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  • Writer's pictureCheryl McIntosh

Lowman Beach Residence: A Study of Beauty and Efficiency

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

The Lowman Beach Residence is a Rhodes Architecture + Light custom home design that sits on Seattle’s Puget Sound waterfront with sweeping western views of water, Blake and Vashon Islands, and the Olympic Peninsula. The water and shoreline environment and the 42-foot wide site drove the simple shingled “beach cottage” forms and natural weathered material pallet. The design of the house resulted too from a desire for an understated contemporary home that takes full advantage of its marine and island domain yet also folds private spaces around interior courts and opens to multiple levels of landscaped outdoor terraces.

Housed in archetypal gabled forms that are separated by a lower glass and steel stair atrium and exterior multi-level courts, the residence is broken into separate main living/dining/sleeping areas (water side), guest bedroom and bath (interior courts), and separate mother-in-law apartment/gym/garage (private rear court and access drive) sections. The massing of the home sought to reduce the scale of the structure’s significant size while opening the various spaces within to water, sun, trees + native plants, and private outdoor spaces. The home’s materials and finishes were chosen to reflect the sand, beach pebbles, water and natural materials of the quiet site.

While the massing and composition of the house appears simple, the design and details were complex. The different levels of the residence were necessary to meet required FEMA flood levels, enter through the front yard garage, incorporate a separated home gym and MIL apartment, and provide walk-out spaces and adjacent green space at five different ground levels. The narrow site (north to south) allowed only 40 feet of width in which to build the complex of spaces and courts. Creating human scale and a “beach house” small-structure aesthetic was crucial to integrating the house into its neighborhood context. The architecture sought to “fit the house in” rather than to announce it.

The contemporary “shingle-style” aesthetic of the Lowman Beach Residence was accomplished with a very low-maintenance exterior that faces predominant wind and weather and is sited on salt water. The house incorporates a number of highly sustainable yet hardy materials and systems. The exterior shingles are cut from “Resysta” boards, a weathered wood-like material manufactured from salvaged rice husks, salts, and linseed oil which requires no finish and has a very long life. The entire cladding system is hung on galvanized girts with an interstitial airspace, a “rain-screen” system. The rain-screen cladding system uses the highest quality building envelope and ventilates the sustainable siding systems. This exterior siding allowed all gutters and roof drainage to be hidden; the roof is a long-lasting standing seam prefinished metal. Materials were chosen for low-impact manufacturing, long life, and minimal maintenance. These kinds of designs are what have established Rhodes Architecture + Light as a leading Seattle luxury home planner who can handle unique and complicated projects.

Lower house forms that modulate and break down the apparent size of the home and support decks were clad in a sustainably harvested American Cypress charred to protect the wood siding from rot, insects, and mold and mildew, an ancient Japanese technique called shou sugi ban. Exterior decks of natural Ipe wood pavers are warm in winter and stay cool in summer and add a natural pallet to the exterior living spaces.

Exterior integrally-colored fiber cement panels, prefinished metal siding, and large modern aluminum-clad Kolbe windows and doors, including a huge 30-foot wide folding door system facing the water views, create an exterior that is tough, requires almost no maintenance, and incorporates naturally sustainable materials. Doors and windows are set back into the volumes of the house to create protective overhangs without the need to add overhangs; the resulting form is kept uncomplicated by the clustered, subtractive openings. Separated “punched” openings contrasting the wide window walls were wrapped with powder-coated steel borders and located to frame distinct quiet views of the water and islands to the west.

The Lowman Beach Residence also works to be energy and resource efficient. The house incorporates 16.5 kwh of photo-voltaic roof-mounted panels and generates its own electricity. Power generated by the home is sold back to Seattle City Light. Low-voltage, energy-controlled electric and lighting systems were incorporated. Energy use is monitored throughout the home.

Storm water from house roofs and decks and from the drive and courtyards is channeled to an on-site natural rain garden incorporating plants to “treat” and dissipate storm water and reduce the impact to Seattle’s storm water system. Site paving was chosen to reflect the natural environment, for minimal maintenance, and to be pervious to rainwater, allowing natural recharge of the ground water and reducing site run-off. Vegetation on site was carefully designed to incorporate native and low-maintenance, low-water plants.

Our custom home designers in Seattle utilized the home’s southern courts and exposure for passive solar gain and its overhangs west and south to allow solar gain in winter, shading in summer. Door and window systems are high-efficiency and incorporate heat-blocking and ultraviolet-reducing films on west and south-facing glass.

High-efficiency furnaces (designed for a future heat-pump), water heating, doors and windows, and thermal insulation exceed the strict Washington State Energy Code requirements. The building and site/landscape lighting uses LED systems throughout the house; exterior lighting is primarily ground-illuminating, minimal “trespass” and low glare.

The design of the distinct parts of the house produced interiors that are well separated, pragmatic but always scaled for human use. Despite the 5,200 square feet of residential space, the individual spaces are comfortable and not “grand”. Ceiling heights are modulated with dropped wood soffits and lighting coves to create higher, more “public” spaces for gatherings and lower, more intimate space at dining and bathing places.The structure of the house, simple engineered wood and steel beams and plywood decking was exposed and stained to create an understanding of the materials that support the house while honestly expressing them. The large doors and windows lend the interiors significant natural light (reducing the need to turn on electric lighting). Main living space glass facing entry courts was screened for privacy with Resysta exterior screen walls which are carried inside around the glass central stair enclosure. Warm weathered flooring, rich stained maple cabinetry, and stone and porcelain tile reflecting colors and qualities of sand, beach rock, and water bring a natural pallet into the house while remaining subdued- framing and not competing with the exquisite natural environment outside.

The result is a warm and comfortable modern beach house that looks into and frames natural planted courts and beach terraces and encourages the quiet enjoyment of this beautiful part of the Pacific Northwest.

The Lowman Beach House was created by Rhodes Architecture + Light, TEC Engineering (Civil), Swenson Say Faget Engineers (Structural), Erin Lau Design (Landscape), Sunergy (Photo Voltaic and Energy Systems) and built by E+H Construction and completed in 2019.


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