Innovative, with Icelandic inspiration

During a memorable trip to Iceland, Thomas Mitchell had a revelation. Inspired by the tiny nation's innovative construction and architectural proclivities, he began to think about how to replicate a home like those he saw in Iceland — sustainable, efficient, bright, comfortable and perfectly suited to its natural surroundings.

Acting as his own general contractor, he assembled a team who could bring his vision for a contemporary farmhouse to life, and set out to find the perfect spot to build it. With the help of his Realtor, Judi Caracausa, broker-owner of Market Realty, he discovered a 7.33-acre parcel in Stonington at 54 Barnes Road and laid down the stakes.

Mitchell's team of more than 30 contributors comprised Architect Mark Comeau, H.J. O'Keefe Construction, four engineering firms, five building specialists, five systems suppliers, and Cedar Ridge Landscaping. As he took us on a tour of the home in early November, Mitchell remarked about how well the team collaborated.

It's not hyperbole to say that he's thought of everything here, from big-picture visionary ideas to tiny, but important details. He designed the house to be a home that would take care of its inhabitants more than they need to take care of it. He made good on that in grand ways, like with the house's mechanicals. It has a SolarEdge system and battery backups that keep electrical costs low. Mitchell produced one electrical bill that was less than $10 for the month. Excess electricity produced by the system is sold back to the public grid.

Geothermal wells that flow down 65-feet below the ground and back up again keep the house at a comfortable ambient temperature year-round. The team also added German-engineered heat recovery ventilation (HRV) systems to manage humidity and air quality. Thermomass concrete was chosen for the exterior walls, and all of the doors and windows are insulated with energy efficiency in mind.

Mitchell also considered how the house was situated on the lot. They leveraged mounds of earth — berms — to further insulate exterior walls. The design also incorporated lots of windows to capture natural light and deliver views of the landscape, which was once fertile farmland. Mitchell recently discovered a patch of heirloom variety cherry tomatoes growing in the meadow at the back of the house; he attested to their sweetness and fragrance when they were ripe.

Inside the house, the 3,058 square feet of living space provides true open-plan living, with a great room comprising the kitchen, dining and living areas. It has a beamed, cathedral ceiling and sealed gas fireplace with a fieldstone surround and built-ins that bookend each side.

The interiors of the home really showcase the natural construction materials. Mitchell sourced Douglas Fir post and beams from a timber company in southern Vermont. Red oak was chosen for the hand-crafted staircase railing, and white oak for the hardwood floors.

The primary bedroom suite is on the first floor, and its bathroom is indulgent, with a deep claw-foot tub and a shower room, with two shower heads, side by side. Glass doors in the bedroom open out to the south-facing patio, and it has a fully outfitted walk-in closet.

Throughout the house, prospective buyers will find a great deal of storage space, with custom-outfitted closets. Though the aesthetic feels airy and grand, it has a sensibility about it that says, space should be efficiently used — like the laundry, for example. It's tucked away in a clever closet on the main level, with Whirlpool-brand washer and dryer, which require no external venting; plus, there's a laundry sink and folding area, completely hidden from view.

Another closet on the main level has a door that's raised off the floor far enough to allow the automated vacuum inside to enter and exit at will.

There are some spaces that afford some flexibility for the buyer. For example, there's a loft overlooking the great room, which could be used for a reading nook or home office. A large storage room on the second level could be a great playroom for kids. On the first floor, there's an indoor-to-outdoor space with a glass-front garage bay door. It could be any number of things: a yoga studio, a creative space, home office, or even a workshop.

There's also plenty of workshopping and storage space in the oversized attached garage.

Though it wasn't part of the original plan for the property, COVID-19 caused Mitchell to think about the outdoor living space here, as well, so he added a post-and-beam pavilion with a bluestone patio and an outdoor fireplace. Though there is no permit in place for a pool at this time, there's plenty of space to add one.

Creating this special home has been a labor of love for Mitchell, but he's ready to pass it along to someone new who will appreciate the care and consideration he put into the project. He's listed 54 Barnes Road, Stonington, for sale; Judi Caracausa is the listing agent. At press time, they had an accepted offer, but were still considering backup offers. Caracausa is also busy looking for more land for Mitchell's next project. He enjoyed the experience so much, he's founded a company based on the concept, realsmarthouse LLC.

"Realsmarthouse got its name because I was annoyed by the terms 'smart house' and 'smart home.' Those internet-enabled control systems are indeed revolutionary, but they mostly get installed in houses that are fundamentally no smarter than they were 300 years ago," Mitchell explained. "So, we decided to build a house that was smart from the ground up, working with the natural intelligence inherent in the earth, atmosphere and sun."

Property: 54 Barnes Rd., Stonington
Bedrooms: 3
Baths: 3
Square Footage: 3,058
Acreage: 7.33
Asking Price: $1.549 million
Seller's Agent: Judi Caracausa, Market Realty; Mobile: (860) 572-1155;


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