Tidewater Landing: Builder's Notes

Text by Lacey N. Howard
As a custom builder on the Virginia coast for more than 25 years, Jim Sykes knows that a house on the bay needs to be solidly built in order to combat water, wind, and salt air. "We start with a wood frame of No. 1 Southern Yellow pine, then cover it with plywood sheathing," he says, "and we hand-drive nails. We feel like that makes for a much stronger house." After the waterproofing layer is added, Jim says he has a rigid diaphragm that will be extremely resistant to wind.

With the basic structure in place, the design team chose products that will hold up in the corrosive coastal environment. Composite siding promises not to rot, warp, or split like wood. "I love the shingles," Gerrie says of the fiber-cement product. "They hold paint for a long time." Fences, columns, cornices, and beaded-board porch ceilings made from cellular-PVC material will also resist rot. "This has become the product of choice for exterior applications," says Jim. "You can glue it, nail it, cut it, and it holds paint well."

On upper-level porches, in the cabana, and on the ground, burnished amber composite decking will hold its rich, rain-forest mahogany look without the need for protective sealants through many icy winters and 100-degree summers. "It looks much like natural wood," Jim says. Because it fights insect infestation and rot from standing water, it's perfect for ground-level decks and walkways.

Landscaping also must stand up to seaside elements. To ensure its survival, Doug took cues from native flora. "We tried to use as many plants that are indigenous to Norfolk as possible," he says. Sheltered from the beach, the backside of the house features a few less-hardy varieties. "But the salt and wind tolerance increases as you get closer to the bay," Doug says. "We planted long-blooming perennials to come up at different times for a mix of colors." Ornamental grasses such as pennisetum and miscanthus, leopard plant, and black mondo grass give the garden natural form, while gardenia and ginger lily bring fragrance.

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