Earlier this week, the green architecture and design community lost one of its own in Mary Richardson Kennedy, the estranged second wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmental attorney and activist, radio host, and, of course, one of 11(!) children born to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel Kennedy. On Wednesday, Mary Kennedy, 52, was found dead at her Bedford, N.Y., home with the cause of death being ruled by the Westchester County Medical Examiners Office as asphyxiation due to hanging.
While much focus has been placed on the events leading up to Mary Kennedy’s suicide — her messy, never-finalized divorce, her struggles with depression and alcoholism, her high-profile arrests in 2010 — I thought I’d take a moment to step aside from revisiting the “Kennedy Curse” to take a look at what the green architect and devoted mother of four will perhaps be remembered for the most (aside from being a Kennedy by marriage): her eco-friendly home.
Described as “a tremendously gifted architect and a pioneer and relentless advocate of green design who enhanced her cutting edge, energy efficient creations with exquisite taste and style" in a statement issued by the family, Mary Kennedy went about transforming a 1920s colonial farmhouse into a cutting-edge eco-showhome after the original home's basement was ravaged by flooding after a summer storm. Facing a rather nasty black mold infestation and compromised indoor air quality, Kennedy, a former architectural designer at Parrish-Hadley Associates, saw the giant, toxic mess (she described it as a "sick house") as an opportunity to start anew on the family's secluded 12-acre estate.
Mary and Bobby Kennedy enlisted the help of interior designer Robin Wilson and builder Jim Blansfield to embark on an ambitious, year-long rebuilding project completed in December 2009 that focused on “maximum energy and water efficiency and improved indoor air quality to benefit the future of our planet and health of our children” while showcasing “the latest in green technologies, sustainable building practices and healthy home initiatives.” The goal of the LEED-certified project according to the Kennedy Green House website? “To become the new model for green building and healthy homes nationwide.”
Ecofabulous took an extensive tour of the home after the release of the book and shared some interesting design details in the reclaimed materials department (and plenty of great photos): door hardware salvaged from an old mental institution, marble taken from a Park Avenue apartment, bed headboards made from Vermont barns, and the list goes on. Mary Kennedy describes the salvaging process to New York House in a 2011 article: “It was a scavenger hunt; I was running around salvaging stuff. One of my missions is to be sure nothing goes to waste." In terms of energy efficiency, the home boasts a geothermal heating and cooling system, a hybrid solar hot water heating system, 16 SolaTubes, a 7.56 kW photovoltaic array composed of 120 SunPower solar shingles, energy-efficient Electrolux appliances, LED lighting, and much more.
And although often described as a rehabbing, the Kennedy Green House Project was more of a rebuild/massive salvage job than anything. Explains Blansfield to Contractor magazine: “We salvaged the home by removing the entire foundation and supporting the existing structure. We put the house up on steel beam trusses to salvage it and do work underneath, then we put a new foundation back in and lowered the house down. The house is really a new structure on new foundation with a lot of reused materials from other projects near by.”
A lovely quote from Mary Kennedy ends a profile of the Kennedy Green House Project in New York House: "The children ground us. They’re a constant reminder of what’s important in life and what we’re really doing this for. It’s not for accolades. We want to leave a better world than the world we were given."
Mary Kennedy's body was found by a housekeeper not in the home itself, but in a barn on the property. Her children were at boarding school or in California with their father at the time. In an odd twist, Bobby Kennedy is currently dating Cheryl Hines, an actress best known for her role as Larry David's wife on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Larry David's real-life wife, the environmental activist Laurie David, is a close friend of Kennedy and has worked with him on various initiatives. It's unclear if David introduced Hines and Kennedy.
Funeral services for Mary Richardson Kennedy will be held this weekend at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Bedford. She will be buried on Cape Cod near the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport, Mass. For more on the Kennedy Green House project, head on over to the website's press section.