Helen Greiner can build you a robot, but don’t ask her to cook you dinner.
The cofounder and chairwoman of iRobot Corp. of Burlington, which makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner and other robotic devices, makes only tea and coffee in her kitchen, beautifully appointed with Corian and chrome design and modern appliances. The two meals a day she fits into her schedule are eaten outside, a fact underscored by her refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, all nearly bare.
Greiner, 37, would rather be boating, particularly kayaking; it’s why she selected this house on Lake Cochituate.
The split-level home on one-third of an acre is of moderate size — three compact bedrooms, an open dining/living area, and a screened porch. Of course, that doesn’t include Lake Cochituate: ”I consider the whole lake my land,” she says, playfully.
She keeps two kayaks and a small Sunfish sailboat on her private dock, and plans to own a ski boat one day.
”If you live near fun you have more of it,” she says. ”I wouldn’t go kayaking if I had to put it on my car and go somewhere.”
Born in London, Greiner moved to New York with her family when she was 5. She moved to Boston to attend MIT, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in computer science. In 2003, she was selected as one of the country’s top 10 innovators by Fortune magazine.
She travels frequently for work and as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. A photo of herself with other Forum ”Power Chicks” rests on a wall unit beside her newest toy, a Bose iPod SoundDock, and her Russian matryoshka doll collection. She also displays favorite items from her year as an exchange student in Japan and a collection of wood-carved animals from Sri Lanka, which now ”remind me not only of a wonderful trip but also the sadness” of the damage wrought by the tsunami, she says.
Her taste in furniture is sleek ”modern lines”; she says she searched for just the right couches before finally finding them at Adesso, ”that foofy European place in Boston.” She selected end tables and a dining room set from Workbench and Crate and Barrel. ”It doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as I like it.” Her favorite seat is an oversized beanbag, soon to relocate to the basement after her brother, a builder to the stars on Long Island, fulfills his promise to build a home theater for her.
Greiner spends endless hours in a second-floor study that, these days, looks out at snow-covered trees and the lake. But it’s the Internet game Second Life, not the view, that compels her. It’s ”a whole artificial world; a really neat game they let you program,” she says, then pauses and adds, as though rationalizing her guilty pleasure, ”The programming paradigm is somewhat similar to the behaviors on the robots.”
Books line the study walls, with titles from business to biology to military doctrines to contemporary novels to ”the more whimsical, my ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books.” She has read them all.
This is the first house Greiner has owned. Built in the 1950s and renovated by the former occupants, all it required when she moved in two years ago were Internet cables and the upgraded basement.
Just off the lower level is a small storeroom brimming with new golf clubs and snowboarding equipment. ”If there’s fun going on, I don’t want to stay behind,” she says. She’s taking up golf for conference downtime and is an avid snowboarder. Alongside her sporting equipment is a well-stocked workbench.
She’s big on DeWalt tools, admitting she originally stocked up to fix the ”five more things” the house required. ”My friends laughed, saying, ‘Helen, you don’t know what it’s like to own a house.”
Indeed, keeping up with her home has been continuous, but at least she never has to vacuum: The robotic floor vac her company created shimmies its way around the shiny hardwood floors, dodging the furnishings and dining well on any dirt left unnoticed.