A Vessel for the Things That Matter
Founded in 1946, Skyview Acres in Pomona is a 110 acre intentional community with a soul of progressive social and political ideals and a heart beating with extraordinary stories of its residents. Rabia and Paul Nagin have lived there since building their Energy Star rated green home, Eco-Taj, in 2006, but that’s not where their Skyview story begins.
Decades before Paul got the eco-bug to build as close to a net zero home as possible, Rabia was a 10 year old traveling with her family to visit musician Ed Simons who lived in Skyview. As she describes it, she grew up around “people who were very connected to what was going on in the world,” and Skyview attracted people who wanted to make positive changes. Rabia explains, “The founders were not only interested in living in nature and were like minded people politically, but it was a time where there were no integrated communities.” Dr. Edmund Gordon, a pioneering educational psychologist and one of the first residents of Skyview, was refused a meal at a local diner within a mile of his own home. Dr. Margaret Lawrence, the first African American woman to become a psychoanalyst in the United States, was a long-time Skyview resident. Paul and Rabia hosted many birthday bashes for her at Eco Taj, including her 100th. George Houser, one of the founders, was also the founder of the Congress for Racial Equality. The founders of this new community were what Paul called “Utopian visionaries” and Skyview became a place where “people care about each other and take care of each other,” a seemingly simple approach to life that can still feel rare in a time when many people rarely connect with their neighbors.
Paul and Rabia’s move to Skyview came after their son Avi needed violin lessons, and Rabia knew right away that she wanted him to study with Ed Simon. She drove Avi to visit Ed at Skyview just as she did with her parents. Studying chamber music required three lessons a week, and after regularly making the trip from Westchester, Paul and Rabia decided to buy a piece of land in Skyview and rent a home nearby so they could watch over the construction of their new home.
There are 49 homes in Skyview Acres and most of the parcels of land are in a Land Trust barring any subdivisions and the land can not be down-zoned. Paul and Rabia purchased the last plot of land available at that time, and began to build Eco Taj. It stands as a testament to what is possible in green home construction and design.
The house was featured on the Discovery Channnel’s World’s Greenest Homes, and when it was completed, it was rated the 3rd greenest house in the state of New York. In 2006, the mainstream idea of “Green” was mostly contained to solar panels, but Rabia shares that Paul’s vision went far beyond that.
“It’s not just a warm and obviously luxurious home, but knowing that it’s not making an impact on the world is such a good feeling and that really falls on Paul’s shoulders.” Paul contacted the State and found out about the Energy Star program for homes and a consultant helped with planning and drafting. The home uses a geothermal heat pump for heating and cooling and the only maintenance it has needed in 15 years was replacement of air filters. The machinery is expected to last 25 years. Pellet stoves heat the main and lower level by burning compressed sawdust pellets which is the eco version of a wood stove. The walls are 8” thick and have dense packed cellulose (ground up newspaper) as insulation. The windows are efficient double-paned Low-E glass. During the planning stages, the house was even micropositioned in order to cut down the least amount of trees.
Downstairs, Paul describes many “creative uses of garbage.” The wall behind the bar is made from stalks of the sorghum plant and shelves are made from ground up sunflower stalk. Column covers are made from reconstituted sawdust.
Music and art are core values that flow through the structure and energy of Eco Taj. The first event held there, described by Rabia as a blessing of the house, was a performance of a singing group from Holland, led by Laura Hassler. Laura, a “Skyview Baby,” went on to form “Musicians Without Borders,” which works to help heal emotional injuries of war through music.
When it comes to the creative design of Eco Taj, architect Jeffrey Hall had Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 9 playing for the four days it took him to hand-draw all the plans for the house. Jeffrey Hall was on the Board of the Rockland Conservatory of Music which also benefited from fundraisers at Eco Taj. The main room has ideal acoustics and a floor that can withstand 100 people dancing. Paul received his nickname “Crazy Legs” from his love of dancing to 60s music and reggae. The arts and crafts style design elements allow the family to display their love of art. Rabia explains, “All the things you see are from our background,” and the home has become a “repository for art that our family has accumulated or been given.” Their children made the pottery that fills the shelves and a friend painted the tiles in the kitchen.
Eco Taj has also been a container for social activism, housing many events for nonprofits like Planned Parenthood or meet-and-greets for politicians like Congresswoman Nita Lowey. Continuing her mission for women and children’s rights, Rabia is now Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee’s Chief of Staff. Rabia describes their frustration when nonprofits would have to use a chunk of what they raised for a function room, so they feel grateful to be able to offer their home as a resource. “It’s gratifying that nonprofits can have a place, and because the room is configurable, it adapts to so many different events.”
Paul adapts the main room conference style when he teaches Climate Science to 30 East Ramapo High School students. Their science teacher gives them background on theories, but then they travel to Eco Taj to see the guts of the house and learn the possibilities of going green. Paul and Rabia are very active in their public school district and the Spring Valley NAACP. They have worked to get public school advocates on the school board and believe every school district should have equitable education. Paul is very passionate about sharing his knowledge of green home construction and design with today’s youth and even has the machinery set up in the basement to look like a museum with cut outs in the walls serving as frames to to help focus the tours he gives.
Eco Taj is currently on the market with realtor Lisa Green of Wright Bros. Realty in Nyack. In looking ahead to when Paul and Rabia will leave Eco Taj to downsize, they are looking to stay in Skyview but build a smaller and greener home. The windows will be triple-paned and the walls will be 12” thick. Paul wants to build a house with zero net energy consumption. He explains that, “Technology has evolved. We can do much better.” Paul and Rabia are still looking forward to holding events in their new home, continuing Eco Taj’s role as a vessel for change. Family, music, art, education, and activism…the home became as Rabia describes it “a vessel for all the things that matter.”
Nicky is a writer and nature explorer. Through teaching yoga, meditation, and womb massage, she holds space for women to connect with their own inner healing powers.