John Porter and Whitney Haussmann enjoy a modern shade of green living in their Norfolk home.

Among the old Victorians and bungalows that line the streets in Norfolk’s historic neighborhoods, a new breed of homes is popping up. They’re modern, unique, eco-friendly, and affordable—just what the doctor ordered in a struggling and somewhat monotonous Hampton Roads housing market.

GreenBuildIt, an up-and-coming design and building company that specializes in green homes with a modern aesthetic, is leading the trend. The small firm built its first house in 2009 on Lead Street in Norfolk, which earned the coveted Gold Standard for LEED design. (That’s eco-language for very, very energy efficient.)

The second home on the roster is where GreenBuildIt co-founder and project manager John Porter lives with his better half, Whitney Haussmann. Since moving in last January, their home in Norfolk’s Park Place neighborhood has garnered loads of attention from passersby, press and homebuyers alike. The house was designed for LEED certification and features numerous green features, including customized insulation, insulated hot water pipes, a hybrid electric water heater, and energy efficient appliances, among many other things.

Here, Hampton Roads Magazine talks with John Porter and Whitney Haussmann about their home, their personal style, and what it feels like to live in your life’s work.

Hampton Roads Magazine: What do you both enjoy most about your home?

Whitney: I think it all comes together especially on this level [first floor] with the open space. When you have people over or it’s just the two of us, we’re never separated. Now there are definitely features like the shower and the closets that I like, but this has proved to be the best feature.

John: For me, it would be between two spaces. Either the master bathroom—I’m very particular about bathrooms and just having it open with clean lines, so I enjoy that space. I also enjoy the space down here because I think we did a pretty good job in accomplishing our feeling of being connected to the outside. So when you sit in here, you really have what I consider to be a healthy feeling from a mental standpoint. It just feels like you are in contact with nature.

HRM: What went into choosing the different aspects of the interior aspects, like flooring, kitchen style, and appliances?

John: Well, a few different factors went into the decision-making process. Obviously there’s a bit more of a modern feel here. We read Dwell Magazine and a lot of those types of magazines, but each are about more modern homes that are typically very expensive, so we wanted to try to bring a lot of those different elements from floorings, cabinets and everything else into the home, but in a way that was also affordable.

Whitney: I think both of us have a modern design edict and very much appreciate a clutter-free, simple living space. Everyone always comments, “Oh, your house is so clean.” I’m like, we don’t do anything, we just don’t have a lot of unnecessary stuff.

HRM: Over a lifetime, it’s way too easy to collect stuff. How do you not have stuff?

Whitney: We’re really picky and choosey with the things and the mementos or memories we choose to keep.

HRM: So tell me about the cement floors. How do you like them for day-to-day living?

Whitney: I love them. They’re fabulous. It took a little bit of persuasion because most people have the perception that they are cold and sterile. As you can see, we don’t have any rugs, but I absolutely love them and think that more and more people that come here warm up to the floors.

HRM: Are the floors green, too?

John: Green really only as in an indoor air quality issue. Even the cleanest of carpets harbor all sorts of allergens and pollutants. So there’s a small green benefit, but it was much more aesthetic.

HRM: So what are some of the main green elements that you can see?

John: Some things you could recognize are a lot of the passive solar strategies that we used. From the window size and placement to exterior overhangs of shading devices. We do solar studies on a house when it’s in a model, where we run a summary of winter equinox. The goal is in the middle of the summer to keep as much direct sunlight out of the house, and in the winter to get as much direct sunlight into the house through the windows.

HRM: What about the landscaping?

John: The landscaping is all drought tolerant and native. This first season it’s been more high maintenance than it normally would be because, just like any kind of landscaping, while you’re just becoming established, it just requires a lot more care. But the goal is for it to be as maintenance-free as possible.

HRM: How do you like living in Park Place?

John: I like it. I enjoy some of the diverse aspects that are here. Obviously, the physical location is good for a lot of things that we enjoy doing. It also was affordable for us, so that was another huge factor—to be affordable and be in an area that we wanted to be. But as far as Park Place goes, I like it. Everyone is friendly.

Whitney: I have no qualms with living here. It’s very nice and we know our neighbors and the neighbors know us. We bike as much as we did when we lived near EVMS or when we lived in the center of Ghent. So nothing has changed, except for our physical location. We still bike right into Ghent if we need anything, we just kind of moved a couple of blocks in a different direction.

HRM: This house is much different than your neighbors’ homes. How have you been embraced by the community?

John: I anticipated that maybe half the people would ask why we would build such a thing in this neighborhood, and the other half of the people would be accepting. But I haven’t had one person say that it shouldn’t have been built here. From the architectural community, there have been a few folks who we sought feedback from who said, “Well maybe you can do this a little different or that a little different.” But the local community and neighbors have all been extremely happy, very welcoming, absolutely excited and interested to see what’s going on.

Whitney: I would say that half the people that walk by on a daily basis, if we’re out there, say hello. Prior to the open house, John was giving tours regularly to people who were just interested in the building itself and we had an awesome response when we had the open house. We were very happy to see so many people were interested in what happened and what is now here. That was nice to see, and it just reinforced the fact that it was a good thing to bring something like this.

HRM: So, how much say did Whitney have in the design aspects when you were building?

Whitney: I think I called him every day. They had the design charette in the beginning, where he and the individuals he was working with on the project brought a bunch of different brains together to say, “Hey, is what we’re doing right or do you have another idea?” I was definitely invited to participate in all those and there were some key things, as far as space and flow, where having a female point of view in the room was important.

John: It was beneficial, certainly as a person who is going to be living in and enjoying the house. It was very valuable.

HRM: Ok, more importantly, how do the dogs like it?

Whitney: They were open to the design charette as well, and they said, the more low windows, the better.

HRM: What’s it like living in your work, and now living next door to your next project?

John: It is super convenient because oversight of the project is easy, I don’t feel the need to have it disconnected as far as work. I think it’s mostly a good convenient thing at this point. As far as living in the house that was kind of a product of my professional life, I think it’s interesting. It’s certainly gratifying for me because me personally, I think Whitney and I accomplished our goals of creating a space that we really wanted. There are no disappointments. There are lessons learned, but there are not disappointments so it’s certainly a gratifying feeling.

HRM: Do you see yourself living here long term?

John: Definitely as long term as far as our minds go, which is probably for another four or five years.

Whitney: I think that’s why as much as John really did work on the design and the actual physical structure of the house, I was very concerned about what would happen inside of it. I am such a homebody and I thought, okay, this is what’s going to happen and this is the situation we’ll be in for a while, and I was very concerned with the details. So I think I definitely see us being here. We’ve very comfortable here and we are very happy.

John: I don’t see us outgrowing the space and I don’t see us wanting to move location-wise. I think probably what will drive us to move is that I will want to build another one and have more ideas.

HRM

 

HOMES   –By Jessica Carlson