BRICKS & MORTAR: A LITTLE GREEN GOES A LONG WAY

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In the front hallway of architect Kirsten Thoft’s Linden Lane home sits an oversize purple suitcase. Bursting slightly at the seams, the thing is covered in a layer of dust from a recent journey: Thoft’s husband, Ted, has just returned from Burning Man, a temporary city that draws tens of thousands of people to the middle of nowhere (i.e., Nevada’s Black Rock Desert). Legendary for its fantastical art, mind-boggling structures, and outlandishly attired attendees, the event sounds like it’s exactly the kind of crazy-cool a creator like Thoft would relish. “Looks kind of uncomfortable and seems like a lot of work,” she says with a laugh. No stranger to rolling-up-her-sleeves hard work herself, Thoft prefers her adventures experienced without a dust mask and protective goggles (unless she’s on a job site) and in a city, any city, where she can happily wander—with or without a road map, guidebook, or any sort of plan.

“When we travel, I take Ted on what he jokingly calls ‘architectural death marches.’ It’s a theme in our vacations: We go to cities because I just like to walk for hours and hours and hours, sometimes with a destination, sometimes not,” she says. “But really I don’t need to go anywhere. I love having a house where I feel like I’m on vacation. I like coming home because I really like my house.”

Her “house” is what many consider her architectural calling card: the LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) home she built from the ground up in Princeton’s tree-street neighborhood and is the first in town to receive such a distinction. It’s also the truest expression of Thoft’s architectural aesthetic, a declaration that good, solid design doesn’t need to be grand to make an impression. She’s never been interested in, say, reimagining the Eiffel Tower (“It’s an icon for a reason”) or Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (“It’s a statement”). Thoft has cultivated this aesthetic since her undergrad and graduate days studying design and architecture, and it’s one that garners her positive feedback from residents and town officials alike. Her architectural skill is just as much painstakingly learned as it is canny intuition—although it’s worth noting she wasn’t always convinced this was her calling until about, oh, five years ago.

“My whole career, I’ve struggled with the idea of not being an architect with a capital A,” Thoft says. “I think I’m a little less ego-driven. I do have a vision. I do have an aesthetic, but it’s a little quieter. I’m very interested in making things that fit in, as opposed to standing out.”

Thoft was raised in the waterside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and from an early age loved all disciplines of design: In middle school, she was the only girl in woodshop, in her spare time building the woodworking projects from her parents’ copies of Better Homes and Gardens. She sewed, and sewed well, once working on a line with a Philadelphia-based brand. She met her husband, Ted Nadeau, in her junior year of high school, and after graduation, Thoft went off to University of Pennsylvania and Nadeau headed to Princeton. She felt college was a time to “get serious,” which for her meant moving on from art and shop, and declaring a pre-med major. But by the end of her freshman year, she realized she was missing the art in her life, and discovered Penn’s selective Design of the Environment major. She spent the whole of her sophomore year drawing everything from buildings to nudes before she was officially accepted into the program. Yet she still wasn’t convinced architecture was for her. So when she was making her postgrad plans, she bucked the trend of working for an architect and instead took a gig with a model-making company.

“The contracts this company had were mostly with the Department of Defense and nuclear power companies,” she says. “I worked on the rotor blades for a model of the Osprey V-22 vertical takeoff helicopter. I was like, ‘This is not for me.’ I was there for two weeks.”

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From left: Thoft’s thoughtful streetscape: “This house fits really well with our life”; in the living room, the beams and subfloor of the second floor are exposed; the architect’s record collection sits in the entertainment unit she designed using original wood from a garage on the property.

She spent the next couple of years with a former professor’s firm, contentedly working on residential projects in historic districts likes those on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and along Philadelphia’s Main Line. And then her father offered to underwrite a graduate degree in architecture if she would finally, please, commit to a direction for her future. Her response: “Well, it is referred to as the mother of all arts. I guess I can still have an architecture degree and do something else.” That nudge proved to be critical because grad school was where Thoft would connect with the kind of architecture that has become her hallmark: housing and sustainable design.

“At the time, sustainability was not on too many people’s radars—it was too sciency, not artsy enough,” she says. “I was interested in green, in housing, in prefab and modular stuff … the things I most enjoy doing now, because it feels so small-scale and personal.”

While working on her graduate degree, she decided to make the move to Princeton for the summer, to live with Nadeau who she’d been seriously dating.

“When I first moved here 26 years ago, nothing was open past 9 p.m. There were no restaurants worth going to. There was Mike’s Tavern and The Ivy, but I was used to going to dance clubs and diners that were open all night long,” she says with a laugh. “It’s changed a lot.”

Despite the lackluster social scene, Thoft’s location change was fortuitous: She began working with the renowned American architect and Princeton University professor Michael Graves. There, she dug into big-idea design and development for projects including an exhibition of the treasures of the Vatican for the Library of Congress, and tableware for Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort. Creatively, she was having a blast, but she realized how little she knew about the nuts and the bolts of what she was conjuring up. She moved on to a job at the Princeton-based firm Studio Hillier, where she remained for the next few years. It was only after she became pregnant with her first child, her daughter Zoë, that she decided it was time to get back into design. She officially opened her own shop in 1998, and as her family expanded to include daughter Ella and son Escher, so did her business.

Twenty years and countless builds later, Thoft has a roster of clients and projects to her name. Some of her best-known work includes a circa-1905 Queen Anne–style multifamily building on Wiggins Street she sustainably renovated into four condos, earning a National Home Builders Green Building Standard “Emerald” rating (the highest you can get, by the way). There’s The Princeton Parklet, currently outside of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street, a collaborative effort between the Arts Council of Princeton and other builders and architects including Thoft, who transformed original sketches into detailed drawings and lent a hand in the construction, too.

Her development projects—like the zero-energy-ready spec home on Valley Road, a house so efficiently built that its energy system offsets most of its consumption—are what she gets the biggest creative charge from and hopes will make up the future of her business. (She and her husband just purchased a second spec property on Valley Road.)

“With development, I’m the architect, the owner, the developer, the contractor. I like the buck stopping here,” she says. “I spend a fair amount of time thinking if a house is going to fit in, how the color looks with the houses on either side, what people are going to think. Everything I build is a public project because everybody sees it.”

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Clockwise from top left: the impressive exterior of The Social Profit Center at Mill One’s three connected buildings; a work space inside Mill One; inside Mill One’s “sustainable urban village.”

Another recent undertaking is a commercial site called The Social Profit Center at Mill One, a historic former textile factory located in Hamilton. Commissioned by the Trenton-based nonprofit group Isles, Inc., the 240,000-square-foot space required a serious amount of elbow grease to clean up decades of water damage and dirt. Thoft will oversee a complete renovation of the neglected building, which encompasses everything from new stairs and an elevator, to completely updated mechanical systems, to all interior renovations such as bathrooms, finished office spaces, and a roof deck. The end goal is to create beautiful, affordable space for social-impact businesses, artists, and philanthropic organizations; in Thoft’s words, “it was a shell with nothing in it and it’s going to be a cool-looking, fully occupied building when we’re done.”

And then there’s her beloved geothermal-heated and -cooled, solar-paneled, U.S. Green Building Council–approved house at 45 Linden Lane, which allowed her to experiment with building techniques she’d never attempted before. Thoft and Nadeau purchased the house along with the next-door property, 43 Linden, which they renovated and eventually sold. Their home, however, is an entirely new build that Thoft designed to beautifully fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, finding her inspiration in intention: From the raw-steel staircase to the exposed ceiling beams, every detail has a purpose, and is a pure expression of the way it was built—embracing a sustainable aesthetic that suits Thoft’s design perspective and her family just fine.

“I continually ask myself why I’m doing what I do, is this making me happy?” she says. “I want to have fun. I want to enjoy the people I work with. And I think the fact that I like what I do comes out in the work. I sleep better at night knowing, even just in a local sense, I’m making the world a better place.” —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Dan Komoda)

HONORING MICHAEL GRAVES: GROUNDS FOR SCULPTURE “PAST AS PROLOGUE” EXHIBIT

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The architect and designer Michael Graves in his home studio in Princeton, N.J., with his wall-to-wall paintings. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

Michael Graves, the world-renowned postmodernist architect and designer who died March 12, 2015, at his home in Princeton, N.J., is described as “one of the most prominent and prolific American architects of the latter 20th century, who designed more than 350 buildings around the world.” He founded Michael Graves Architecture and Design in Princeton in 1964, which is now recognized as one of the world’s leading design firms.  Mr. Graves designed office buildings, resorts, retail stores, hospitals, monuments and university buildings. Among his most prominent projects: The Humana Building in Louisville, KY and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in The Hague.  He also designed the scaffolding used for the restoration of the Washington Monument in 2000.

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The Humana health care company skyscraper in Louisville, Ky., designed by Mr. Graves. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

His career accolades include a National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton, and the American Institute of Architects’ gold medal in 2000. Mr. Graves turned his “design celebrity” into a brand, collaborating with Target on a housewares collection featuring his iconic teakettle and pepper mill, and ultimately “brought quality designed products within reach of everyone in the country.”

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Michael Graves in 1999, with his Target designs. He was one of the New York Five, and designed more than 350 buildings. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

Michael Graves Architecture and Design is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an exhibition, “Past as Prologue”, at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J.,  on view through April 12, 2015. “Michael is a true visionary,” says Tom Moran, Chief Curator at Grounds For Sculpture. “This exhibition will feature many of his never-before-seen drawings created over five decades, which will enable visitors to experience his thought process in the same space as the finished product.  He approaches every project with a human sensibility; whether it’s a hotel, office building, or product for home and health, he insists that it be intuitive and functional. And he is able to balance this requirement with streamlined design and a heightened aesthetic. He is a master at his craft, and we are so pleased to be able to share his work and celebrate the 50 years leading up to this momentous exhibition.”

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“Past as Prologue” exhibit on view through April 12, 2015. Photo courtesy of Grounds for Sculpture.

For more information about Past as Prologue visit groundsforsculpture.org, and to learn more about the design firm visit MichaelGraves.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCING COPPERWOOD: PRINCETON’S NATURAL EVOLUTION

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Entry

As simply put as the lifestyle it affords, there’s nothing quite like Copperwood in Princeton. Rising up on Princeton’s Ridge, Copperwood is the vision of world-renowned architect and long-time Princeton resident J. Robert Hillier.

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Apartment Interior

Convenient to downtown, the Princeton University campus, theaters, and the train, Copperwood sits on a remarkable wooded site and will beautifully enhance life in our coveted University town for generations to come.

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Apartment Kitchen

Sleek, stylish, sustainable, and sun-drenched, these premier rental units offer modern floor plans, state-of-the-art finishes, and amenities exclusive to Copperwood in Princeton, including walking trails, a fitness center with regular yoga classes, and community rooms available for private functions.

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Cafe/Lounge

We are thrilled that Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty has been selected to exclusively market Copperwood in Princeton. One- to two-bedroom units are available, leasing for $2,200-$4,100 per month (which includes one underground parking space).

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Woodland Site

The pursuit of living in well Princeton is finally met at Copperwood. Come see for yourself at the Open House this Sunday, March 15, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  300 Bunn Drive Princeton, NJ 08540. Click here to experience a sneak preview of Copperwood and interview with the architect, or watch below: