The One Nest Project in Fauquier County could be the beginning of a revolution in green home design, transforming cold and sterile to stylish and inviting.
1 of 11
South-facing elevation of the home, showing chassis construction.
2 of 11
Sleeping loft for kids.
3 of 11
Space-efficient two-story spiral staircase.
4 of 11
The main room is a connected living and dining space.
5 of 11
Mark Turner, during the home’s construction.
6 of 11
Wilson holding a wren’s nest.
7 of 11
Half-bath in the corner of the third bedroom.
8 of 11
Master spa in silo tower, with pre-Civil War wood topping the drawers and an ethanol fireplace providing warmth
9 of 11
Guest bedroom at the top of the tower has barn doors.
10 of 11
The porch flanks the main room and both sides of the home.
11 of 11
Mark, Sarah, Jackie, Annie and Wilson on the porch.
Photography by Ken Wyner
Perched on a hill in the rolling mountains of delaplane, a rural community in northern Fauquier County, stands a one-of-a-kind home where a quiet revolution may be taking place.
“In the U.S., we haven’t had any radical shift in the way we’ve done things for the last 50 years. The materials have changed a little bit, but it’s still the same old stick-built homes we’ve been building for decades,” says Mark Turner, founder of GreenSpur Inc., a design-build construction company based in Falls Church. “There hasn’t been any revolution in that. And there needs to be a revolution in that.”
Turner built this 1,100 square-foot home in just 100 days and hopes that it will spur what he says is a long overdue conversation about sustainable building practices and the role sustainable design has to play in making life simpler and less stressful for families.
“Homes often own us,” says Turner. “A home should be a retreat, not a job.” For Turner, a sustainable home should not just use energy and resources efficiently; it should also reduce the cost and labor of construction and ongoing maintenance that can sap a family’s time and finances. And it should be built to last—able to withstand fire, mold, decay and natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and earthquakes.
Turner’s home—what he calls the One Nest Project—accomplishes all this and more. Its compact footprint meant that the foundation required minimal excavation, concrete, heavy equipment and disturbance to its pristine, wooded setting. The home does not include any wood framing, drywall or even ductwork making it more durable and energy efficient, yet faster and simpler to construct and easier to maintain. And Turner’s electricity bill so far, including heating and cooling, is about $40 per month, without using expensive solar or geothermal installations.
But the way the home feels and brings people together is just as important to Turner as the way it performs: “We didn’t want to build a super- modern structure that people couldn’t relate to because, in our opinion, that’s where green sometimes goes wrong.”
Befitting its countryside setting, the home’s design echoes a red barn and a rusty silo, and evokes the feeling a well-built nest should: cozy and warm with a bird’s-eye view of the landscape.
A gravel driveway curves up and around the hill, dotted with butterflies flitting from Queen Anne’s lace to black-eyed Susan. Young river birch trees, bark curling from white trunks, accent the driveway and house. Although the home’s lines are clean and modern, its textures are warm and rustic; wood salvaged from a post-Civil War smokehouse and stone collected from the land lend an aura of authenticity. A shed next to the house shelters a bright red 1953 Farmall H tractor (a 70th birthday gift to Turner’s father) and a deck with the look of rough-hewn slate surrounds the house, creating an inviting place to rest and enjoy the views of Cobbler Mountain. “At night, it looks like New York City out here; the whole mountain lights up with fireflies,” says Turner.
Completely imagined and decorated by Turner’s team at GreenSpur, the home’s interior reflects the 38-year-old’s Western heritage—he grew up in Grand Teton National Park on his family’s fifth-generation dude ranch, the Triangle X Ranch (the only ranch within the U.S. National Park System). In the open living-and-dining room, which feels far larger than the home’s modest footprint should allow, 15-foot corner windows flanking the chimney face ever-changing mountain views, which are complemented by moody, large-scale landscapes painted on-site by Turner’s sister, Kathryn Mapes Turner. (An acclaimed artist, she still lives in Jackson Hole, where she co-owns Trio Fine Art Gallery.)
The skull and antlers of an elk from Triangle X Ranch accent the chimney, and three spherical cage lights suspended from hemp ropes add rustic drama to the soaring cathedral ceiling. A “master nest” loft commands a view of the room, taking full advantage of the light and open space from its airy roost. Other details throughout the home recall the West: Oak flooring was repurposed from an old barn, and the bathroom countertops, a desk suspended by hemp ropes and the master bedroom headboard were all built from wood reclaimed from the smokehouse, with vestiges of whitewash and smoke still visible.
Turner has masterfully blended old and new with a calming, neutral palette. The kitchen and bathrooms are thoroughly modern with sleek, white cabinets and energy-efficient appliances. The master bath “spa” in the silo of the house packs plenty of romance into 144 square feet, containing an elegant soaking tub, gas fireplace and a large, open shower with a trench drain. The silo also fits two more bedrooms plus a child-sized sleeping loft, all connected by a space-saving spiral staircase. Taking into account the living room couches that convert to beds, Turner claims the house can sleep 10 to 12 guests, making the retreat—a second home for the family whose primary residence is in Falls Church—capacious enough to share with family and friends.
Family is, indeed, a driving influence for Turner, and he considers his father, John F. Turner—whom he describes as a hardworking, lifelong environmentalist—his greatest inspiration. His father’s love of the outdoors and passion for protecting land led to his appointment in President George H.W. Bush’s administration as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and as assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs under President George W. Bush.
The presidential appointments brought the family to Falls Church. Turner attended Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington and there met his future wife, Annie. They went their separate ways for college: She attended the University of Virginia, and he graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1997 with a major in philosophy. After two years living the life of a self-described ski bum, working as a fishing guide at Triangle X Ranch and “slinging bags” at Jackson Hole Airport, Turner returned to Virginia to settle down, marry Annie and earn a master’s of business administration from Old Dominion University.
“I like the sawdust and the dirt and the roughness of construction,” says Turner. His professional career in the industry took off managing complex, historic commercial renovation projects as vice president of construction for Abdo Development in Washington, D.C., for eight years. However, he felt he was getting away from his love of building intimate spaces, so he founded GreenSpur in 2008. “The mix of good building practices, good economics, good design, but also significant sustainable strategies—that was the niche I was trying to fill with GreenSpur, that middle line of smart and sensible development,” he says.
GreenSpur established credibility in the green-building industry as the construction partner on several noteworthy homebuilding projects. One such home in McLean, designed by Cunningham|Quill Architects of Washington, D.C., earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest level of certification in the rigorous LEED for Homes program. The home also won a Project of the Year nod from the National Association of Home Builders and was recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council National Capitol Region Chapter in the 2010 Awards of Excellence LEED for Homes category. However, of all the projects on his resume, Turner says, “The One Nest Project is the one I’m most passionate about.”
Without a client, Turner had complete creative control with the One Nest Project to rethink the way homes are designed and built. Although the project has evolved in Turner’s mind over five years, he consulted colleagues with green-building experience, including Washington, D.C., firms Cunningham|Quill Architects and McGraw Bagnoli Architects. (The One Nest Project name was inspired by a nest the team saw during a design charrette held in a cabin in the West Virginia woods.) After purchasing the wooded property off Route 55 in Delaplane in February 2012, GreenSpur broke ground that November.
Instead of digging a traditional foundation, the home rests on concrete piers, reducing the amount of excavation and concrete required. (Portland cement, an essential ingredient in concrete, consumes a lot of energy in its production.) “Once you move dirt, you have to think about how the water behaves. We think that nature has that equation figured out best, so the less we touch that, the less cost,” he explains. “We also want the building to sit lightly on the earth and be respective of its surroundings.”
The team topped the concrete piers with a steel platform and framed the entire house in only five days with modular SIPs (structural insulated panels). Commonly used in Asia, SIPs sandwich a thick layer of EPS (expanded polystyrene) insulation between two thinner layers of magnesium oxide wallboard, forming the interior and exterior walls in one piece. Magnesium oxide, a naturally abundant binding material, creates a smooth, cement-like, paintable finish highly resistant to impact, fire, mold, pests and water. Turner claims the home is the first in Virginia and one of few in the country built using magnesium oxide SIPs.
The SIPs for the One Nest Project were pre-cut in a factory based on a three-dimensional digital model of the house and shipped in large sections, reducing the labor associated with putting up framing, siding, insulation and drywall in separate steps. Turner likens the house to a Styrofoam cooler coated inside and out with an impervious layer of cement. “Because the envelope is tight and well insulated, it doesn’t take much effort to heat and cool,” he says.
For heating and cooling, Turner chose wall-mounted ductless units. Popular in Asia and Europe, energy-efficient ductless systems eliminate temperature loss as air travels through ductwork to registers. Nor is it necessary to take up precious space with ductwork or a mechanical room. In addition, windows high in the stairwell passively draw air up into the silo like a chimney, so there are many days when air conditioning isn’t needed at all.
Although Turner chose low-maintenance materials for the exterior, he would not sacrifice texture or character; he thinks many people won’t embrace green architecture if it feels cold and sterile. The silo is clad with corten steel, its warm patina providing a protective coating. A standing-seam metal roof gives the home the character of an old barn, and the deck surrounding the house extends living space with concrete slabs that look convincingly like slate.
Completed last April, the One Nest Project made its debut during an open house event held over two days in May. “To get people here to have a glass of wine and see the expressions on their faces and how they interacted with the yard and the space—it was great,” Turner says with satisfaction.
That interaction is precisely what Turner believes smart, sustainable design can improve. He acknowledges that working and raising three children (Jackie, 10, Sarah, 8, and Wilson, 5) inside the Beltway can be hectic. His antidote for stress and chaos comes down to one word: simplicity. He believes that a less-is-more philosophy toward design and construction can help families spend less time and money building and maintaining a home and more time with each other.
When they come to their new vacation home, the Turners recharge with the magic that the home and its surroundings create—the children spend their days playing soccer on the lawn, climbing trees and splashing in the creek. Evenings center around sharing great food, wine and conversation with friends.
“Architecture plays a big role in encouraging moments like that,” he says. “To me, a green structure has got to be inspiring. If you live in a sustainable home, it should be a place where you’re happy, and it encourages healthy lifestyles.”
The Turners’ family retreat will also serve to showcase GreenSpur’s sustainable building practices. He plans to host more gatherings so that others can experience his brand of simple, sustainable living. Although the One Nest Project may go on the market someday, he says, “We’ve fallen in love with it, so it would be hard to let it go.” GreenSpur.net