Icelandic Home Design in Chatham

Chatham resident builds 566-square-foot energy-efficient home modeled after a 19th-century house near Reykjavik.

Photography and text by Mark Chester

Chatham resident David Coughanowr considers himself an unofficial ambassador to Iceland. He has visited the Nordic island nation more than 50 times since his first trip in 1973 when he was 12 years old. In 2016, he traveled there eight times.

Homeowner David Coughanowr

“Icelanders inspire creativity,” says Coughanowr, 56, sitting in his custom-built Chatham home. “It’s in their soul. Being an eccentric, I can identify with the people there.”

So it comes as no surprise that he modeled his Chatham home after an 1846 Icelandic house he visited at the Árbaer Open Air Folk Museum, outside of Reykjavik.

Several years ago, the former Sandwich resident bought a plot of land measuring 102 by 100 feet (a little over 10,000 square feet) at 155 George Ryder Road South in Chatham near the town’s airport. The civil engineer, certified-Title 5 inspector and septic system designer envisioned a sustainable home with off-the-grid-like amenities. One could describe it as contemporary, simple and eco-friendly.

The two-bedroom, two-bath home, designed by Coughanowr, features an open floor plan with a galley kitchen, where he cooks with propane gas. A small Norwegian Jotul wood stove heats the entire upper level that includes a shower stall, bath and office below a storage loft. The lower-level walkout basement, with French doors leading to the backyard, features a guest room and work area. Coughanowr made use of every inch by installing a stacked washer-dryer unit.

The energy-efficient house by Cape standards is iconic. Its red metal roof, which will last for 50 years and is recyclable, has 19 solar panels that generate hot water and electricity. The panels also help keep the house cool in the summer months. Three skylights provide ample natural light. The exterior is galvanized steel with a timber frame covering.

The energy-efficient home features an open floor plan with a galley kitchen and a small Jotul wood stove—the home’s main heat source.

The solar panels also supply enough electricity to power his Smart Fortwo car and house. “I save over 500 gallons of gas per year,” says Coughanowr, whose adopted Icelandic name is Thorri Snaersson. “And there’s enough units to sell back to the electric company, which often owes me money,” he says with a smile. He designed a gravity-flow septic system, with a holding tank of 1,500 gallons.

Coughanowr installed pine walls, white oak flooring and an aromatic red cedar ceiling. “I didn’t want any carpeting, which tends to give off toxic acids,” he says. “And there is no dry walling. I wanted all natural materials.”

Coughanowr, who founded Eco-Tech Rapid Response Company, a Title 5 engineering services firm based in Chatham, says the town was supportive of his unique style.

As a nod to his adopted homeland, he added a sign of the original street name and number—Þingholtsstræti 9—on the front of his house. It didn’t go unnoticed. “One summer, a man from Iceland, who recognized the style of house, knocked on my door because he had to meet the person who lived there.”

Mark Chester’s book, “The Bay State: A Multicultural Landscape, Photographs of New Americans,” celebrates the cultural diversity of Massachusetts.