the Chael-Dover Cottage - What the Original Green Looks Like

garden of the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   The Chael-Dover Cottage shows how interesting things get when theory turns into practice... and when “how they once built green” turns into “how I can build green today.” You can find so many Original Green ideas applied here that I quit counting after awhile.

   Maricé Chael is an architect and a principal of Chael Cooper. She’s also a member of the New Urban Guild. Her husband, Victor Dover, is a principal of the New Urbanist planning firm Dover-Kohl, and a longtime sustainability leader on many fronts, including being at the forefront of the effort to create LEED-ND. It’s unlikely that anything on this blog or in the Original Green book had any influence over the design of their cottage because Maricé and Victor have known these things long before the book or the blog were published, but that’s immaterial. What matters is how well their cottage illustrates Original Green ideas.

compost station in the garden of the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

garden compost station

   And it isn’t just one idea at a time, either... everywhere you turn, this cottage is doing several things at once. Every room has at least two uses, for example. The image at the top of this post is a classic example we sorely need today: lovability and nourishability in the same plot of ground. Here’s the test this garden passes: is your edible garden lovable enough that you furnish it with benches and chairs, so that you can sit and look at it? Most vegetable gardens are treated as utility plots, meant to be productive but not attractive. But Maricé is planting a primarily edible landscape in her front yard that’s long on romance... even the compost station tucked away in a corner has a rustic charm about it (see above.)

historic marker on the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida - the original building was reused, not demolished

   The cottage itself isn’t new. The historic marker by the front window shows it was built in the 1920s. Because reuse is far better than recycling, Maricé and Victor kept the original cottage, modifying it only as needed, and added a 17’ addition to the rear. Far too many “green” buildings today are completely new buildings, sitting on the demolition of an earlier building.

synthetic roofing made of recycled materials on the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   The roof was in serious need of replacement, so Maricé opted for synthetic slate made of recycled materials (including diaper liners... thrown away after one use in their first life, but used for many years in their second life.)

photovoltaic panels hidden within roof of the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   What’s missing on the roof? Right... where are the solar panels? It turns out that they aren’t missing... they’re just really well hidden. Pretty much the only place you can see them is from the master bath window on the second level. It’s a great example of making things invisible if they can’t be made lovable, as SmartDwelling I illustrated.

recycled furniture, doors, windows, and flooring of the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   Going inside, it’s hard to miss all the reused things, from furniture (including this piece) to doors to windows like the one in the gable to flooring to fixtures. And it’s really cool to hear the stories Maricé and Victor tell about where each piece came from. “Building materials with stories to tell”... that’s so much more interesting than “I got it at Lowe’s” (or wherever.)

ventilating transom in the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   This transom is one of those reused components. It’s also a really great idea we’ve forgotten about in recent years. It’s a ventilating transom (see the chains on each side, and also the latch at the top?) It has two purposes: it passes light from one room to the next while preserving visual privacy, and it also allows for ventilation with visual privacy as well. For buildings more than one room deep, they’re the best way yet developed of getting both.

stair landing doubling as study in the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   I mentioned earlier that every room has at least two uses. The living room is also the office, for example. McMansions have redundancy... four or five places to eat, for example. Original Green houses, on the other hand, have rooms and elements that have many uses. Even the top landing of the stairwell shown here doubles as a study. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

carving into walls for extra space in the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   Here’s another way of getting more uses out of things: Maricé has carved into walls all over the cottage, using the space for storage. Why waste hollow places in the wall? She didn’t. You can’t do that on exterior walls because of the necessity of insulation, but every other wall in a house should be considered fair game. It’s amazing how much stuff you can store if you think this way.

another example of carving into walls for extra space in the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   Here’s another one, just for fun... this one is in the kitchen, set into the wall joining the original cottage to the new addition. And speaking of fun, it’s clear that while these sorts of details are frugal with space, storing more in less, they also contribute mightily to the delight of visiting or living here. In other words, they start out being frugal and end up being lovable.

library nook in the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

library nook

   One more thing about the interior before we step back outside... if you’re seriously interested in being frugal with space, then you need to discard a lot of space planning conventions. See this chair in a reading nook in the library/dining room? There’s nowhere near 80” of ceiling height there. Matter of fact, I can’t even walk into the nook without hitting my head on the storage above. But why do I need to walk into the nook? I don’t. Anyone sitting on the chair naturally bends to sit in such a way that you don’t come anywhere near hitting your head. But if you followed normal space planning rules, you would have entirely missed out on the extra storage.

native landscaping and pool of the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   Let’s have a quick look around the rest of the outdoor rooms before leaving. A lap pool is tucked snugly into the rear garden room, which is surrounded by a wall of green... some of it edible... and all of it made up of native or well-adapted species that don’t need artificial irrigation.

Kentucky Bourbon wooden rain barrel and watering can at the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

   When you plant this way, it’s possible to collect all the irrigation water you need, as Maricé has done, and to distribute it more efficiently than just spraying all over. Rain chains carry the water from gutters down to a rain barrel at each corner of the cottage. Kentucky Bourbon, by law, must be aged in new white oak barrels. After one use, they are discarded. But they make great rain barrels, as you can clearly see.

garden wall made of excavated stone at the Chael-Dover Cottage in Miami, Florida

stone wall built from
pool excavation

   The pool has a great story as well: a lot of rock had to be excavated to make room for the pool. Normal practice would have been to burn gas to haul it off to the landfill. Instead, Victor took a local fellow who was “pretty unsteady on his bicycle because of substance issues” and worked with him to build a stone frontage wall with the rock from the pool. The guy learned the skill well, and now builds frontage walls for others in the neighborhood, earning enough money to bring a bit of stability to his life. Like so many other things about this cottage, that’s such a great story of healing and reusing the things we have... don’t you think?

   ~Steve Mouzon

PS: did a great story on the Chael-Dover Cottage with lots of technical details... please check it out It’s excellent information.

PPS: Click on any of the images above for high-res versions on my zenfolio site.

Legacy Comments:

Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 05:52 AM


Sure nice to see people living the space.
Thanks as always Steve.


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2020