After buying an industrial lot on the Chesapeake Bay in Irvington, Virginia, the owner, who loves to sail, contacted Randall Kipp to design a weekend retreat as close as possible to the water. The industrial designation “gave us latitude,” notes Kipp. “A building generally has to be 100 feet back from the water, but we were able to position the nearest corner just seven feet away.”
The site is only two feet above sea level, so the house had to be elevated to meet the seven-and-a-half-foot floodplain requirements. Eschewing a traditional solid foundation, Kipp built the structure on pilings that enable the client to use the space under it for storing his boat. Instead of an awkward staircase to the main floor—typical of houses on pilings—the driveway was shored up to the height of the front door; a bridge from the drive to the house “allows you to enter the building gracefully,” Kipp explains. “It feels like you’re boarding a ship.”
The 4,800-square-foot house encompasses three volumes clad in fiber-cement lap siding that “embraces a simple, waterfront commercial building vernacular,” says the architect. Paneled in Spanish cedar with whale bone-like cedar trusses, the two-and-half-story central great room conveys the nautical feel of a yacht club. It contains living and dining areas and a sleek kitchen, while two-story volumes on either side house en-suite bedrooms. A bridge in the main volume connects the upstairs rooms to the stairway from the main floor. French doors open to a screened porch that takes in close-up views of the bay.
What appeals to you about contemporary architecture?
It responds to all the ways a building is used today. The great-room concept answers the modern blending of activities. And the high ceilings allow for larger windows that diminish the barrier between the inside and outside—an important tenet of contemporary architecture.
What are the challenges of designing in a modern vernacular?
The biggest is working with materials and details. Modern architecture often requires expansive windows and doors that necessitate using steel beams and columns. Steel moves differently than wood.
Do you have preferred building materials?
I prefer exterior building materials to be as maintenance-free and “forever” as possible.
What difficulties does building by the water present?
Rainwater drives horizontally with gale force annually. Many of my buildings use commercial curtain-wall window systems. Understanding how to use building products in a blowy, briny, humid environment takes years of experience.
Architecture & Interior Design: Randall Kipp, AIA, NCARB, Randall Kipp Architecture, Inc., Irvington, Virginia. Builder: The Allen Group, Inc., Urbanna, Virginia.