Let's just say there were a few codes and ordinances weighing in on the design of the Aptekar House, an oceanfront prize in tony Stinson Beach, Calif. FEMA requirements set the floor at 19 feet above sea level to safeguard against storm surges, and a height limit prescribed by the local design review board capped the roofline at 34 feet. That left a pretty shallow envelope of space in which to build a house. Moreover, the parcel sits right on the San Andreas Fault, so the structure also had to be seismically correct.
Within these constraints, Fisher-Friedman Associates found its sweet spot. An elevated structural system lifts the ground floor 9 feet above grade, with the added benefit of providing beach access from the street via a quick walk underneath the house. The barrel-vault roof echoes the undulating forms of the surrounding hills, but also prompts gale-force winds and sand to roll right off its back. High glass panels on a beachside terrace are engineered to withstand 120-mile-per-hour winds; they also add a swanky element of transparent depth to an otherwise flat façade.
Decidedly modern in flavor, the dwelling's L-shaped floor plan makes the most of a tight (55-foot-by-140-foot) lot, affording panoramic views of the ocean and mountains on two sides. The space in the crook of the L discreetly holds a consolidated sand-filter septic system.
Given the tight quarters and the Pacific orientation, a maritime aesthetic seemed apropos,” says Rodney Friedman, principal of Fisher-Friedman, based in Emeryville, Calif. The exteriors are clad in white cedar shingle siding, and the roof incorporates stainless steel tie rods similar to those used in the rigging of sailing vessels. A dramatic entry ramp makes visitors feel as though they are boarding a luxury yacht.
Inside, that nautical feel is carried through in cylindrical pillars resembling sailing masts and a rounded, cedar-paneled ceiling. “Boats have a sensuous shape,” Friedman says. “If you look at the inside cabins of old schooners, their ceilings were curved in the shape of the upper deck.”
The house manages to pull off one other design coup, too: it's accessible. With its single-story layout, the home is completely wheelchair friendly, and the bedroom and bath closest to the street are threshold-free. A closet over the garage can be converted easily into an elevator shaft. “Every house I'm designing these days has the option of being fitted for an elevator,” says Friedman. “This home is set up to entertain four generations of people.”
Project: Aptekar Residence, Stinson Beach, Calif.; Size: 3,500 square feet; Builder: RJ Anstey Builders, San Anselmo, Calif.; Architect: Fisher-Friedman Associates, Emeryville, Calif.; Developer: Avalon Bay Communities, San Jose, Calif.; Landscape design: OMG, Berkeley, Calif.