When it comes to designing a custom modern beach house, one of the most crucial considerations is understanding how the home can take advantage of its strongest asset: the views. Many factors go into ensuring the home can celebrate its location fully, including orientation, program layout inside, sun angles, indoor/outdoor living, privacy and more.
Below is an overview of some of these factors that an architect should bear in mind while designing your modern beach home, as well as a look at three homes to serve as inspiration for your project.
If you are building a beach house, then your primary goal is likely to take advantage of the ocean views that were the reason you purchased the lot in the first place. By thinking critically about your home’s orientation and layout, and how you might frame the views, you can ensure that you are working toward this goal. Your architect will ask you questions about how you envision yourself using the space and enjoying the views, and should use these insights to inform the design. EYRC Architects uses specific technology to help owners envision the exact views from certain spaces in their custom home during the design process to ensure the design intent is realized.
Another major consideration is the need to account for, and mitigate, harsh sunlight which is common at many beachfront properties. This is especially true along the West Coast, which looks out into the Pacific Ocean and gets a lot of direct sunlight from the afternoon through sunset.
While you may want to take advantage of these beautiful vistas, this aspiration must be balanced against the goal of creating a comfortable home. You might achieve this in any number of ways. Some examples include leveraging deep canopies and overhangs over windows or doors that allow you to enjoy the view while also shielding the home from the sun; recessing glass behind walls, screens, or vertical slats that can filter out some of the light while preserving the view, and more.
Depending on where exactly you are building your beach home, you may find that privacy is a concern. For example, if you are building in a location with many other structures close by, or near a public beach, it is only natural to want to have privacy. This, again, must be balanced against your desire to take advantage of the ocean views.
Overhangs, screens, and slats, as mentioned above, can be incredibly effective. Landscaping can also be leveraged in interesting ways to create privacy in your outdoor areas, if that is a concern.
In other areas throughout the home, even in spaces that require privacy such as bathrooms and bedrooms, it can be possible to incorporate the view. For example, a small window, strategically placed, can still allow you to enjoy the view without risk of having your privacy encroached upon. Even if the view is not visible, having that window there will allow you to appeal to your other senses: Auditory, through the sound of the crashing waves; olfactory, through the smell of the ocean breeze, etc.
The Emerald Bay residence is just steps away from the Pacific Ocean. Because the site has something of an oblique view of the ocean down the street, and not a head-on view, it needed to be massed in such a way that the main living space was lifted up as much as possible off the street. We accomplished this by placing the garage underneath the living room and kitchen. We then shifted and rotated the main living space to look down the street and between the houses on either side in order to gain access to the coveted view.
This property is located in an exclusive neighborhood, with plenty of restrictions including a height limit. EYRC had to carefully calibrate the height of the floor and finished ground outside in order to block out the view of the house in front of us and maintain a view of the ocean. Doors pocket away on both sides of the living room creating a clear view to the ocean. This also creates covered outdoor space and a frame for the ocean view.
This project took the form of an extensive remodel in the Pacific Palisades. The original home actually wasn’t open to the view at all, but through thoughtful editing of the architecture it was opened up by removing the barriers between the home and the best parts of the site. Now, as you enter the home through the entry courtyard, you get a hint of the ocean view before you even get into the house. Even though it is situated in a populated neighborhood, the architecture takes you away so you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing privacy.
Working with a custom residential architect with experience in coastal homes will help you fully enjoy your site. Custom coastal residences are a balancing act between careful considerations for the factors discussed above, while creating a truly livable space that meets your specific lifestyle and needs.
Takashi Yanai is a Partner at Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects and has been Residential Studio Director since 2004. Takashi is also currently leading EYRC’s San Francisco Studio. Prior to practice, Takashi was a design journalist and editor at GA Houses in Tokyo where his work and travels provided the seeds for his design philosophy. Today his work is rooted in its contemplative relationship to landscape and is a continuation of the California Modernist ethos infused with reinterpretations of traditional Japanese elements. In 2017 he was elevated to the AIA College of Fellows in recognition of his residential work, which articulates how architecture can “connect man and nature through masterful siting and exceptional craft.” Takashi serves on the SFMOMA Photography Accessions as well as the Architecture+Design Accessions Committees and has also been appointed the Chair of the National AIA Committee on Design for 2021. His professional activities, travels and personal inspirations are well-documented and widely followed (57,000 followers) on his Instagram account @t_yanai. Takashi has a degree in Literature with distinction from the University of California at Berkeley and a Masters in Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.