Photos by Todd Mason
In this three-floor Bethany Beach home, residents and guests are drawn upward to the living area, which is spacious and welcoming.
Luckily, a narrow site in Bethany Beach—a 40-foot-by-125-foot lot positioned a few houses from the ocean—permitted three full floors. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for architect Scott Edmonston, principal of Millville-based SEA Studio Architects, to find the space for the seven bedrooms and 6 1/2 baths required by his clients, an extended family of three siblings and their children. Not to mention the living and gathering areas that would have to be set under the roof of the 3,750-square-foot home.
Edmonston called upon “strategic planning,” in this case, a design scheme organized around “a core of vertical circulation, which leads the user to large, open and vaulted living spaces on the top floor.” It’s natural to begin with the top floor, as that’s where all the socializing happens. “The core itself, a sculptural staircase featuring high floor-to-ceiling glass, creates a bright and open space between the southern and northern wings of the home,” Edmonston says. That staircase sends people right past the private spaces on the second floor, where five of the bedrooms are located. (The remaining two are tucked away at the rear of the third floor.)
On the ground level, you enter the house through a large mahogany front door to find yourself in an intriguing liminal space—a transitional outdoor rock garden with a series of steppingstones that lead up to the foyer. That is just one example of the biophilic design, which is meant to evoke the delight and serenity of the natural world, that Edmonston favors. “This space allows the inhabitant to experience the site while also providing a sense of enclosure and materiality from within the building,” he explains.
Here, as in much of his other work, the architect embraces Asian influences, from the rock garden to an interior aesthetic that manages to be both warm and spare. In some places, the interiors bring to mind a stripped-down farmhouse—decluttered, Zen and completely functional.
“The core itself, a sculptural staircase featuring high floor-to-ceiling glass, creates a bright and open space between the southern and northern wings of the home.”
Nowhere is this style more evident than in the top-floor showplace, with its steeply pitched ceiling hovering over the open space used for living, dining and cooking. The eye is drawn up to the modern rafters and the structure’s refined practicality: “Custom knife-plate connections were detailed with exposed structural steel rod collar ties, eliminating a structural ridge beam for the long span of the kitchen and great room,” Edmonston says.
If the architect is given to describing moments—like the staircase—as sculptural, the same can be said for the house itself, which is characterized by an assertive sense of variety. Not only does Edmonston’s work here demonstrate a varied exterior plan (depending on where you look, you might see hardwood, fiber cement or high-recycled content boral trim), but also a range of setbacks, frames, enclosures and window sizes.
Edmonston is a master of form and texture. The façade’s shingles are horizontal, while the wood planks are vertical: There is a tension between the surfaces, a definite energy, but these choices somehow don’t compromise the architect’s vision of tranquility. That’s part of the allure and the enigma of this project.