In 2006, Helena Flecker and her husband, Jason Grossman, were renovating their dream home — a Lloyd Harbor midcentury they dubbed “The Tree House” — and were told the two beloved 100-year-old oaks framing it had deteriorated to the point they had to come down.
It was heartbreaking for Flecker, 48, a designer and ardent environmentalist who wanted to maintain as much of the natural surroundings as possible. Then it hit her. The oaks could go, as long as their wood was used in their home. It would be like the Shel Silverstein’s story “The Giving Tree,” she thought, about a tree that sacrifices itself for a little boy as he grows up.
“By the time we were through,’’ she says of the oaks, “parts of them ended up everywhere.
Appreciating nature and incorporating it into her work has long been a major part of Flecker’s philosophy as the founder of HFG Design. A graduate of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and a former teacher at the Parsons School of Design, she has worked on everything from corporate offices on Wall Street to homes throughout the country, all while promoting an ecological awareness.
Flecker and her husband, an attorney, lived in their Lloyd Harbor home for two years while they figured out how to preserve the original architecture as well as the two-acre property’s forested beauty.
In no place is Flecker's dedication to sustainability more apparent than her own home, which was kept small (by today’s standards) at 2,850 square feet to reduce heating, cooling, light and watering requirements.
“It’s my exercise in restraint,” she says.
The walls and roof of the Lloyd Harbor home are insulated with old, shredded bluejeans. Cross ventilation allows fresh air in, and ceiling fans reduce the need for air conditioning.
Radiant heat along with a fireplace between the kitchen and living room keep things toasty. High-efficiency lighting, Energy Star appliances and low-flow plumbing fixtures are used throughout. The carpeting is wool and the padding biodegradable.
Using a local sawyer, Flecker turned the two downed oaks into flooring, stair treads, furniture, cabinets, desks and even a headboard.
In the living room, she pushed together rough-hewn blocks to create a coffee table.
The modular coffee table is both contemporary and rustic.
One of the biggest chunk of wood — a seven-foot-long piece — became a dining room bench. Too heavy to lift, it was outfitted with casters and can be pushed easily around the room.
The stair treads were milled from wood of the two downed trees.
Flecker designed the couple's headboard from choice pieces of the oak.
The powder room vanity is made from the old trees.
A giant skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows make the house so bright, Flecker says, that there's no need to turn on a light until dusk.
The house is cooled by shade in the summer and warmed by sunlight in winter, after the leaves fall.
“The biggest thing for me was to have a 360-degree view,” Flecker says. “I feel like I’m floating in nature. You see the sun rising, the colors exploding. There is such beauty out there.”