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Built for the Beach

Like a Shell Held to the Ear, This House Echoes With the Music of the Ocean

August 04, 1996|Barbara Thornburg

For San Diego architect Rob Wellington Quigley, the quintessential beach dwelling should capture all the sensuous qualities of living by the sea. So when he designed a waterfront house for an art-collecting couple in Orange County, he planned a structure with 28 transom windows to invite the sights and sounds of the breaking surf. Further blurring the line between inside and out, large doors open onto a seaside terrace, filling the house with fragrant salt breezes. Says Quigley: "The house becomes a musical instrument as the sounds of the sea play off the interior surfaces."

The 3,100-square-foot house, situated between windswept bluffs to the east and the Pacific to the west, consists of a poured-in-place concrete spine with cantilevered concrete slab floors. The slabs support the wood-frame second-story bedroom walls, while a dramatic steel and mahogany staircase connects the light-filled living room to the master bedroom suite and outdoor patio above.

But what really sets Quigley's house apart from other beach homes is its transparency. In spite of the coast's heat and relentless glare, Quigley has created a house that is more than half glass. Using the latest glass technology, he installed ceramic-fritted glass panels in the 26-foot-high ceiling that screen out 40% of the sunlight while affording views of the sky and passing gulls. In the same area, ocean vistas are framed by a wall of tinted glass. A sweeping curved glass courtyard wall features insulating Kalwall, a laminated translucent fiberglass resembling a shoji screen."A decade ago, you couldn't have built this house," Quigley says. "You would have fried."

Other heat- and glare-reducing tricks include a roof overhang--in the shape of a giant diving board--that shelters both the sloped glass ceiling and west living room wall. Additional protection comes from redwood shutters inspired by a Spanish colonial building Quigley saw in Peru. Stained the color of bleached driftwood, the shutters filter the sun in the small library off the living room and throw dappled light on the French limestone floors. Existing melaleuca trees shade the front of the house.

In addition to mediating heat and light, Quigley selected a muted palette of anti-corrodible materials to withstand the elements. Concrete and glass, stainless steel and stone, mahogany and black asphalt shingles serve as a multi-textured backdrop for a formidable art collection. And now that the house is completed, the wife is more than pleased by her see-through abode: "I wanted something bold and strong, not coy and quaint. I never tire of watching and listening to the sea."

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