On Tuesday night we hosted an AWESOME panel all about eco-design. This was one of our business growth forums that we organize for designers called “In the Maison”. It usually happens in my living room, but this month we rounded up some eco-experts and were invited to host at the Eco Brooklyn Showhouse -- it’s a home built entirely from salvaged materials - just down the block in Carroll Gardens. Four experts joined the panel to share 1) what defines an eco-home/passive house; 2) why it’s appealing (and why it isn’t); 3) how much it costs; and 4) what everyone SHOULD know but does not.  If you made it -THANKS! And if you didn’t, here’s what to know: 


We were SO lucky to have 4 speakers on the topic: 

  • Mike Ingui: Partner, Baxt Ingui Architects

  • Craig Toohey: Biz Dev Director, 475 High Performance Building Supply

  • Gennaro Brooks-Church: Founder, Biophillic Artist

  • Jessica Siegel: Founder, Jessica Siegel Studio

This group proved to be INCREDIBLY complementary as they all have experience handling different parts of the eco-design world. For example: Gennaro built his kitchen from parts salvedged from a demolition dumpster and Mike designs minimal footprint multi-million dollar new builds. Jess is building her own passive house, and Craig sells the latest eco-products to residential and commercial buyers. I moderated and am excellent at asking questions. 

First Certified Passive House Plus in the US, competed by Baxt Ingui Architects,  photo courtesy Baxt Ingui Architects

First Certified Passive House Plus in the US, competed by Baxt Ingui Architects, photo courtesy Baxt Ingui Architects


There were a few key takeaways from the event that blew my mind. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. A Passive House is one with minimal carbon footprint. Everything from the demolition of pre-existing structures to sourcing materials and furnishings for the new place are done with environmental preservation in mind. This includes use of non-toxic materials, special fresh airflow, and water recycling equipment. 

  2. Passive Houses have better air quality, INCREDIBLY stable interior temperatures, and have NO BUGS INSIDE. Fun fact: Mike Ingui built his own passive home and they turned the heat on only 3 times last winter. They no longer own winter jammies. INSANE. 

  3. The cost of building a passive house, even when you find your kitchen in a dumpster (as Gennaro did) is about the same as a non-passive. This is because repurposing materials takes a lot of mental and physical energy to execute. 

  4. Costs of maintaining a passive house are a fraction of traditional maintenance fees. This puts the word “sustainable” to new use -- when you use sustainable materials, they simply last longer, saving you money and playing one small roll in helping our planet. 

  5. Lowes is a great place to salvage materials for a fraction of the retail cost; they often sell perfectly usable but SLIGHTLY damaged things, like drywall, for 10 cents on the dollar. Anything unsold goes into the dumpster. 

  6. Oxygen flow in passive houses is notably better and helps you stay awake and alert. FUN FACT: There are various laws and practices around oxygen air flow in commercial institutions. For example, in department stores required oxygen levels are lower, so at high traffic times (like the holidays), you get more tired simply from not getting your typical oxygen intake. On the flip side, casinos pump oxygen into the air constantly to keep people awake... and gambling. 

  7. Two great resources for learning more:, created by Mike Ingui, is an incredible resource for finding eco friendly products, materials and suppliers. Cradle to Cradle is a book on manufacturing and environmentalism. I LOVE the name of this book. 

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The house where the forum was hosted was totally wild, but not in the styled, designed way I expected. For example, everything had a story and was made from salvaged materials. There was a moat in the front of the house. Yes, a moat -- like a body of water that you cross over to enter. IT was not the largest moat I have ever crossed, but it was in Brooklyn, had fish and turtles, and was quite unexpected. 

The facade was an entirely green living wall, something the owner, Gennaro Brooks-Church, specializes in. It is a layered and fairly low maintenance system that cost approximately $200 per sqaure foot and stays green year round. It helps maintain interior climate, creates fresh air, and is just very awesome. There are two more living walls inside, and both have irrigation systems that Gennaro built himself. 

Speaking of water, the backyard is not a yard, but a natural pond. It is surrounded by stones and is 5 ft deep. The family swims there in the summer and it is surrounded by a sea of greenery that grows wild. 

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Inside, all flooring, walls, cabinetry, glass etc etc etc…is salvaged. 

The roof is nuts: it has a 360 degree view of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and probably Australia if you look closely enough. There’s a pergola up there with another little pond (koi included) and two hammocks that sway between more greenery. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

WOW this was a long post but I’m just so full of eco knowledge that I CAN’T HELP BUT SHARE.  Let me know if I missed anything, what you have to add, and if you want to join the next MAISON! Accepting nominations for future topics. 

The green backyard and 5 ft pond at the Eco Brooklyn Showhouse

The green backyard and 5 ft pond at the Eco Brooklyn Showhouse

Green roof with koi pond atop the Eco Brooklyn Showhouse

Green roof with koi pond atop the Eco Brooklyn Showhouse