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December 09, 2016
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Sustainability house

TRR photos by Cass Collins

By Cass Collins

Rebekah Creshkoff dreamed of a straw-bale house. A dedicated birder, she had spent her adult life in New York City riding her bike to work every day across Central Park. There, a downy woodpecker had gotten to know her well enough to eat out of her hand.

In 2010, she and her husband Lenny Friedland rented a house for the summer in Narrowsburg. They liked it so much, the next year they found themselves dreaming about building a home. Another rental on River Road in Callicoon turned those dreams into plans.

Their real estate broker, Elise Freda, pointed them to a lot on a blissful stretch of the Delaware River and to Jeff McMahon, a local expert in sustainable building. Jeff saw the lot and quickly dispelled Rebekah’s notion of a straw-bale house, but he merged with the couple’s vision of sustainable, energy-conscious architecture. He told them he could build them a house that was 100% energy efficient. They were savvy New Yorkers, so the concept of 100% anything stretched believability.

They suspended their disbelief long enough to listen to McMahon’s ideas. With local architect Michael Chojnicki, Jeff designed a simple two-story structure clad in recycled barn-board on a poured concrete slab. “Michael is my number one go-to on construction issues in the river valley,” says McMahon. “I learn from all the people involved in the construction process,” he says, including the clients, who taught McMahon about bird-friendly building.

Rebekah is involved with Project Safe Flight, an Audubon Society program that collects data and advises builders on bird-friendly practices. The windows of the River Road house are marked with a special bird tape ( that prevents birds from colliding into them. It also has a pleasing graphic quality. Deep overhangs over windows also help by minimizing reflections. “Sustainability means being sensitive to the outside,” says McMahon. “This is my first experience with a client whose sensibilities were so attuned to the avian species.” The couple’s white-faced cockatiel, Snowflake, slept under cover at the time of this reporter’s visit, but he is reported to prefer the calm of his new country home to the noisy city life. He now exhibits anxiety when he spends too much time visiting the city.