A House Of Another Color
'Green' home is builder's lakeside dream

The Lewisboro Ledger,
Cover Article,
July 22, 2004.
By Elena Sorokin

          With more than 20 years of experience as a home remodeler, several years as a professional photographer and a lifetime of environmental awareness, Sylvain Côté finally combined all his passions under one roof.

          His future home on Lake Truesdale is a test case in environmental building and a testament to his creativity and social consciousness.

          The experiment is to renovate a house using only reclaimed and renewable materials.  The goal is to show that environmentally safe homes- green homes- can be efficient, safe and inexpensive for the typical homeowner.

          The 41-year old Canadian is founder and president of Absolute Remodeling, a renovation company based in Yorktown.  Now that his son, Lance, is 20, and his two daughters, Laura and Dominique, are 15 and 12, respectively, Mr. Côté and his wife Tisa need a new home.

          But for the Côté family, this task was not simple.  For years, Mrs. Côté had been asking her husband to build a round house.  Mr. Côté was waiting for inspiration and the right location to do it.

Ideal spot

          Last August, the couple found nearly the perfect place.  The house was shaped like an octagonal prism, almost fulfilling Mrs. Côté’s dream.  Mr. Côté was pleased because the two-story residence offered a beautiful view of Lake Truesdale.  The Côté's bought the house immediately, knowing that they would not be able to move in until at least 2005.

          After Mr. Côté has finished the renovation, which is expected to cost $500,000, the house will be a model for innovative, environmentally friendly construction.

          “Our goal is to create a quality home,” Mr. Côté devoted part of each day to surfing the Web, or more precisely, to watching a taped image of the Lake Truesdale house as the renovation continued in his apparent absence.

          Mr. Côté had professionals rig a video camera to a tree perched above the ground, overlooking the construction site.  He called the workers occasionally to check in with them.

          “They were stunned,” Mr. Côté later said.  “They could not believe I was being so particular.”

Dream house

          Mr. Côté is using environmentally safe methods and materials in every way imaginable.

          To decrease costs, he said, he uses vintage building materials, instead of ordering logs made from freshly cut trees. One purchase included 200-year-old cedars.

          The deck and exterior walls will be built from renewable materials, which will be not only cost-effective but easy to maintain.

          Inside, the house will showcase energy-saving, safe devices.   Mr. Côté said he would employ solar power and “hydronic radiant heat flooring.”

          This state-of-the-art innovation works by passing hot water through pipes under the floorboards, allowing the air molecules adjacent to the floor to get hot and then rise.  This effectively disperses heat throughout the house.

          Although most of these inventions have not yet been installed, Mr. Côté said he remains optimistic that renovations will be done by next spring so that the family can finally move in to their dream house.

          It’s a dream that has been a long time coming.

Seeing green

          After one year at Matane College in Canada, Mr. Côté landed a job as a photographer for a Quebec newspaper.

          By the time he was 22, an age at which many Americans receive their college degrees, Mr. Côté was already a name in professional photography circles, signing major contracts with Molson Beer and the Montreal National Bank.

          Mr. and Mrs. Côté met in 1982, and were married five years later in New York City, her childhood home. As a wedding present to his wife, Mr. Côté created a kitchen table with legs designed out of pipes.

          The couple moved to Montreal, but after 10 months, Mrs. Côté had grown restless, since she could not find employment without a work permit. So the couple returned to New York City, where Mr. Côté worked for Big City Productions, the studio that authors Absolute Vodka ads.

          By 1988, MR. Côté was ready to move into a new field, and tried his hand at house painting, earning $65 on his first job.

          Now, his company, Absolute Remodeling, signs contracts for six-figure fees, and has undertaken dozens of jobs in the Lewisboro area.

          According to Jean Sheff, one of his clients, Mr. Côté provides the “dynamic package of environmental awareness and vision.”

          “I guarantee that no one would have looked at my house and come up with the same solution,” said Ms. Sheff, who hired Absolute Remodeling several years ago to renovate her basement.

          “Watching him work, you can just tell that he’s passionate about everything,” she said.

          Although Mr. Côté said he has always believed in conservation, the plan for a green home came to him last March, seven months after he had decided to renovate the Lake Truesdale house.

          At the National Green Building Conference in Austin, Texas, the Côté's realized that they could combine their passion for the environment with their dream to create a unique home.

          “We learned more about home building in three days than we did in the past 30 years,” said Mr. Côté, who has remodeled more homes in Lewisboro than he can count.

          The state-of-the-art, green technology that Mr. Côté has adopted for his home will complement his wife’s style.

Rooms with a view

          Standing in the center of the octagonal, unfinished building with wooden rafters sticking out helter skelter, Mr. Côté said that this structure would feature a spa, an indoor gym, a sports bar, a home theater, a library and more.

          By creating new floor plans for the house, Mr. Côté will use every inch of the building’s 3,600 square feet to the best advantage.

          “It won’t be a McMansion,” chorused Laura and Dominique, standing next to their parents by an unfinished window that offers a beautiful view of the lake.

          The girls said they planned to study on the main floor, where they will have access to wireless Internet as well as a library with built-in shelves and a rolling ladder.  Laura and Dominique both said they planned to fill their room with items for the “Pottery Barn Teen” catalog, a special version of the company’s inventory.  The girls said they preferred new furniture, although Mr. Côté vowed to build the rest of the family’s furniture from vintage wood.

          On the lower floor, Mr. Côté plans to mount three flat-screen TV sets to the chimney two of them directly above the fireplace.  Nearby will sit a pool table, pinball machines, the work-out facility and the sports bar.  A patio on this floor offers another stunning view of the lake.

          Among the house’s long list of assets, it lets in vast quantities of light through an array of large panel windows, French doors and stained glass windows, all part of Mr. Côté’s goal to save energy.

          Like her husband, Mrs. Côté has a vision for the house, featuring everything from a Tiki bar by the water to an English garden filled with roses and lilies.

          “I’ve always wanted to go to Tahiti,” explained Mrs. Côté, adding that she did not think she would be able to leave South Salem once the house was finished, “although everyone will be dying to house-sit for us.”

In the community

          The couple expects to have many visitors in their new home.  At a recent homeowners party on Lake Truesdale the Côté's said they felt very comfortable among their new neighbors.  It was encouraging to the family, who hope to become an intricate part of the community.

          “My husband and I have always loved to cook and entertain,” she said.  “We like having a house full of people.”

          Mr. Côté's next-door neighbor, Peggy Pryor, said Mr. Côté even donated plywood to the South Salem Library to create a sandwich board, saving the library time and money.  Ms. Pryor serves on the library’s board of trustees.

          “Tisa and Sylvain are certainly not shy.  They are very friendly and outgoing people and they have imaginative ideas,” Mrs. Pryor said.

          Though the Côté house will not be done until next spring, the children will enter the Katonah-Lewisboro schools in September, Laura at John Jay High School and Dominique at John Jay Middle School. Lance is away from home, serving in the U.S. Army.

Setting an example

          In addition to taking part in the community life here at home, he hopes to reinvigorate the larger community of renovators by sharing his ideas.

          “We will share what we learn in the process with other homeowners, contractors and architects who are interested in green building,” Mr. Côté said.

          In addition to the Internet site broadcasting the development of his project, he has devoted a special section of his company’s Web site, absoluteremodeling.com, so that others interested in green building may follow his lead. -



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