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Your Home: Summer Living

Taking it to the beach

Empty nesters turn their Plum Island property into a year-round haven.

The home’s exterior has no coatings or finishes, keeping maintenance to a minimum.Trent Bell Photography
The living area’s stone fireplace surround and zebrawood veneer pick up on the hues of sand and dune grass.Trent Bell/Owner

MARK RICHEY LEARNED that he owned a beach house on Plum Island when he satellite-telephoned his wife, Teresa, from the summit of a Tibetan mountain he had just climbed in 2006. He says: “I called to tell her I was safe and heading back down. There was a long pause, then she said, ‘I bought a house.’ ”

With their daughter, Natalia, about to head off to college, the couple, who had lived in a 3,500-square-foot restored Victorian in Essex for many years, had been looking to downsize. Having recently moved their business, Mark Richey Woodworking, to Newburyport, they had talked about relocating their home base to the coastal community, too. When Teresa happened upon the property, a tiny bungalow on the ocean, she knew she had to act fast.


The Richeys enjoyed the cottage part time for a few years, commuting from Essex, using it for occasional overnights. They’d even walk over from the studio to prepare lunch most afternoons. When they decided to transition to living there full time, they took stock of their lifestyle and made a list of what they’d need to make a beach house function as their primary residence. Their goals were to maximize the view, get the most out of the limited square footage, and build with materials that require minimal maintenance.

The couple hired Richard Bertman of Boston-based CBT Architects, a firm Mark had worked with many times on commercial projects, to completely rebuild the house.

A 70-square-foot tower room resembles a ship captain’s quarters.Trent Bell/Owner

The first order of business was to educate themselves about protecting both the natural environment and their future year-round home. Bertman worked closely with the Newbury Conservation Commission and the town’s building inspector to ensure that the design satisfied local zoning ordinances. The Richeys and Bertman spoke with local builders about techniques and materials and consulted with a surveyor and civil engineer about high water levels for the zone where the house is located, among other concerns. The new 1,963-square-foot structure is elevated, built on driven steel pilings, as required, so that water and sand can move freely under and around the house.


Today, Mark says, there is more sand around the home than when they bought it, and the new construction has proved sound, weathering Hurricane Sandy without a hitch. “We’ve been having storms like this forever,” he says. “The one in 1978 was even more powerful than recent ones; we just need to be prepared. . . . The key is to build correctly. Ours is as good as technology allows.”

The Richeys, daughter Natalia (seated), and cat Fidel hang out on the expansive deck.Trent Bell/Trent Bell Photography

The home’s extensive deck, built around an existing dune, has a curvy silhouette along the north side as it follows the natural contours of the land. A sinuous built-in bench made from gorgeous South American mahogany, designed by Mark and fabricated in his workshop, accentuates the organic silhouette. The deck, made of a dense tropical hardwood similar to ipe, will turn gray over time, as will the hardy Alaskan yellow cedar shingles on the home’s exterior.

A recessed cedar hot tub with a chemical-free filtration system is tucked into the corner of the deck’s south side. The couple have indulged in the steamy water nearly every morning since moving over the winter, a peaceful start to their days.

Inside, an open floor plan with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors is oriented toward the ocean. A warm palette of earthy materials prevents it from feeling like a sterile glass box. Textural green stone from Iran was used in the kitchen and on the fireplace surround, while the walls and cabinetry were done in a mix of quartersawn white oak and zebrawood veneer. The natural hues pick up on the colors of the sand and dune grasses, helping to meld the indoors with the landscape outside.


Above the second-floor bedrooms (the master suite faces the ocean, while two others face west) is the icing on the cake — a lookout tower, measuring 70 square feet, that yields a 360-degree view. The entire room, Mark’s own handiwork, is clad in fir to resemble a ship captain’s quarters. “It was the most complex but intriguing part of the design program,” he says. “Like the hot tub, it’s pure joy.”

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at StyleCarrot.com. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.