Thoroughly Modern

A couple’s love of design and respect for the environment add up to a house to inspire generations

The Ross Street house stands out from and fits in with its neighbors. SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE HOME IN THE SLIDESHOW BELOW.

The Ross Street house stands out from and fits in with its neighbors. SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE HOME IN THE SLIDESHOW BELOW.

Drive along Ross Street on Madison’s near-west side, and you might not notice it at first. Yet amid the postwar Cape Cods and mature trees is a modern house that also happens to be one of the greenest homes in the country.

Carol Richard and Fred Berg designed the home, dubbed the Ross Street House, to blend in with its neighbors but also satisfy their love of modern design and respect for the environment.

The couple had lived in Atlanta since 1980, where Richard’s architecture practice is headquartered. But they’d always been fond of her hometown of Madison and decided to build a home there.

They bought a lot tucked on a quiet street near the Glenway Golf Course and waited a few years before beginning to plan their house.

“If I start designing, I won’t stop,” Richard says.

“I held her off for a long time,” Berg adds.

After test-driving the city during a summer-long stay in 2007, they got to work. Construction began in July 2008 and in May 2009 the
couple moved into their new 1,700-square-foot house with a finished basement.

A sleek architectural style was their starting point. “I’ve always liked modern design,” Richard says. And they found a good partner in design-savvy John Sveum of Yahara Builders.

They created an open floor plan, with maple floors on the upper two levels and polished concrete in the basement. A staircase and accent wall orient all three stories, which are also characterized by an abundance of windows. “The driving point of this house is natural light,” Richard says.

The house faces south, and a passive solar system captures sunlight in the winter and offers shade in the summer.

During the design process, Richard and Berg decided to pursue LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The process is rigorous and led the couple to use products with low or no volatile organic compounds, add photovoltaic cells to the garage roof and install a permeable driveway that carries excess water to a rain garden. They documented their choices on rossstreethouse.com.

Extremely energy-efficient, the home had the couple paying under $600 in gas and electric bills for an entire year. And it earned LEED Platinum certification in July 2009, becoming the first home of that level in Wisconsin and one of about a hundred at the time in the country. The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation also honored the house with the 2010 Future Landmark Award for Innovative New Design.

Accolades aside, the house has turned out to be an ideal space for the couple and their family. Their three grandkids love playing in the yard while the grown-ups relax on the deck, often enjoying special “Ross Street” beer Berg and Richard brew in their basement.

“We just enjoy living in it because of the quality of life,” Richard says. “It feels like home.”

Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

Find more House of the Month features here.

 

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