Since its completion in 2018, the Arch Cape House has become the center of Mark and Laurie Engberg’s universe—especially as they hunker down there during the pandemic rather than in Portland. At first, however, the couple were just looking for a weekend retreat and a place to take their new dog, Van Der Rohe (Vandy, for short).
After adopting the Rhodesian ridgeback labrador from a Portland shelter, the Engbergs realized that plane trips would be out of the question for a while; Vandy was too upset by the separation. "We said, ‘Let’s go to the beach,’" Mark recalls. They spent a long weekend in a rented beach house at Arch Cape, a tiny hamlet along the northern Oregon coast, "and fell in love with the place," returning every few months over the next five years.
Because Mark’s firm, Colab Architecture + Urban Design, both designs and develops homes and condos, it was easy for the Engbergs to imagine building their own beach house and future retirement spot. But there were two big challenges.
Arch Cape is in a tsunami evacuation area along the Cascadia subduction zone—predicted to bring one of the nation’s largest-ever earthquakes sometime in the coming decades. Yet that danger hasn’t impacted the popularity of oceanfront real estate: Arch Cape lots located west of busy U.S. Highway 101 were twice as expensive as those in Portland.
Then, you might say, the Engbergs got a reprieve from the governor. They discovered a unique development called Castle Rock Estates built in the 1980s by a group of investors that included Oregon’s then-governor, Victor Atiyeh. It was nestled into an otherwise forested hillside east of the highway and 85 feet above sea level.
The location, Laurie and Mark realized, was high enough to be safely away from tsunami waves and to take in panoramic Pacific views. It also wasn’t nearly as windy as the beachfront homes they’d rented. But the real kicker? A private walkway to the beach tunneled under Highway 101.
The couple’s three-bedroom house, clad in cedar shingles and redwood siding, looks out west to the ocean, but that’s not the only view. "We came to realize that views looking the other way, into the forest canopy—that view is as good as the Pacific view," Mark says. It’s a quieter setting that’s conducive for the architect and Laurie, a literature professor, to think creatively while digitally connecting with colleagues and students.
The double-sided fireplace that warms the living room also acts as an outdoor hearth. Not only do Mark and Laurie have plenty of warmth on cool coastal evenings, but courtyard enclosure keeps the wind away.
The house is oriented around this courtyard, a long, narrow strip that also breaks up the building’s mass. Because of the development’s design regulations, "the house is a traditional shape, almost like a salt box," the architect explains, from which the courtyard is carved out. This brings natural light deep into house’s interior spaces.
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"That courtyard is an outdoor room. In fact, it’s probably our favorite room in the house," Mark says. "We can be out there much longer than you would be [in a house] right at the beach. And it creates a sense of place for the entire home. Nearly every single room has some sort of relation to it."
The fireplace is part of a seismic-resistant sheer wall that structurally anchors the house, bringing a seismic resilience beyond even Oregon’s increasingly stringent codes. "We’re pretty sure that one day we’ll be long gone and someone will find the place," the architect says.
The seismic sheer wall, forming one side of the courtyard with a textural board-formed concrete pattern, also allows the house’s pitched roof to cantilever 12 feet over the front porch, partially shading the living room’s floor-to-ceiling glass.
The Colab design, led by David Gabriel in collaboration with Mark Engberg, is meant to allow the couple to someday retire here and age in place, with one bedroom on the ground floor. But it’s also meant to accommodate family of all ages, including a trio of grand-nieces.
Hence the upstairs loft, with three adjoining raised single beds over a built-in storage cabinet that look out from the house’s highest elevation. Not only does the loft work for the three girls, all under 10—a kind of permanent slumber party—but adults enjoy sleeping there, too. "It’s fun to wake up and look right out at the ocean," Mark says.
The interior palette begins with slate floors for public areas, giving way to red oak hardwood. "We have almost the same floor in our kitchen in Portland. It comes in two-by-two slabs, so we had them cut to look thinner. It’s just such a great material for a beach house," the architect adds. "It hides a lot of dirt and sand."
Ground-floor common areas are full of light thanks not only to windows in every direction, but also a double-height volume over the long dining room table. No matter where you are in this house, sunlight is pouring in, even on an overcast day on the Oregon coast.
And while the courtyard is tucked into the middle of the house, its west-facing orientation connects the Engbergs not only with distant views, but with neighbors heading past.
"Everybody waves as they’re walking to the beach," says Mark. "We're tucked away in that courtyard, but it's still social."
Maybe that’s the crux of this house: The place from which you wave to the neighbors is also the most central, snug-feeling part of the home.
"When we open up those folding doors between the dining room and courtyard, those are my favorite days," Mark says. "It’s a great place for entertaining because people can really flow though the place."
And whether the Engbergs are welcoming a house full of family or enjoying a quiet moment, one thing is for sure: It’s a great place to spoil a rescue dog like Vandy.
Builder: Caruana Inc.
Structural Engineer: Grummel Engineering
Landscape Design: Comstock Landscape Architecture, Inc.
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