5 Things To Know About Building A Coastal Home

The homes that truly stand the test of time are those that carefully consider place, where architecture and interior design reflect the local landscape and regional lifestyle as well as the individual needs of homeowners. Coastal homes, like their mountain and lake counterparts, are often escapes, where homeowners can retreat from the demands of everyday life. In this case, the surrounding landscape becomes the whole reason for being. These homes invite both days of quiet reflection and celebratory weekends with friends and family. This year, with those core tenets in mind, we set out to build our 2022 Southern Living Idea House in River Dunes, an award-winning maritime community in tiny Oriental, North Carolina, located where the Neuse River flows into the mighty Pamlico Sound. Situated directly across from the River Dunes harbor, the site is a prime corner lot with sweeping views of the water. The 4.125-square-foot North Carolina home that now occupies the slice of coastal paradise was designed by a Southern Living-assembled team of architects, designers, and builders as a gathering place, blurring the boundary between indoors and out. Below, architect William Court of Court Atkins Group shares his top tips for making the most of your dream coastal escape.

It’s all about that view.

“With all of our coastal homes, especially if we have homes directly on the water. We will go out of our way to capitalize on those visuals,” Court says. “You know, there’s a reason people are gravitating toward the coast, and we want to maximize that potential.” The view, of course, influences big picture decisions like how the home is positioned on the lot. But it might also mean moving the primary bedroom suite to the second floor or positioning a guest bedroom soaker tub just so in order to catch the evening sunset or creating a family room that can be instantly doubled in size by throwing open a set of French doors that spill onto a covered porch or deck.

You can’t have too many porches.

Life is lived outside on the coast, and in the South, in particular, where heat and insects are a factor, that means porches are among a coastal home’s most important “rooms.” Decks, patios, screened porches, and covered verandas. They all hold their own appeal. “In a lot of our coastal work, we tend to create wraparound porches or allow porches to exist on multiple sides of the structure to increase airflow and visibility,” Court says. “In this case [at River Dunes], we’ve got porches on three of the four sides of the main house and on two separate floors. You can be on a porch any day of the year, regardless of where we are in terms of seasons, and see both the sunrise and the sunset.”


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Multifunctional spaces make a home more livable.

People tend to live more casually on the coast, which translates into spaces that are more family oriented or entertaining oriented. A house that’s carved up into formal rooms, each with a very specific purpose, doesn’t function efficiently for life on the coast. “I think multifunction spaces become really critical here because the house needs to live differently at different times of the year and, you know, during different seasons and when family comes into town,” Court says.

The right materials matter.

Sure, those historic wood-sided coastal homes are gorgeous, but they’re also one never-ending maintenance to-do list. “In a high humidity, salt air environments, we try to be conscious of using materials that are friendly to those harsh environments,” Court says. “We’ll look at things like Hardie plank and synthetic porch decking that give us all the hallmarks of a timeless wood home, but don’t require constant Replacing.”

Coastal is a broad term—consider regional influences and vernacular design.

On the East Coast, there’s a lot of waterfront property between Delaware and Florida. Not to mention all of the Gulf Coast states with water access. The landscapes and lifestyles while rooted in water culture can be vastly different. And even within individual states, the architectural style of various coastal communities can be surprisingly disparate. “At RiverDunes, they’re telling a bit of a story that is certainly coastal, but really about boat specific living. It’s a very nautical maritime community,” Court says. “It’s also intensely influenced by regional vernacular style. Our goal here with this project was to create an anchor piece for that corner lot that would blend seamlessly with what River Dunes is all about, but also be a slightly more current on North Carolina coastal architecture .” In other words, you don’t have to build a historic replica, but you should absolutely consider place when designing your dream coastal home.