Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Project: Beach Cottage, Dewey Beach, DE

Architect: David Jones Architects, Washington, DC; David Jones, principal; Wouter Boer, project architect; Nick Bernel, staff architect

General Contractor: Beachwood Builders Inc., Showell, MD

 

 

Awards
New Design & Construction – less than 5,000 sq.ft.

Winner: David Jones Architects

On the Waterfront

By Will Holloway

Along with Lewes and Rehoboth Beach to the north and Bethany Beach to the south, the coastal Delaware town of Dewey Beach is a summer mecca for urbanites from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. Stretching for a mile along a thin strip of land between Rehoboth Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Dewey Beach is a mere two blocks wide with a year-round population of just over 300. During the summer months, the population swells to the tens of thousands as visitors flock to local beaches and the bars, restaurants and music venues along the town's main street. Many of those establishments are owned by a local entrepreneur (and former Dewey Beach mayor) who, in 2003, approached Washington, DC-based David Jones Architects (DJA) with a specific goal in mind – to build a beach house that would make an architectural statement amid the nondescript cottages built in the town since the 1940s.

The client had grown up in North Easton, MA, which is renowned for its collection of H.H. Richardson buildings (the Ames Free Library, the Oaks Ames Memorial Hall, the Ames Gatehouse, the railroad station and a residence), and maintains an affinity for the historical architecture of New England. So, as a point of departure, DJA principal David Jones and the client pored over McKim, Mead & White monographs, Vincent Scully's The Architecture of the American Summer: The Flowering of the Shingle Style and a stack of other Shingle Style resources. With Jones' encouragement, the client also visited several iconic houses, including McKim, Mead & White's Isaac Bell House in Newport, RI, and Richardson's Stoughton House in Cambridge, MA.

Situated on a corner property, DJA's design of the resulting 4,100-sq.ft., Shingle Style-inspired house addresses both the beach to the east and a beach-access road to the north; the firm used the site to create two quite different façades. A single broad gable – characteristic of many Shingle Style houses – and a first-floor screened porch face the ocean. On the north side, a more energized composition – a large tower, an asymmetrical gable, a projecting second-floor bay window and a recessed entry porch – addresses the street. "[The north façade] is longer, and we wanted to break it up and give it more volumetric interest, as in many of the original Shingle Style homes," says Jones. "Its large gable is also asymmetrical – it's higher on the ocean side and sweeps down to the west, leading the eye from the street out to the ocean."

Ribbons of dark-green-painted windows on the first and second floors tie the tower and the bay window in with the façade. On the east and west façades, decorative panels feature an anchor motif; they are based on detailing that was common on Shingle Style houses of the 1880s and '90s. Trim bands and variations in coursing enliven the shingled façades. The multi-paned windows frame views and give a sense of enclosure. Nautical motifs inform the details, including the decorative panels and a newel at the sidewalk that was inspired by a lighthouse.

Because it was to be used year-round, the client wanted a house that would take advantage of the view of the beach and ocean while providing shelter from the summer sun and harsh winter winds. The program called for a living/dining area and an open kitchen as one large room facing the ocean on the first floor. The tower on the north façade allows views from this room down the beach and the street. A den, guest bedroom and a home office occupy the remainder of the first floor; the home office allows the client to view two of his establishments across the main street a block away. On the second floor, a sitting room at the top of the stairs opens onto the master bedroom, guest bedrooms and a porch with ocean and sunset views.

Because of the threat of storm surges from hurricanes, the ground floor of the house is not habitable. A common response in the area is an open-air area below the house with pilings supporting the first floor; in this case, breakaway walls enclose a grid of pilings at the ground level that support the house above. "If there's a hurricane and the ocean comes over the dunes," says Jones, "it will rip away all of those walls on the ground floor." The walls also serve to visually anchor the mass of the house to the ground; DJA specified an alternating pattern of shingles around the ground level to differentiate it from the upper levels of the house.

To complicate matters, the building code of the town of Dewey Beach stipulates that the height of a structure cannot exceed 30 ft. "When the ground floor is devoted to letting the ocean go through and the peak can only be at 30 ft., the second floor is necessarily almost an attic floor," says Jones. "It was a challenge to have these large gables but yet stay within the height limit. Because of that limit, we're seeing a number of pseudo traditional houses with flat roofs – and a traditional house with a flat roof isn't always successful. This house shows that you can have large gables and still obey the height limit."

Jones points out that the firm spent a great deal of time composing the massing of the house – which was completed in 2007 – noting that going through many sketches and several study models was a fun learning exercise for everyone involved. He and the client are delighted with the result, and he says that people come from Lewes and Rehoboth Beach just to have a look at the architectural statement. The Dewey Beach house is also the third Palladio Award-winning design for David Jones Architects – the firm was recognized in 2003 for a new stone farmhouse in McLean, VA, and in 2006 for a new informal English-style residence in Chevy Chase, MD.  

 

 

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