Mason-Grabell Residence - "Beech House" 

The clients for this project had recently relocated to Chapel Hill from Florida. They considered themselves “climate refugees”, as they no longer wanted to live through the yearly hurricanes they were experiencing yearly in Florida.  They selected us for our modernist style, but then decided to ramp up the design to be net zero ready in accordance with our philosophy.   Anne and Bruce love mid century style for its openness and connection to nature.  We used the timeless elements they love to create a stylish, age in place home in a natural setting.   


They found the perfect building site in a beech tree forest in Chapel Hill and the perfect green home builder in NewPhire Building who has served as general contractor for many of Schechter’s residential projects to date. 


We designed the three bedroom 2465-square-foot house to be extremely energy efficient with a small solar array on the roof which takes it easily to Net Zero status.  The biggest challenge energy-wise is that the best view from the house not only faces south but due west.  Western sun in NC is brutal in the summer months.  We used the climatic conditions as a form giver by designing sliding wood screens that are hung on the very outside of the wrap around porch on the west.  During the hotter months, these can slide easily into a closed position to block the western sun and protect the owners from excessive heat gain.  During the rest of the year, they can remain in an open position so the owners can enjoy that beautiful view of the beech forest.


Among its high-performance features are triple glazed Passive House-rated windows and doors from Eurostar Fenestration and the flat roof’s deep overhangs. The extended roof provides shade for the windows and overhead shelter for the porches and decks – the outdoor living spaces that are key elements in this and all of our residential work.


On the east (entry) elevation facing the approaching road, strong horizontal lines in the fiber cement cladding and a cypress accent wall, contribute to the house’s relaxed ease in its setting.  A ramp provides a zero threshold entry to the front door so their parents can visit without steps or encumbrance, and also for aging in place.  Other age-in-place features include a curbless master shower, wider doors and generous circulation pathways.


On the rear elevation, a generous cantilevered screened porch appears as if it’s floating above the natural landscape. A wrap-around deck provides more outdoor living space and connects the porch to an outdoor grilling area.


Inside, an entire wall of the main living space is actually two sets of massive, triple paned glass, passive house rated folding doors. While the house’s windows, strategically placed to avoid heat gain, provide visual access to the natural setting, the folding doors literally open the interior to the outdoors overlooking Beech Forest.


Since Anne is a highly skilled cook and she and Bruce love to entertain, Schechter’s open floor plan revolves around the kitchen — the heart of the house, both physically and metaphorically — with all other spaces having easy access to it. And in the kitchen, as throughout the interior, the architect custom-designed the black walnut cabinetry to express its vivid grain and rich color. In the dining area opposite the kitchen, she designed a complementary mid-century-inspired cocktail bar for a space beside the double-sided fireplace.


The Mason-Grabell residence, along with another house designed we designed, were the only two Net Zero houses included on the 2019 Spring Green Home Tour sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties in North Carolina.       

  • A small solar array on the roof to generate electricity.

  • Passive House certified triple glazed windows and folding glass doors from Awilux

  • A high R-value thermal envelope roughly doubling code requirements and sealing of all air gaps.

  • An Energy Recovery Ventilator to transfer moisture and heat from incoming and outgoing air.

  • A small solar array on the roof to generate electricity.

  • The architect’s signature sliding wood screen panels to shade the house on the west — low tech, but very effective.

The Mason-Grabell House was featured on the Fall 2019 Modapalooza Tour of modernist houses, NC's premier modernist house tour.

Arielle C. Schechter, AIA  / T 919-933-1400 / F 919-933-0102 / E © 2013 by Arielle C. Schechter

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