A Family Affair: Architect Josh Manes Talks Rebuilding The Family Beach House He Grew Up In

Perched above a marshy wetland in Westhampton Beach, construction is underway on a quiet retreat that holds deep family ties for Josh Manes, principal of Josh Manes Architecture.

westhampton beach house being built 2019

The original property was purchased back in 1999 and Josh and his family spent every summer frequenting the home. Over time, the postmodern structure weathered down and dry rot plagued the decks and facade. Fifteen years later, the house needed a complete rebuild. As the head of interiors at J.M.A, Josh’s wife, Jack, jumped on board, and together they envision this house being a perfect fit for their current family and for generations to come.

We spoke with Josh about this work in progress, the challenges of being both designer and client, and the importance of sustainability in his projects, below.

ASPIRE: How does designing your own family’s home differ from a client’s? Is it easier or harder to stick to a timeline?

Josh: There is certainly more creative freedom in designing a home for your family because you develop the program to fit your personal needs and desires without resistance from a client with different philosophies and tastes. However, you are wearing both hats as an architect and as an owner’s rep and sometimes there is that gray area in between when small decisions become painfully difficult. When designing for a typical client, you have that clear separation of roles and responsibilities that makes similar decisions more clear and objective because there is less of a personal and emotional investment on the architect’s part.

When designing a home for one’s family, it is definitely more challenging to stick to a timeline because you get to set your own schedule. If a building material has a long lead time then you have the option to push the project back in order to accommodate that material. Details on paper don’t always translate in the field and when we are faced with issues on site that may increase the timeline it gives me a chance to tinker with the design solution without having to worry as much about meeting a client’s schedule.

ASPIRE: From an interior design perspective, many designers say their homes are a constant work in progress, that they’ll never truly be finished. How do you add design elements that will stand the test of time?

Josh: As designers, my wife and partner, Jack, and I are always thinking about resiliency and adaptability. We want our interior spaces and finishes to stand out, yet hold up for decades. Whether it is ourselves that we’re designing for, or a client, flexibility is of the utmost importance because needs will always change. While design trends come and go, there are some universal modern design motifs that we almost always abide by. For example, creating an open plan, bringing the outside views in and a neutral color palette will never go out of style.

When it comes to our home, we created an open floor plan connecting spaces for living, cooking and dining. The floor to ceiling glass sliding door/window assemblies bring in natural daylight and spectacular views of the unique wetlands site, connecting inside and out. The use of natural materials such as cedar-planked walls and ceilings brings the same cedar siding from the outside in, while also connecting us with the eastern red cedars on site. Wide planked white oak wood floors with a bleached out finish reflect all of the natural daylight emanating through the large windows. All of the floor tiles are within a neutral color palette, shades of gray and white. Not for a lack of interest, but we tried to steer clear of trendy color schemes such as millennial pink. When making our selections, we always ask ourselves, “Are we still going to like this in 5+ years?”

westhampton beach house construction

ASPIRE: In modernizing this house, how important to you were the sustainable elements?

Josh: Ideas of sustainability were integral to the design process and had a direct impact on the form of the house. We wanted to capture the most natural sunlight in the winter while being able to reduce solar heat gains in the summertime, both of which dictated the solar orientation of the house. We located an array of glass windows/doors on the southern exposure and built cantilevered decks to shade these spaces from the mid-afternoon summer sun. These wraparound decks also maximize the primary views of the wetlands and bay beyond. These types of design decisions take on a multi-functional approach with regard to sustainability while giving the house a unique form.

Other sustainability elements include the use of an ERV (energy recovery ventilator) system, closed foam insulation for a tighter envelope, low-E windows/doors and a rooftop solar array. We specified materials with recycled content, sustainably harvested wood and low flow plumbing fixtures. For the site, we selected all native and drought-tolerant species to eliminate the need for irrigation. All of these concepts really shaped the design of the building and the overall layout while capturing stunning views of the wetlands.

ASPIRE: Is sustainable design something you practice in all of your projects?

Josh: Yes, it is a significant part of our criteria when working with clients. In general, clients have started to lean toward sustainability because they are more informed than ever before and are more conscious about their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment. Not only that, clients are now living healthier lifestyles and practicing sustainability has become a new way of life. That doesn’t mean every client wants their project to be LEED or WELL certified, but they do inherently desire a lot of the same qualities in their home. They desire energy efficiency and for their products to be sustainably sourced. They want their indoor environment to be free of toxins from the off-gassing of paints, adhesives and other chemical agents. They want to lighten and brighten their space with more natural daylight and fresh air during the day and illuminate their home with LED lighting at night. 

ASPIRE: Does sustainable design pose any additional challenges to a project? Or is it, in 2019, really the only way to do things?

Josh: The Building industry is already taking major steps in sustainability as a whole. Most manufacturers are reporting sustainability criteria in their products from concrete and lumber to tiles and carpeting. Across the spectrum, companies are taking measures to be a part of the green wave, not only for environmental reasons but for economics as well. Also, in some states, building and energy codes are mandating them as well with more stringent standards than ever before. So yes, in a general way, sustainable design seems to really be more baked into the projects these days, whether in a conscious way by the designer or not. However, the level of sustainability and the innovative design strategies that come with it are in the hands of the architect and client relationship.

Stay tuned to see the completion of this Westhampton beach house, and see more featured architecture stories, here.

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