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Hilltop House: A Gem in Middlesex - Red House Builds Couple’s Dream Home

09/01/2021 05:00PM ● By Phyl Newbeck

Bruce Stevenson and Kay Towers were living in a townhouse in Columbus, Ohio, and ready to retire. Although Bruce was tempted to head to a warmer climate, the duo was from the Northeast and had a son and grandchildren in Vermont. “We looked at 20 properties in one weekend,” Bruce says, “and bought the first one we saw.”  

Thanks to the work of architect Elizabeth Herrmann and the crew at Red House, Bruce and Kay were able to move into Hilltop House in March of 2019. “It’s on the side of a hill with a very long driveway,” Bruce says. “It was well wooded, but you could see a view to the south over Montpelier.” Bruce had been involved in construction throughout his career, so the couple decided to build a contemporary home and interviewed three architectural firms. “Liz stood head 
and shoulders above the others,” Bruce says. 

Seamless Cooperation 

“The whole approach was to stretch the house across the hillside and make it single-story living,” Liz Herrmann says. “The light and views were paramount.” Ground breaking began in the summer of 2018, and the couple loved seeing their home take shape. “One of the most rewarding parts of the building was working with Liz, Red House, and the subcontractors,” Bruce says. Kay still marvels that they all worked so well together. “We learned a long time ago that you need to be around,” she says. “We’d come up every day, and they were always friendly.” According to Red House Project Manager Jed Emerson, challenges to the project included getting power to the house and dealing with surface water. “Overall, it is a well-designed and well-placed house,” he says. Kay prizes the openness of her home, particularly the guest room and combination art studio/exercise room on the lower level. “The studio has lots of natural light and overlooks the valley,” she says. Bruce loves the view and the natural setting. “We left the yard as a meadow,” he says. The house is small, but the couple doesn’t believe they need more space. “The upper level is roughly 1,100 square feet, and the lower level is 900,” Bruce says. “We use every square inch of it, but it doesn’t feel small.” 

Seeking Net Zero 

Red House Building Project Developer Duncan Oehmig says that since Bruce wanted a nearly net-zero home, there are large windows looking southwest and an energy-efficient envelope with triple-glazed windows and a robust exterior wall and roof envelope. “That minimizes heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer,” he says. “There is a solar panel array, and the house is heated and cooled with a high-efficiency heat pump system which is electrical based. That way, you get fairly close to net zero.” Liz says the couple proudly reports back to her about their low energy consumption. 

Low Maintenance, High Efficiency 

Duncan is particularly fond of the exterior siding, which comes from a Japanese cypress tree and has been burned, wire-brushed, and stained. “They’ve been using that process in Japan for thousands of years,” he says. “It’s wood rot resistant and low maintenance and has a really dynamic look.” Liz says the wood was chosen to eliminate unnecessary maintenance, noting that the exterior will never have to be painted. Bruce describes the building process as collaborative. “We were writing checks, but there was a real sense of give and take,” he says. “It was a fun first years of retirement, and I miss working with those guys.” Jed agrees with Bruce regarding the cooperative nature of the project. “Everything was a team effort,” he says. “The collaboration between the clients, the architect, and ourselves went really well. It’s fun when you can pull that off.” 


Red House
382 Hercules Drive 
Colchester, VT 
(802) 655-0009 

Photos by Lindsay Selin

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