Twenty years ago, Michael Holly— principal at Holly & Smith Architects— and his wife Diane purchased a 15.5-acre site in southeast Louisiana just outside of their small university town, which sits about halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. “Originally, it was just a plain, old empty cow pasture,” he recalls. “But it became a beautiful blank canvas and a wonderful opportunity.”
Years later, that opportunity manifested in the form of an eye-catching, modern, three-story home, dubbed “The Pond House at Ten Oaks Farm,” that operates at around net-zero energy and serves as a place for Holly to mediate, entertain, or house friends and relatives. “I also go there for lunch when I’m really stressed out,” he adds, noting that a six-foot alligator currently living in the adjacent pond feels closer than any other humans given the home’s orientation to the water and the lush surrounding wildlife. Here, we spoke with him about the project’s sustainable elements and the inspiration behind the design.
gb&d: Can you walk me through exactly how the home is achieving its net-zero status?
Holly: We have a solar energy array on the roof, oriented due south, which gives us total control over how the sun responds to the building, and it’s the optimum orientation for the PV panels. We do have a geo-thermal heat pump system in the house, which gives us a very high rating on operational costs. I also have access to the building remotely via the Internet, so I can monitor things and see how it’s performing without me being there. It’s totally automated. And as far as the orientation goes, there are trees to the east and west side of the home that shade the house during the summer, and when they drop their leaves, we get full solar heat gain in the wintertime. So the orientation, solar panels, proper insulation, and the geo-thermal heat pump all contribute to that aspect of net zero.
gb&d: Aside from how impressively green this is, it’s a stunning, sleek structure. Where did you look to find your inspiration for the design of the home?
Holly: Right before I started the design, I went to visit my brother in Germany. He took me to see The Bauhaus work that was done by Walter Gropius. They were very simple, unique buildings done in the ‘20s. I was very inspired by it. The first series of design pieces included a flat roof, because in this particular arrangement, these low-income housing units that were done in the ‘20s had shared outdoor space on the roof. And I actually worked through that in my own mind because of the solar orientation and the fact that in Louisiana, you really want to get away from the sun. You need the shade, and so it came to me one day that what I needed to do was gesture toward the south and the pond. So this whole structure sort of reaches toward the sun and to the south and to the pond as if to say, ‘Welcome.’
Client Michael & Denise Holly
Size 1,250 ft. enclosed, 1,950 ft. covered
Structural Engineer H&H Engineering
MEP Engineer KME Salas ObrienLandscape Architect Perkins Dufreche Landscape Architects
Premier Construction and Development, LLC (Hammond, LA)
Structural Steel FireStruck
Concrete Tycer Readymix
Windows A-1 Glass
Cabinets Woodworking Specialties
Wood Ceilings and Floors Acadian
Roofing Orleans Sheet Metal Inc., Berridge Manufacturing, Carlyle Manufacturing
Countertops Solid Rock Creations
HVAC Nick’s Heating and Air
Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.
Electrical Northshore HVAC and Electrical
Plumbing AJ’s Plumbing
Solar Collection System Southcoast Solar
gb&d: Did you think about biophilic design and marrying the outside with the in when you were planning out the home as well?
Holly: Absolutely. The idea of bringing the outside in and the inside out is why you see all of the glass. That was an initial driver of putting this building together. The site is in a rural area, but there are houses around. It’s right on the edge of a river basin wildlife area with a fast-moving creek, the Tangipahoa River, right there. It’s sort of the wildlife highway of the area. So this piece of property is fairly square, and from the vantage point of this house, you see nothing else but nature. There is no indication whatsoever that there is anybody else around.
gb&d: What elements of this project make you most proud, both as the designer and owner of the home?
Holly: Oh, gosh. The thing as a whole is what makes me most proud. Right behind that is the net-zero status of the building and the fact that we did find a lot of materials that were leftover from construction that I was able to acquire. For instance, the maple floor was leftover from a gymnasium that I got from a friend of mine who is a supplier. The ceilings are cherry, and they’re from a mill shop where they were actually milling cherry, and these little pieces of it were sitting around. I looked at them and said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity.’ Rather than have them go to waste, I purchased it—at a pretty good price, I might add. A lot of the exterior is cypress that has been reclaimed from the depths of the rivers around Louisiana. They call it sinker cypress; back at the turn of the century, many, many logs were cut in the swamps that they then attempted to float out, but instead, they sunk; they just left them. So now, there’s an industry where these folks go into the rivers and swamps and find the logs and pull them up, and they’re as good today as they were then.