An ocean home is an ocean home, right? Not exactly. Five leading coastal architects in very different locations share their experiences and expertise in designing and building the right home in the perfect waterfront setting.

Ask any architect how one ocean home varies from the next, and he or she will likely tell you it’s all by degrees—the sun’s orientation, the view, the water, the specific location, geography and topography, and adjacent sites and structures, not to mention the array of building materials being incorporated into the project.



Location: Seattle, WA

Architect: Gregory J. Bader

Principal, Bader Architecture

Most important consideration in a coastal architecture project: Protection against the elements—harsh sun, corrosive salt air, high wind velocities, including horizontal wind-driven rain and sand—on a year-after-year basis.

Unexpected or unique architectural elements you’ve used: Copper finials and weathervanes, lightning rods, reclaimed English chimney pots, reclaimed timbers, gambrel roofs with oval inset windows, widow’s watches, turrets, motorized outdoor “blackout” blinds, and elevator access to roof observation decks.

 A common myth about coastal architecture you’ve proven wrong: That aluminum windows are all-protective against the harsh elements. In truth, they often exhibit the same number of issues as wood or vinyl. Aluminum windows have been known to sweat, fade, leak in high winds, and crack at corner joints, allowing wind-driven water to penetrate the wall structure if not properly counter flashed.  

Your favorite coastal home project and why: The Shingle Style home (pictured) overlooking Lake Washington conjures up the casual elegance of summers away from the hustle and noise of the city. With its cedar shingles and battered stone foundations, it seems timeless and perfectly complements the lay of the land. An evolving coastal architecture trend: While traditional waterfront homes in Washington State tend to be of cedar shakes, shingles, or rustic lapped planks (cedar being a locally farmed building material), some newer homes are being built in the iconic International Style, often characterized by the use of broad sheets of flat cement board siding, steel post and beam structure, and the latest rain-screen type of walls that breathe but don’t allow moisture to enter.

 A no-no in coastal architecture: Unprotected wood beams and beam ends, especially those that are structural. Another is not exclusively using stainless steel connectors, including nails and screws.

A project that best represents your individual coastal architecture style: A Mediterranean-style home (pictured), situated on the shores of Puget Sound, and the Shingle Style home. Each attempts to maximize the views to the water and provide unique vantage points from different parts of the home at different times of the day. I like both homes because they are of a size that one’s focus is not only on details at hand but also on a procession of spaces and moods.  

An idea that still has a client talking: The painting out of electrical switch plates and trim rings around “can”-type recessed ceiling fixtures. It is something seemingly so simple, yet can be of high visual impact.

 A beach on which you would love to own a house: The beach at the southern end of Camano Island, located in the San Juan Islands between Seattle and Victoria, B.C., one of the few beaches in the region that isn’t rocks or dark green sand but actually gorgeous white sand. The adjacent high bank makes access to and from the beach a bit daunting—a climb of more than 100 steps—but it does provide for dramatic views.

 I love designing coastal homes because: … of the unique challenges of providing access to key views, to structural challenges, to sun exposure and weather, to relationship to neighbors, to applying an owner’s stylistic preferences.



Location: New York

Architect: Robert Barnes and Christopher Coy

Principals, Barnes Coy Architects

Most important consideration in a coastal architecture project: Waterfront houses are inherently vulnerable to extreme weather associated with the sea, so the primary design objective is the use of materials and forms that will both protect the house and enhance the ageing process.

An unexpected or unique architectural element you’ve used: We have used rustic stone wall construction in many of our projects, which is usually unexpected in modern design. This method involves the use of large stones, windows set deeply into thick walls, and opaque stone walls interrupted by large areas of glass transparency.

A common myth about coastal architecture you’ve proven wrong: A particularly persistent myth concerning coastal architecture is the need for huge terraces and many balconies facing the water. Because the terraces and balconies have furniture and handrails, the view from inside the house becomes occluded. Our solution involves lowering the terraces sufficiently to remove furnishings and handrails from the view line of sight, and designing recesses large enough to accommodate seating into the façade in place of overhanging balconies.

Your favorite coastal house project and why: A house on the island of St. Barts in the French West Indies. The site is high, with 270-degree views from east through south to west, and the walls are aligned such that interior and exterior spaces are always focused on the view.

An evolving coastal architecture trend: We think waterfront house design is moving away from emphasizing size and elaborate detailing toward a concern for creating an intimate, subtle dialogue between the built environment of the house and hardscape, and the natural environment of the land meeting the water.

An overused element or no-no in coastal architecture: Too many unused balconies and outdoor terraces whose furniture and handrails interfere with the view.

A project that best represents your individual coastal architecture style: A project in the Hamptons on the ocean where the public spaces and master bedroom are raised up in a superstructure that hovers over the dunes and lower part of the house, which contains guest and recreation rooms.

An idea that still has a client talking: In a cliffside house in Costa Rica, a bridge that extends from the entry of the house and cantilevers over the cliff, providing a sitting area suspended 100 feet above the ground and facing the sunset.

A coastline (or beach) on which you would love to own a house: The western coast of Mexico, south of Zihuatanejo, which affords spectacular, elevated views of the Pacific and its sunsets and 35 miles of untouched white beaches, bordered by palm trees.

We love designing coastal homes because: Besides the beauty of the site, there is generally more willingness by the client to be more adventurous architecturally and to provide the resources to use superb materials, including large areas of glass. This combination of ingredients is exceptional to this segment of residential design. 

Location: Connecticut

Architect: Peter Paulos and Philip Hubbard Partners

PH Architects

Most important consideration in a coastal architecture project: It’s all about the context. You have to respond to all of the elements of the site: the view, the water, the orientation, the adjacent sites and structures. The trick is to let the house become what it wants to become and what the site wants it to become, not what your architectural training wants it to become.

An unexpected or unique architectural element you’ve used: There are those days when you want to let in the cool ocean breezes and smell the “jasmine air,” and we often use cupolas with motorized windows to take full advantage of such days. This allows the homeowners to open the doors and windows and draw the air through the house and out of the cupola. The cupolas also introduce a wash of light to the upper-story walls and ceilings.

A common myth about coastal architecture you’ve proven wrong: We have seen many contemporary coastal homes that just seem too forced. We’ve taken time-honored elements of architectural qualities of proportion, scale, light, texture, and color and designed beautiful homes rooted in historical references and built responsibly with modern practices.

Your favorite coastal home project, and why: The Beach House in Palm Island, Florida, is far and away our favorite house, but the regulatory agencies were very challenging. We had to overcome hurdles with the State DEP, FEMA, Charlotte County, and Wildlife Protective Agencies that govern lighting and landscaping, which may affect sea turtles and gopher turtles populating the area. Having worked with these agencies, it makes the outcome all the more rewarding.

An evolving coastal architecture trend: We are seeing more clients asking for homes on a more modest scale with a concern toward efficiency. They are interested in efficiencies in building systems and controls, air conditioning, lighting controls, and smart home systems, as well as efficiencies in the use and organization of space.

An overused element or no-no in coastal architecture style: Although we do not prescribe to any particular style, we have seen designers and architects forcing their will onto a particular site, resulting in a home that doesn’t respond to the context of the site and that really doesn’t fit. Often, the proportions of these homes are poorly conceived, which makes for an awkward assemblage of forms and looks haphazard.

A project that best represents your individual coastal architecture style: The beach house at the Palm Island Resort best represents what we strive for in each of our coastal homes. This house responds to the context of the homes in the area with an updated influence—it’s traditional with a contemporary twist.

An idea that still has the client talking: On a new coastal house in Gulf Breeze, Florida, we designed an operating glass wall on the seaward side of the house that opened up and retracted completely like an airplane hangar door and hid in the coffered ceilings of the balconies.

A coastline or beach on which you would love to own a house: Georgica Beach in East Hampton, New York, or a small cottage on the coast in York, Maine.

We love designing coastal homes because: It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to design and build homes in some of the most beautiful places on the coast. The calm beauty that each house portrays often belies the many regulatory hurdles, the complexities, and the effort necessary to complete the project. This makes the final home all the more rewarding. ]

Location: Rhode Island

Architect: Judd Brown President,

JBD Judd Brown Designs

Most important considerations in a coastal architecture project: The sun’s orientation and views relative to living spaces are critical to designing a successful home. Waking up to a beautiful sun-filled space, the reflections of the water, and the sound of the ocean are what living on the water is all about.

An unexpected or unique architectural element you’ve used: When designing a railing system for a mid-level deck area, I used stainless steel rods coupled with a mahogany cap to create a unique but classic railing system that didn’t block the views of the ocean.

A common myth about coastal architecture you’ve proven wrong: A house must be large to be special … rather, it should be a house with unlimited flexibility, expanding to meet the need for large gatherings yet maintaining a special intimacy for the homeowners.

Your favorite coastal home project, and why: A home I designed for a family on the Rhode Island coast three years ago, which started as a simple three-room decoration project before turning into a major 6,000-square-foot rebuild. The complete reorganization of the 1900s cottage into a luxury family home created many structural challenges from which unique design solutions emerged.

An evolving coastal architecture trend: The development of exterior spaces, which include exterior kitchens, fireplaces, and conversation areas. Whether open to the elements or enclosed by moving walls and roofs, exterior areas are constantly incorporating new technology and materials that enhance the owners’ lifestyle.

A project that best represents your individual coastal architecture style: A grand shingle-style home in Massachusetts, which we designed from the ground up. The site was previously undeveloped and offered few, if any, obstacles to the creative process. With a clean slate and a willing client, the design reflected many components of the great coastal homes developed along the New England coast in the 1900s.

An idea that still has a client talking: The design of an exterior entertainment level in a previously undeveloped basement using retractable walls and screening was a feature the client never anticipated. Complemented by an exterior shower, hot tub, and terrace, the previously unused space is now a primary gathering area.

A coastline on which you would love to own a house: Laguna Beach, California.

I love designing coastal homes because: These properties speak to my inner person and the life experiences I so enjoy. Meeting the dreams of homeowners and their goal of building a special place for their family is really what design is all about. To bring views, the sound of the ocean, and light into a place where memories happen is extremely rewarding.



Location: Costa Rica

Architect: David Konwiser

Principal, IKON Architecture and Co-Owner, Villa Punto de Vista, Manuel Antonio

Most important consideration in a coastal architecture project: I think it’s a crime to waste the opportunity to properly design and develop the most coveted pieces of real estate on earth. For an architect, there is a real responsibility to develop a coastal property in a reverent fashion befitting the opportunity at hand.

An unexpected or unique architectural element you’ve used: A detail I am pleased with at Villa Punto de Vista is within the viewless hallways that I transformed into a sort of “gallery of doorways.” The effect was obtained by framing each entrance with a perimeter of Italian Bisazza mosaic tile and then cove-lighting the detail. The lighting is the only illumination of the hallway and not only produces the desired gallery effect but allows the unique colors for each doorway to designate each room, eliminating the need for name plaques or door numbers.

An evolving coastal architecture trend: The most fundamental trend overall is lowering dependence on CO2- emitting utilities such as electricity and mitigating building operation costs. In coastal homes, this primarily means cutting down air conditioning using next-generation glazing and a more thoughtful use of sun shading, which is typically the most eco-friendly solution.

An overused element or no-no in coastal architecture: Materials that weather badly. I can’t believe the number of architects still using vast amounts of exposed wood that, when not maintained with the diligence of a yacht’s crew, looks 15 years old after one year in the sun.

Your favorite coastal home project and why: A project I had the pleasure of visiting recently is Playa Vik in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay, by local design legend Carlos Ott. Hats off to the man. His work is refreshingly unique and my approach to architecture is similarly inspired.

A coastline on which you would love to own a house and why: Santorini, Greece. Where else can you seemingly soar above the ocean, not to mention the lost city of Atlantis, from the rim of an extinct volcano?

A common myth about coastal architecture you’ve proven wrong: Thanks to seasonal storms and hurricanes, there’s a paranoia associated with coastal architecture that keeps buildings from being as “liberated” as is possible when it comes to windows and doors. My solution with Punto de Vista was the introduction of cantilevered corners throughout the building, which bring the outside in like no other structural system can with a glazing solution that still protects the villa’s occupants in the event of an occasional storm.

An idea that still has a client talking: Turning the nautically shaped roof over the Jacuzzi on the villa’s sixth floor into a water collector. When it rains, the collector sends a tight trail of water six stories down into the reflecting pool at the villa’s entrance. Our clients simply love it and don’t regret booking the villa in the off-season.

A project that best represents your individual coastal architecture style: Punto de Vista’s ship-like form is in reference to the fact that the villa is “chartered” by its guests and serviced by its “crew.” I also wanted the tropical birds of the rainforest to be honored with the “wings” of the building. Together you have a yacht that flies gracefully over the rainforest.

I love designing coastal homes because: There is a breezy liberation of mind and body when at the sea that few other geographies can match. That said, I see an ocean of possibility in all projects when a client is open to a building becoming what the site tells us it must be.