The hills of Western Massachusetts don’t enjoy the year-round warmth of the Florida Keys or Baja California — but Eva and Fred Fierst aren’t inclined to let the weather get in the way of their vision. Visiting friends in balmy locales, they enjoyed the easy indoor-outdoor lifestyle. They returned north to create a modern New England version of the relaxed and open-hearted homes they’d admired, beginning construction in 2013.
Perched on a hillside on the outskirts of Northampton, their 3,000-square-foot house maintains a seamless year-round connection with its surroundings — especially in summer, when green vistas fill the wide windows and the thoughtfully designed exterior spaces come into play.
The summer dining room, a soaring screened porch, is the first feature that appears after cresting the long, wooded driveway and entering the sunny clearing. Architect Mary Yun, who collaborated on the project with then-partner Lynn Rice (Yun now heads her own firm), envisioned the 300-square-foot porch as a kind of treehouse. “Most screen porches are too low and don’t actually allow for much ventilation,” she says. “Instead, the built form of the porch should make you feel like you’re outside.” That’s certainly the case with this airy structure, 13½ feet at its highest point and screened from floor to ceiling on three sides.
“It’s our main living space during the summer — we eat all our meals there,” says Eva. “Last night, I sat out there until 10 p.m. doing the crossword puzzle.”
The porch opens to the kitchen and to a slender balcony that extends around the window-wrapped, open-plan living-dining area. These lofty vantage points — porch, balcony, and central living space — overlook ground-level patios outfitted with cushy furnishings. Wall hooks hold folding chairs ready to be toted to a nearby fire pit, built from local Goshen stone.
The terraced gardens showcase native species such as mountain laurel and tall grasses. On a lower hillside that Eva calls her “controlled wilderness,” lupines, sweet william, and black-eyed Susans mostly tend to themselves. At the heart of it all is the expansive green swath known as “Fred’s Lawn.” “You should always have a place where you can toss the football,” he says. Maintaining it is a Roomba-like self-driving electric lawn mower from Husqvarna — “the first robotic lawn mower in Hampshire County,” Fred says with pride.
As befits a home so attuned to the outdoors, the entire structure was engineered with sustainability in mind. It generates its own electricity from rooftop photovoltaic panels. “We put an extraordinary amount of thought into where the house would be, how to maximize both the views and the solar gain,” says Eva. Deep overhanging eaves help keep the interiors cool in summer; an air-conditioning system is used only to keep humidity in check on the warmest days. Geothermal heating wards off winter’s chill, as do triple-glazed windows and doors imported from Eva’s native Germany.
Climate and sun control are especially important, given the couple’s carefully curated modern furnishings and color-soaked collection of South American art.
“Of course, these windows are pieces of art, too,” says Fred, sitting in the generously proportioned multi-tasking space that forms the home’s light-filled heart and gazing at the wooded hills that roll with a gentle rhythm all the way to the distant mountains.