Over the years, Estes/Twombly Architects has designed plenty of environmentally friendly houses. Cross-ventilation, managed stormwater runoff, and natural materials are part of every project that comes out of its Newport, R.I., office. But the architects had never gone through the LEED certification process—until they started designing a Block Island, R.I., home for developer Nick Downes and his family.

Downes and Estes/Twombly are aiming to achieve LEED Gold certification for the project. “The LEED paperwork was quite a bit more work than we initially imagined,” admits principal Peter Twombly, AIA. But the experience has produced multiple benefits for the firm. Now that it has one LEED application under its belt, next time will be easier. And the project spurred a staff member, Joshua Fogg, to become LEED-accredited himself.

Additionally, Twombly was pleased to discover that the LEED requirements permit more design freedom than he had originally expected. “You're not locked into doing a cubic house,” he explains. “You can do a building with interesting massing and glazing patterns and still meet the LEED criteria.”

The 3,000-square-foot home will perch on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Twombly and his team separated it into three detached pieces to create privacy for the owners' and guests' sleeping quarters, which lie on either side of a central, glass-lined living and dining space. By segmenting the plan in this fashion, the architects also encouraged cross-ventilation. Covered breezeways connect the pieces, and a generous pool terrace supplies a scenic outdoor room.

Solar hot water panels will cover the roof of the guest quarters. “We really filled the roof with them so they wouldn't just be a token gesture,” Twombly points out. The system will warm the pool and domestic hot water, as well as provide supplemental space heating.

An on-site cistern will capture rainwater for irrigation, while foam insulation, a heat recovery ventilator, and an insulated foundation will keep the house toasty during bone-chilling Block Island winters. Construction on the project is slated to begin in spring 2010, with completion anticipated the following spring.