With projects everywhere from South Carolina to the Bahamas, architect Beau Clowney is a pro when it comes to designing classic beach houses. Here, he shares three important things to consider before you renovate or build at the beach.

By Ellen McGauley
April 20, 2017

"I like to advise clients to really think outside of the box at the beach,” says architect Beau Clowney. “How can we reinvent this space? How can we maximize its connection to the outdoors? How can we highlight its inherent strengths?" Here, Clowney, who’s designed houses everywhere from South Carolina island towns to the Bahamas, shares the tried-and-true lessons every homeowner should keep in mind when building at the beach.

1. Materials matter.

Photo: J. Savage Gibson

Quality materials that can withstand sun, sand, salt, and wind are important no matter which coast you call home, whether the storm-prone Southeast or the blustery Northwest. Time-tested materials like simple cedar or stuccoed masonry with a natural limewash finish are good choices for longevity, says Clowney. As for exterior fixtures, lighting, and hardware, copper is a beach house all-star. "It's especially great for roofs, because it's a long-lasting metal," he notes. "It doesn't rust or require much maintenance, and if there's damage, it's an easy fix: You just solder it back together." Plus, copper's timeworn patina is a character-builder.

2. Encourage natural ventilation.

Photo: Julia Lynn

"Look to the historic homes in the Caribbean and throughout the South for lessons on how the right design elements can help keep beach houses cool," says Clowney. "For instance, simply adding a porch to one or two sides of the house can go a long way; it serves as a big awning keeping direct sunlight from hitting the rooms." He also recommends looking for ways to keep air moving, such as carving out center halls that run from the front to the back of the house with a door at either end to usher breezes through.

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3. Make smart use of ground-floor areas under elevated homes.

Photo: Julia Lynn

"In the floodplain, these areas need to be open to protect against storm surge," says Clowney, "but that openness also makes for a great shaded outdoor living room." Breakaway walls or slatted swinging doors offer a pass-through for storm water, but they also maintain privacy. Just be sure and furnish with weather-resistant furniture that can be easily stored.