Within a protected cove along the South Shore of Nova Scotia, at the end of a stretch of sand, a river empties out into the sea. Time and tides have created a one-kilometer forested sandbar on which this beach house sits. Approaching the site is a parallel journey between a low-lying salt marsh to the north-west and the forested sandbar to the south-east. Along that journey, the beach is never in view, and so, the project is ironic as beach houses go. Despite the dramatic location on an expanse of shoreline, the clients were drawn to the internal, cozy character of the site. Scraggly, curmudgeonly tamarack and spruce trees covered in Old Man’s Beard are very particular to some areas of Nova Scotia and thrive in the 10 cm of shallow soil here. The trees shelter the site from the openness of the beach and defend against erosion of the sandbank. A mandate of protecting the sandbank, and the clients’ appreciation of hearing the ocean, but not seeing it were starting points for siting strategy. They did not want their new house to be on display from the beach. The most one sees of the water are moments of shimmering light filtered through the treeline at the site’s southern edge. The sound of waves pull one along a worn footpath through the tree line, towards a break in the vegetation that finally reveals the coast and ocean horizon. From these initial impressions, the house tucks itself against the forest, is hidden from the shore, and beach walkers plus the resident endangered piping plovers are none the wiser.
Skinned in black-stained eastern white cedar, the house recedes against the forest backdrop, and contradicts its bright interior. The design takes advantage of passive solar orientation, and catching light. At 10’ (3m) deep, the 48’ (15m) wide cantilevered roof overhang provides the perfect amount of shade in the summer, and allows the low winter sun to warm the concrete floors in the cold season. Not only does the asymmetrical gabled roof provide shelter and shade, it also leverages coastal storms, harvesting rainwater that is funneled into three 1750 gallon (6600 liter) cisterns. The storage tanks are the sole source of potable water for the house.
To protect against storm surges, the house is elevated by a grid of helical piles bearing 6 meters down into the sand. Above the piles, the lightweight wood-frame structure houses a straight-forward, one-level plan. Bedrooms and private areas have low-ceilings and an intimate closeness with the trees and north-west light. The main living area has a wide view to the south, towards a small clearing of beach grass and the tree-line separating the house and the shore.