Jim Bell has been designing homes for over 35 years. When you look at our portfolio of projects, it becomes obvious quite quickly that waterfront projects are one of Jim’s strengths as a designer. Many of his favourite projects over those years have been waterfront homes and cottages. We interviewed Jim to find out more about his perspective on architecture for waterfront properties.
You’ve been designing homes for 35 years. What makes waterfront projects your favorite projects to design?
I enjoy my own waterfront property and I love waterfront properties in general. I find it easier to envision how we can take advantage of the property, capture some lovely views and enhance the enjoyment that comes along with living next to a body of water. I think of the joy of being able to go for a swim, a boat ride, canoe, kayak, or just go sit by the water, relax and enjoy. Listen to the waves splashing the rocky shore. Walk along a sandy beach. Just all the things that make it so relaxing. Designing a custom home or cottage on a waterfront property is work that I really enjoy
What makes designing for waterfront homes different from designing for a typical estate lot property or urban home?
In a lot of cases, for both estate lots and urban home lots, the footprint of the building is driven by the developer who in most cases has little concern for what aspects or relationships the building may have to its surroundings. An urban lot has other houses surrounding it. So, you are limited to two exposures—front and rear. There aren’t many options for the design of the footprint because there are specific setbacks and the designer usually must design to those setbacks to meet the client’s program requirements. The creativity is left to what you can do inside; it’s not as often about views, light exposure, and a relationship to the land. Perhaps you can capture some sunlight, but you’re typically limited to very little on the sides and hopefully more in the front and back, which may not be the most advantageous orientation for sunlight.
For an estate property, it’s a little more flexible. Often you can design the home so that it has a nicer feeling as you approach from the street and takes advantage of a treed rear yard or the property will provide a vista into meadows, a forest, or fields.
With most waterfront properties we have more room for creativity and the ability to provide optimal orientation for sunlight and views.
Why should a waterfront property owner consider a custom design instead of an online plan or prefab cottage?
An off-the-shelf plan rarely takes advantage of all of the great possibilities of a unique property. There are so many other things you can do. Catalogue plans are not going to be designed for the specific vistas and features of the lot. The endearing qualities – the advantages that attracted the owner to that property, such as views or location, can’t be fully captured in a catalogue plan. You may be able to capture some of it, but you’re going to miss a lot. Again, they are typically designed for a footprinted area where you’re limited on what you can do. When we design a custom waterfront home, we will take into consideration all of the wonderful features of the property – the views, the light exposure, the tree coverage, and the proximity to the waterfront.
There are usually municipal and code-related issues that haven’t been taken into account with an online plan. A lot of times it is mostly code issues and the plan will likely have to be modified to conform to the building codes and local municipal zoning-related requirements.
Plus, there are usually key features missing. For example, often there is no closet at the front door because the plans are designed for more temperate climates than ours. Windows might not be in the right orientation to take advantage of the exposure. For example, maybe if it’s a pure south exposure you will want to play with the length and depth of the overhang to mitigate the volume of sun into a space in July without compromising the view. So, rather than pull the blinds down because it’s too hot, you design a bigger overhang to minimize the strong July sun, like we did for a recent design with a 3’ 6” overhang on the front. The sun shines on the windowsill in July, not directly into the windows. The owners have a beautiful view of the water because they don’t have to use blinds to block the hot sunlight.
There are so many details that may not be quite right for you. You could live with them, but why do that? We can incorporate all of the advantageous qualities or aspects of a plan you like and come up with a new plan, one that is a true fit for the property and your needs. By the time you consider the cost of all of those changes and the fact that you still won’t have a custom home designed specifically for your property and your wants and needs, it makes sense to consider custom architecture. In the end it’s a relatively small increase in the overall project cost to make sure you’re building something that will really work for your family and fits in seamlessly with the property.