LEED-Certified Home: Torres House in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Light-filled California home combines mid-century nods with modern sustainability for a unique coastal getaway.

After 21 years in rural Big Sur, California, Austrian architect Mary Ann Schicketanz decided to move to Carmel-by-the-Sea, anticipating that she would have to opt for a house she would tear down. Then, in 2012, she found Torres House, a two-bedroom home built in 1972. Schicketanz then began a full-scale renovation of the structure that resulted in a LEED Gold-certified “urban hideaway that bows to its modernist history while giving off a distinctly contemporary feeling,” according to Dwell.

Developed by the United States Green Buildings Council (USGBC), LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED-certified buildings are created to improve performance across five key metrics: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.

Schicketanz knew that she wanted to maintain certain design elements that bore witness to the home’s ‘70s-era origin, but that she would also need to make changes in the interest of privacy and sustainability.

She began by transforming the home’s old entryway into a courtyard and swapped the door in front for a pristine glass slider. Out went the fiberglass panels that had long stood sentry on either side of the front door and in went a reclaimed wood barrier and high concrete wall. The natural materials earned the home points toward its ultimate Gold certification, as natural or raw materials minimize waste. But this was just the beginning.

At 2,054 square feet, Torres House still needed considerable work. Schicketanz “whitewashed the living room’s wood walls and replaced the carpet with teak flooring reclaimed from elsewhere on site. Workers also dismantled the dark stone fireplace to widen the view, installing an efficient, compact fireplace on the southern wall,” according to Dwell.

“From sunrise to sundown, you have light in the house. It’s bright even on gloomy days,” Schicketanz says, according to Dwell.

An obvious lover of light, Schicketanz decided she needed somewhere she could soak in the sun while outdoors—a challenge, to be sure, since Torres House is located on a wooded hillside. For an architect like Schicketanz, however, it was no problem; she simply put in a roof deck.

As far as the home’s palette and design feel go, both are retro-inflected yet manage to stay modern. Cherry red cabinets in the kitchen bring dimension to the all-white first floor and play up the warmer tones in the wood-planked flooring, already dappled with gold from Carmel-by-the-Sea’s 269 days of sun a year.

Stainless steel accents and black window frames mix with asymmetrical windows overlooking the forested hills beyond for a truly unique take on sustainable design. Throughout the home, elegant swathes of concrete and natural wood channel tranquility.

It’s safe to say that Schicketanz has found a way to bridge mid-century modern and of-the-moment design with Torres House—and, thanks to her commitment to LEED building and efficiency standards, she will be able to enjoy her home for years to come.

If you're interested in learning more about the specifics of LEED-certification, take a look at USGBC's Guide to Certification.