After teaming up with Blu Homes to helping to usher in a full-on invasion of Michelle Kaufmann-designed green prefabs in Sonoma County, venerable Western shelter magazine Sunset has selected the Washington coast as the location of its 2013 Idea House. Okay, make that plural: Idea Houses. Scratch that: Idea Town.
For the first time in the 15-year history of the Sunset Idea House program, the magazine is sponsoring a full-on Idea Town. To be clear, the town itself, the New Urbanist enclave of Seabrook, Wash., existed long before Sunset came along. But Sunset's editors were so smitten with the community-focused seaside village — established in 2004 by Casey Roloff and centered around a “you can get to anywhere in town within five minutes without hopping in your car” walking principle — that they decided to build not one, but two, coastal living-inspired showhomes and declare Seabrook as its first ever Sunset Idea Town.
While teeming with rugged natural beauty, the Washington coast has always played second fiddle to the Oregon coast largely in part to a dearth of quaint, human-scale towns.
For better or worse, when most folks think of the Washington coast, they think of Ocean Shores. Located just south of Seabrook and the town of Moclips, the sprawling, peninsular city was developed in the 1960s as a tourist getaway — weirdly, 1950s pop star-turned-crazed conservative pundit/birther Pat Boone was an early booster while child bride and PETA darling Courtney Stodden is a native — and despite recent modernization improvements (and a new casino), remains somewhat frozen in time.
In a way, Seabrook is the antithesis of Ocean Shores with its compact footprint and master plan — Portland-based Laurence Qamar served as town planner — that revolves around people, not their cars. Explains the Seabrook website: "The two coastal towns are literally down the road from one another, but the concepts that guide them are worlds apart. Though their proximity can be viewed as an obstacle, it also serves as a great comparison of traditional design verses the power of more thoughtful, environmentally aware design."
From bungalows and townhouses to waterfront luxury properties, Seabrook's neighborhoods are home to an eclectic mix of single-family residences — well over 100 of them are available as vacation rental cottages — clustered around an expanding retail district (corner market, indie bookstore, pet boutique, etc.) and other amenities including parks, plazas, playgrounds, biking paths, walking trails, and a stunning, recently completed indoor pool complex. Designed to be “never trendy, always timeless” Seabrook’s all of residences were built green — "We believe that nothing is more beautiful than natural beauty, and nothing is greener than something that lasts" — and the landscape surrounding them is also sustainable in design with native preserve areas, watering-harvesting swales, and wildlife habitats such as frog bogs.
As for the Sunset Idea Houses, the larger, at 2,544-square-feet, was designed for “active empty nesters.” In addition to the three-bedroom main house, it also includes a 630-square-foot guest cottage. Located across a path of crushed oyster shells, the smaller Idea House (1,672-square-feet) is a modern take on the classic Cape Cod-style abode. Centered around entertaining, it also includes a studio-sized guest cottage. Possessing knockout views of the Pacific, both homes — designed by Peter Brachvogel and built by Seabook Construction Company with interiors by Brian Paquette — revolve around outdoor living and, of course, are located a stone's throw from the beach ... and everywhere else in town.
Both Idea Houses will be unveiled to the public and open for tours starting on Aug. 2 and running through the end of October (they’ll also be featured in a spread in the October issue of Sunset). The tours cost $17 a head with a portion of the proceeds going to the Seabrook Community Foundation which benefits various causes throughout Grays Harbor County.
A complete schedule of tour dates and times will be available at the Sunset Idea Town homepage. What’s more, Sunset is sponsoring a sweepstakes in which one very lucky winner will receive a $10,000 beach vacation at Seabrook.
I recently had the chance to connect with Seabrook Town Founder Casey Roloff who was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about the town itself, the Sunset Idea Houses, and his overall vision for an "authentic" beach community that incorporates the best of New Urbanist planning and sustainable design principles.
MNN: Prior to Seabrook, you developed the Bella Beach vacation rental community on the central Oregon coast. What brought you up north to Washington?
Casey Roloff: Once my wife Laura and I decided to build our own beach town from scratch, we initially wanted to create a place like those found on the Oregon coast. Since the Oregon coast is a lot more developed, the type of land we were looking for was just not available. Given our fond memories of the spectacular Washongton coastline from our camping trips to Olympic National Park, we decided to explore. Most of the coastal land that was developed in Washington was on sand pits between Long Beach and Ocean Shores, which didn't really allow for the spectacular views similar to what drew many Washingtonians to the Oregon coast. We knew the terrain existed, it just hadn't been developed.
That's when we drove further north and found the property that is today Seabrook. The rugged coastline was there reminding us of home — of the Oregon coast where we had spent so much time of our lives. We knew this was the perfect equivalent to some of our favorite places in Oregon. Even more importantly, Seabrook has twice the population within a three hour drive compared to Cannon Beach in Oregon. Seabrook is now serving as a much closer alternative to the Oregon coast for those seeking the Pacific Ocean and deep sandy beaches.
And how did you come across the Seabrook site given that the area around it is a little more off-the-beaten-path than more touristy coastal communities like Ocean Shores?
While it feels like this area is more off the beaten path, its simply been underserved for decades. The primary reason is the difference between how the built environment has been developed. Ocean Shores was developed at a time when we thought we could improve the built environment by building everything at an automobile scale. This 'sprawling' approach to development lacked the 'pedestrian scale' character that is found in many places along the Oregon Coast. We were fortunate to find one of the most beautiful locations situated just southwest of Olympic National Park and south of the most spectacular and rugged coastline.
Seabrook places a great deal of emphasis on both authenticity and the fact that it's a 'new' kind of beach town. It was also greatly influenced by the sustainable design practices and smart growth principles that played an integral part of the development of Seaside, Fl. Can you talk a bit more about this as well as the highly collaborative 'Charrette' brainstorming process that birthed Seabrook?
Without Seaside, Florida there would be no Seabrook ... it's that simple. Seaside proved that we could build walkable, pedestrian scale development in a very artistic way. Seaside’s success and popularity gave us the courage to build our own town patterned after these same time tested principles that build strong communities and neighborhoods. We were fortunate to be able to hire many of the same people who had a strong influence on Seaside to help us plan our own town. The Charrette style approach, common before starting a community like ours, pulls the most creative minds together along with all of the government agencies to create a collaborative place that everyone takes ownership of. This approach has led to much quicker approval process and acceptance from local communities.
Although aesthetically 'traditional' right down to the crushed oyster shell paths, Seabrook boasts an untraditionally progressive sustainability statement that revolves around a New Urbanist town plan heavy on pedestrian friendliness and a concentrated town footprint. Can you speak more to Seabrook's overriding New Urbanist vision as well as various town sustainability efforts?
So much of our efforts surround meeting a resident’s basic needs within a five minute walk. This principle can be found in the best towns around the world as well as the best neighborhood districts in the largest cities. So everything we do is striving to make Seabrook more livable without a vehicle.
Green building has received too much attention in our opinion and there has not been enough attention given to building walkable communities that have enough density to become sustainable. Architect, planner, and writer Steve Mouzan explains it best in the 'Original Green.' Essentially, he demonstrates how prior to the car being introduced and sprawl-based development we had no choice but building sustainable villages where multi-generations could live in a compact footprint.
In other words, even if you have a net-zero LEED certified home it's important that it is part of community that allows a resident to live as much as possible without the automobile.
From the Energy Star appliances to the use of reclaimed building materials, the existing rental cottages and private homes at Seabrook were built green. And, of course, that same attention to eco-friendliness can be found at the two new Sunset Idea Houses. What are some of the key sustainable design features?
As you can already tell, one of the most sustainable features of the Sunset Idea Houses is their connection to our growing town that will allow a resident to live car-less if they choose so. Secondly, the placement of houses, carriage houses, and ancillary buildings create a mini-compound where multi-generational families can enjoy each other while also providing privacy and seclusion when necessary. The homes also capitalize on southern exposure into the primary living areas which maximize natural light into the homes.
As for our vacation cottages, just some of the green features we use are reclaimed wood from local shingle mills, low-VOC drywall, energy-conserving appliances, zonal heating, high efficiency gas fireplaces, Andersen Windows which use FSC lumber and have excellent insulation, backyard gardens, a greenhouse, and many more.
And in terms of the future occupants, both homes are designed to be bi-generational, right? Why was this important?
The two homes together were envisioned by the Sunset team to house two generations of the same family, but really the entire Idea House compound, which is connected through a series of outdoor rooms, gathering spaces and walkways, is a microcosm of key elements of the Seabrook town plan.
For example, the outdoor fireplaces in the Idea House compound are just like what you'll find in special areas throughout Seabrook and they serve the same purpose: giving people spontaneous and serendipitous opportunities to meet, socialize, and create community (or family) bonds. Seabrook also has a five-minute walking principle, which ensures convenient access to all the daily conveniences and needs expected from living or vacationing in a classic beach town. At the Idea Houses, five-minutes has been reduced to one-minute thanks to an amazing kitchen garden just steps from the front doors.
And to back up a bit, how did Seabrook come to be named, for the first time ever, a Sunset Idea Town? And this isn't Seabrook's first time teaming up with a West Coast shelter magazine, correct?
I don't think Sunset started out thinking that they would name Seabrook the first ever Idea Town. At first, they came to us as a destination for their annual Idea House program. We had built a similar home with their sister publication, Coastal Living, and they had heard about us that way. Once the Sunset team learned more about the driving principles behind Seabrook, they felt that the town itself was built on so many big ideas, it only seemed fitting to expand the Idea House project to the town itself.
'Town Founder' is a rather unique title to hold in this day and age. As Town Founder of Seabrook, what's your typical day look like?
While my wife Laura and I got things started, we are simply building a place that a lot of people dream about. It has been a collaborative process from day one with not only our architects and planners but also our owners and guests. We always want to know what they are looking for and what a beach town means to them.
We really just enjoy being part of our Seabrook community each and every day as we raise our family in this beautiful place. We currently have four generations living here from my grandmother who is 90 to my three-year old-daughter. Being able to live at a place like this with my family and walk two minutes to 'work' every morning is truly a blessing that we want to share with as many people as possible. A typical day involves time in the office working with our very talented team members and making decisions that move our vision forward. We make decisions with a broad perspective as the founders and first residents in Seabrook.
Since Seabrook is designed to promote community and deep personal relationships, a stroll through our town's pathways invites conversations with owners, guests, and visitors that enjoy the Washington coast on their porches, in our growing retail district, or down at the beach. I love learning more about the people who live here and visit. It's a pleasure seeing them enjoy quality time with the ones they love; it really makes all the hard work worth it.
Beyond being bestowed with Sunset Idea Town status, what's next for the Washington's first New Urbanist beach town?
We are very excited to be named Sunset's first ever Idea Town and we look forward to all the exposure that will bring our town through their devoted following.
In the meantime, there are plenty of other things happening at Seabrook:
• Seabrook Town Hall is nearly complete which will enable us to host amazing events and host weddings year round.
• Growing retail district: Our merchants are a very dedicated group and they comprise our very successful retail district.
• Farm district: Community gardens and a full barn with horses and an equestrian business is slated to be a brand new attraction at Seabrook starting this summer.
• Dorothy Anderson Cottage: A historic restoration project that features one of the Washington Coast's original cottages built by an industrious woman who loved the coast.
Related on MNN:
- Net-zero goes pastoral at Serenbe model home
- Prefab brings modern day sustainability to historic planned community
- Cargotecture: Sunset's shipping (container) news