustainability, something beyond solar panels and native plants.

The striking utilitarian design is the result of a partnership between the homeowners and Ventura architect David Ferrin, who proved well matched to realize an ambitious agenda. The couple intended not only that their home be constructed with cutting-edge materials, facilitating goals in environmentalism, safety, and durability, but also from Bogenberger’s own forward-thinking design. In Ferrin’s firm, Arketype Architects, Inc., they discovered first a partnership and then a friend, an unusual development in what is typically an arduous process through which many relationships (working, friendly, or both) don’t survive. Bogenberger laughs at the improbability of his friendship with his architect, noting with wry humor that, “Most people who go through construction together get a divorce.” Ferrin echoes the sentiment: “For most people, construction is like torture. But Jakob is a scientist—for him life is about learning. So it was a joy to work with him.”

Architect David Ferrin and Jakob Bogenberger developed a friendship as they built one of the county’s most sensible homes.

Friendship came in handy for the ambitious project, when the design’s thorough sensibility ran afoul of civil codes that often seemed to confound “best practice” ethics. Originally intended as two abodes—a day house for living and working; a night house for sleeping, dressing, and bathing—the structures are connected by a glassed-in vestibule, an efficient response to construction codes requiring that they be contiguous.

Such utilitarian separation of space was only the beginning of the home’s departure from mainstream thought in residential development. Unlike many projects, where so-called green design serves little more function than a marketing tag, this home is green to its veritable roots. The roof, which is curved both to echo the natural form of the surrounding hillside and to buffer sound in the spacious great room of the day house, is covered in amorphous silicone photovoltaic cells—a system that helped bring the home’s electrical bill for all of 2008 down to an astounding thirty dollars.

The kitchen makes use of modern technology.

The walls are comprised of Durisol ICF (insulated concrete form), a cement-bonded wood fiber that is both fire and termite-proof, and finished in permeable lime plaster that allows the home to truly breathe, whereas traditional construction seals in air and moisture, often to dreadful effect. “We lose a liter of water in our sleep every night,” Bogenberger explains, pointing out that the moisture typically has nowhere to go but into the walls, where it stays, often triggering common allergies.

The floor is fossil-encrusted Bavarian limestone, a surface that is both aesthetic and serves as an evaporative cooler in the summer, needing only a dash of water to help bring down the interior temperature. Bogenberger laid the tile himself, an experience he likened to the reading of a book, as each tile yielded a new “page” of biological surprises in the fossilized remnants of the ancient seabed from which it derived.

A veritable museum of fossils, the limestone floor tells a story millions of years long.

While the property seems casually landscaped at best, in fact it is undergoing a painstaking process to return the surrounding land to its natural state. Bogenberger focuses on plants that are at once native to the region, generally water and fire smart, and either visually pleasing or edible. Often both—as in the case of the exotic arugula lettuce in the backyard. Ferrin credits the surroundings to Bogenberger’s hard work and love for biology: “There is a year-round remarkability to the landscape,” he says. “Jakob’s property is like a botanical garden.”

In a market where green building is too often dismissed as a luxury, and where durability is typically neither reckoned nor expected beyond the thirty-year span of a home’s financing, this is one green home whose lessons will continue to resound for decades; long enough, one would hope, to see its good sense example become less the cutting edge than simply the state of the art. In this case, the very fine art of sensible and sustainable living.

06-01-2009

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