Bauhaus on the beach
(originally published in Cape Cod HOME, Special Edition 1996-1997)
Both sheltered and private, a redwood and glass envelope is tucked into the Truro dunes. It doesn’t intrude onto the landscape but is nestled in a way that quietly belongs.
“La Belle Mer,” the home of contemporary architect Dan Sullivan, AIA, employs many of the features he works with for clients and those that best suit his own desires.
Sullivan believes that a house is “a development of the natural landscape,” and that all landscapes have inherent characteristics that give them an appeal, be it form, vistas, or privacy. “It is important,” he says, “to create a building that enhances those qualities of the landscape you admire, that give it its character.” Also, care must be taken to preserve the land—not to do anything that will promote erosion or pollute the groundwater.
While designing for others, Sullivan spent time analyzing how he himself wanted to live. He prefers a simplicity of line and an efficiency of space, but he doesn’t like to feel pinched. He also likes to live with art and had to think about how light will affect it as well as where to display it.
Sullivan chose a water site for his home because water is an essential part of his life. “When I found the beach I was home,” he confides. “The water is never static, it changes with the seasons or the time of day.”
Sullivan carefully situated the house to optimize some extraordinary vistas and to make it invisible from the road. At the end of the curve of the driveway is a blank two-story wall and garage doors. A series of steps lead up to an oasis of green textures, where an enclosed garden of evergreen trees and shrubs shelter the house from the road and the winds that sweep across the dunes.
Sullivan also drew on another important component of the Japanese style: surprise. Immediately inside the glass entrance is a wall with a hanging sculpture over a narrow spiral staircase leading downstairs to his office. As is common in Japanese houses, there is open space to either side of this initial wall, and it is not immediately apparent whether one should turn right or left. To the left is the dining area and beyond which is a spectacular vista of sea, dune, and sky—its unexpectedness heightened by the sheltered garden and unassuming entrance.
The primary materials chosen for the house were redwood planks and glass. As Sullivan points out, “Redwood and cedar planks are vermin proof and weather and fire resistant. They are expensive to purchase but require no maintenance over time.” Posts can be sunk directly into the ground and won’t rot form water or salt spray, they merely weather to a silver gray. Planks are preferable to shingles because they last longer. Glass allows for the utmost openness, and is also cost efficient. Coatings add a reflective quality for keeping heat out in summer and retaining it in winter. Double glass can have gases like argon added between the panes for increased insulation. By its ingenious placements of glass, the entire home feels enormous, while in reality, the upper level is only about 1,500 square feet. Although at first glance it seems completely open and exposed, the only open vista is to the sea.
Catherine Fallin is the author of Cape Cod Gardens and Houses and Martha’s Vineyard Gardens and Houses, among others.