How to Design a Sustainable Home

See how an architect turned her little Venice bungalow into a water-saving powerhouse

Christine Lennon
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Small wonder

As architect Isabelle Duvivier remodeled the 1912 bungalow where she lives with her husband and their 11-year-old son, her priority was to make the home both eco-friendly and in sync with the 100-year-old Venice, California, neighborhood. So as she drew up plans to renovate the 1,000-square-foot bungalow—adding a master suite, a bathroom and closet, and an open loft upstairs—she capped the new size at just under 1,700 square feet. Duvivier has been building environmentally conscious homes for others for years, and hers was no different. The house is powered by solar panels. Almost every surface contains recycled materials.

The entire yard is watered exclusively by gray water and rainwater that’s diverted as it runs off the roof, landing in two cisterns and flowing over a waterwheel. One of the cisterns is open, like a trough, and circulates water in a fish pond. Inside, the water from showers, sinks, and the washing machine flows into a gray-water system that pumps it into the soil beneath some strategically positioned trees. The backyard is the family’s haven too; on weekends, they regularly move their big dining table outside and host parties. The front yard is just as friendly, with a low fence and a vegetable garden that beckons the community.

Design: Isabelle Duvivier, Venice, CA; idarchitect.com.

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Green greeting

Before the renovation, the bungalow had an aging stucco finish and an unfriendly chain-link fence. Duvivier maintained the modest exterior but made it more welcoming with a front-yard vegetable garden and a low fence.

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Elegant efficiency

With help from a pump during the dry season, a custom wheel circulates water from a pond stocked with fish to remove mosquitoes. When it rains, it’s powered by runoff from the roof funneled through a downspout.

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Smart space-saver

The family uses this entrance on the side of the house as the front door. Outdoor shoe storage takes advantage of the mild climate.

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Recycling in style

Duvivier built the kitchen island and cabinet doors (affixed to Ikea cabinet boxes) from repurposed Douglas fir, installed so the grain runs horizontally. The counters are made from recycled concrete, typically made from the rubble of demolished concrete structures.

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Reclaimed room

Duvivier transformed a neglected attic space into a second-floor room for her son. Two trundle beds built into drawers in the walls on either side of the bed accommodate guests.

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Brighter space

The open stairwell design lets light travel through the house. “In a compact space, you can have light everywhere at the center of the house,” Duvivier says.

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Indoor-outdoor flow

The living room opens completely to the back garden, and doubles the living space most of the year. The wooden floors are a combination of the home’s original wood and wood purchased from a neighbor.

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Water features that work

The roofline is divided into three parts. One drains over the waterwheel into a rain garden, another drains into a cistern for storage and irrigation, and the last drains into an open cistern. These water features helped the home earn LEED Platinum status.

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Role reversal

Duvivier flipped the orientation of the lot, placing the entrance at the side of the house and the raised vegetable garden beds in the front. A beehive, located on top of the garage, helps to pollinate the garden and the neighbors’ citrus trees.

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Stylish solutions

To address a drainage issue, Duvivier regraded the lot, creating slopes that lead to a dry creekbed that runs the length of the garden. The elevated planting area she calls “Sage Hill,” accented by a colorful windmill and California brittlebush, requires little water.