Living With Nature

BY Melissa Sutton-Seng

Down a small gravel drive nestled in a tranquil neighborhood off Masonboro Sound Road is a 1/3-acre lot that makes up Jay DeChesere and Heather Smith’s corner of paradise. It’s a home built for community nature and art.

The dock stretching out into Whiskey Creek undulates gently its new curve a result of Hurricane Florence reshaping the creek bed. Two kayaks sit at the ready at the end of the dock inviting the homeowners and visitors to venture out into the waterway. Looking back toward the shore DeChesere points out the stand of trees where dozens of white egrets descend to roost every evening.

There’s a great view of the egrets and the waterway from the screened-in porch as well. Screened on three sides to ensure a good breeze flows through the porch is an extension of the home’s living space a comfortable spot from which to watch a storm roll in or share an evening with friends.

One of the most unique features of the home is its guest suite. Situated above the carport the suite has its own entrance up wooden stairs from the ground level and a second entrance from the balcony between the suite and the studio loft. It’s a cozy spot for visiting friends and family but Smith and DeChesere also hope to host visiting artists as well painters or musicians who might teach classes or facilitate workshops.

A common challenge with waterfront homes says Jay is that because people do all their living on the water-facing side of the home and entrances are on the opposite side you often don’t know when someone’s come to the door. DeChesere solved this problem by making a 7-foot-wide hallway from the glass double doors all the way to the open living space. Heather and Jay can both see and hear when their guests have arrived and guests can see the couple’s Labradoodle Sable coming to greet them.

Down both sides of the entry hallway hang paintings and pastels done by DeChesere an architect turned artist. Though Smith and DeChesere love to travel they don’t bring home lots of souvenirs. Instead they bring home photos many of which turn into inspiration for DeChesere’s art. Instead of shelves filled with international knick-knacks the couple has walls lined with paintings and pastels of their favorite places and memories. Guests might see a fishing village in Thailand next to a Parisian cityscape next to a portrait of Kenyan children.

Heather’s style is more traditional and farmhouse while Jay prefers more modern and industrial spaces. Creating an artful compromise DeChesere designed a modern industrial farmhouse. The walls in the wide entry hallway and in much of the lower floor are finished with nickel-spaced shiplap adding texture and softening the look of the exposed steel beams supporting the roof of the house. The second floor loft curves over the main living space graced with a custom-crafted wooden rail that follows the curve and ads warmth to balance the coolness of dark steel-gray in the beams overhead. The open loft studio and high ceilings allow sound to travel but in a way that the couple appreciates allowing the laughter of friends to float through the home. Leslie Stachowicz of Peridot Interiors is a close friend of the couple and consulted on many of the interior design decisions.

At the opposite end of the entry hall the open-concept kitchen dining and living area are designed for easy entertaining. The kitchen cabinets by Jeff Fuchs of FFT Cabinetry are complemented by the custom concrete countertops by Alex Blythe of Beton Boutique who ingrained sand and bits of oyster shells into the counters for a pearlescent coastal touch. Honey-colored hardwood floors bring warmth to the space as does the sunlight streaming through large windows on all sides. What appears to be a chimney from the outside of the home is actually a light shaft which allows sunlight to reflect off the metal fish sculpture by Michael VanHaute hanging above the “mantel.” The dining table was made as a housewarming gift by Jim Morrison a friend of the couple.

Just inside the front entrance is a small guestroom furnished with a few treasured pieces from both Jay’s and Heather’s families. Furnishings like the trunk brought over when Jay’s Italian grandparents immigrated and a bed belonging to Heather’s grandmother bring a sense of history to the modern space.

From the carport a door that serves as the couple’s main entry opens to a mudroom/laundry room. Heather wanted a space to capture all the things that are needed only outside the home: water shoes and beach towels and tennis rackets and the like. Floor-to-ceiling cabinets line the walls adding storage space and aiding the goal of keeping the living space uncluttered. A center island provides space to fold laundry or set down groceries.

Directly through the mudroom is the master suite its bath equipped with his and hers vanities a generous tile shower and a small closet for each homeowner. The master bedroom is simple and spacious. Dusty blue-grays create a sense of calm and let the eye be drawn outward once more through glass doors and across the side porch to the dock and water beyond.

Upstairs is Jay’s artist loft and work space. A long desk provides space for his architectural work and a small conference table allows for meetings with clients or for art workshops. FFT created custom cabinetry and workspace for Jay’s painting and pastel work. A skylight in the center of the space provides natural light. To one side a large open area is perfect for guest artists to set up easels of their own. One wall is filled with works in progress bringing the flood of color and energy so characteristic of a working artist’s space.

DeChesere has spent the last 15 years of his architectural career focused on sustainable (aka “green”) building so it was only natural that when he and Smith built their new home the two would incorporate a host of environmentally conscious features.

Even the deconstruction of the house that previously stood on the lot was done with sustainability in mind. The couple salvaged all the lumber to be used in another project. The old cabinets and fixtures were saved and incorporated into the guest suite to avoid waste. What couldn’t be used was donated to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore which sells salvaged construction and home materials to support Habitat’s mission of assisting families in need of housing.

A tour of the house is an education in eco-friendly home building. That is if you’re interested and inquisitive. Because aside from solar panels on the roof there’s nothing the average observer might recognize as especially “green.” The modern industrial farmhouse is a merging of styles with sustainability built into the design materials and uses of the space.

The white trim on the home’s exterior reflects a classic coastal look but the material is revolutionary. Rather than wooden planks or vinyl lookalikes the slender “boards” on the exterior are Boral Polyash a composite material with a near-infinite lifespan. Not only is it made from 70% recycled materials polyash is touted as resistant to water bugs and warping making it ideal for Southeastern North Carolina’s climate. The beige shingles that make up the rest of the exterior are a durable fully recyclable plastic.

One of the most important elements of energy efficiency is one you never see. Foam insulation provides maximum energy efficiency keeping conditioned air in the house and decreasing the demand on the mini-split AC units installed throughout the house. There is no central HVAC in the home. DeChesere and Smith opted instead for strategically placed mini-split units which allow them to heat or cool just the section of the home they need at any given time.

Flores & Foley Roofing installed the light gray aluminum roof on the home. Metal roofs have a longer lifespan than conventional shingles and can be recycled when the time comes to replace them. Solar panels on the roof capture enough energy to heat all the water for the house via an evacuated tube system. The system works much more efficiently than a flat solar panel and retains heat even on cloudy days. Smith and DeChesere have never run out of hot water or had to supplement with electricity even when guests are adding to the demand.

The home is designed to collect and store rainwater used for irrigation. Collected water is stored in a 9 500-gallon cistern under the porch until it’s needed for the native flowers and shrubs planted around the house. Should the cistern reach capacity overflow spouts are directed to planters that fill the front wall below the porch ensuring no water goes to waste. Employing runoff in this way not only conserves water and reduces utility costs it allows water to filter naturally through the soil and down into the aquifer.

Native plant species were carefully chosen for their ability to thrive in the area and also to prevent proliferation of potentially harmful invasive species. On the side porch trellises boast just a few delicate tendrils of Carolina jasmine now but will offer shade to both the porch and adjacent dining room once the vines have grown in.

Inside and out every square foot of Heather Smith and Jay DeChesere’s home has been carefully planned and constructed to create a peaceful and inviting space that is a living canvas for the art and conservation work they’re so passionate about.