North Carolina’s Figure Eight Island, located just north of Wrightsville Beach and accessible only by a private bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway, is prized by residents for its tranquility. To create a summer retreat befitting the serene setting, Kersting Architecture blended elements of a traditional beach cottage with contemporary touches and resilient construction techniques.
A key component of the design was to utilize a “reverse floor plan,” with the main living space on the upper level, says principal architect Michael Kersting. “This allowed us to do some nice things with the ceilings,” he adds, including vaulting the living room ceiling just over 19 feet. Because the floor plan was left open to maximize exposure to the oceanfront views, different ceiling treatments help “zone” each room, Kersting says.
That connected-but-separate strategy was used throughout the large home to create a series of cozy, intimate spaces. Bedrooms are laid out as suites to accommodate couples or families. A breezeway in the middle of the house leads to the main entry on one side, with a door leading to the kids’ zone—a play room and room with three bunk beds—on the other. Multiple oceanfront decks, both open and shaded, allow the owners and their guests to take full advantage of the proximity to the water.
While the oceanfront site provides a beautiful backdrop, it also ensures constant exposure to the elements. To mitigate wear and tear, the team selected exterior materials that can stand up to salty air, sand, and wind with little maintenance. “It’s really hard to beat an old-fashioned Eastern white cedar shingle,” Kersting says. “It’s time tested and it really holds up.” White accents, added for visual appeal, are limited to places that are easy to touch up, and durable ipe decks are lined with a stainless steel cable rail system, which weathers well and adds a fitting nautical touch, Kersting says.
Beyond daily wear, the house also needed to be able to ride out potentially major weather events. As such, it is designed to withstand winds up to 130 mph: The roofline is an aerodynamic combination of hip and gable shapes and all tie-downs on the connections between the roof and the framing are hurricane code compliant. Kersting speced Andersen windows and doors with impact-resistant glazing, rather than a shutter system, to provide protection from debris (achieving a DP50 or better rating) while keeping the exterior’s clean lines intact.
The first occupied floor is set 19.5 feet above mean sea level so that the entire floor structure is kept above the flood level, in accordance with FEMA standards. Most of the ground level was left open “so if there was a flood event, the water should pass through,” Kersting says. Enclosed areas, such as the garage and entry foyer, were built with water-resistant materials like pressure-treated lumber and closed-cell foam insulation. Those areas also use breakaway walls, he explains, “so if there was a wave that hit the house, the walls themselves would break away from the structure without bringing the whole house down.”
Figuring out how to best incorporate these premium materials and complex construction methods while keeping costs under control is a skill that the firm has honed with experience. “We’ve learned a lot over the years,” Kersting says. “We try very hard to still refine our ideas so we’re not doing things unnecessarily.”