Architecture for Specific Sites 2: Restrictions

Previously we talked about a site’s potential based on each homeowner’s individual personalities, the various views a site has to offer, and how best to frame or mask those views.  In this post, we’re talking about specific site restrictions, one of the least favorite issues to discuss, but important nonetheless.

One of the first things architects need to think about in site design are the constraints.  What do we have to work with?  What are the boundaries?  I would suggest working with an architect on determining what these restrictions are before land is even purchased.  Most building sites have basic general constraints you should be aware of.  These may include building setback distances (from property lines, lake high water marks, etc.), easements, and maximum building height.

A few years ago we were working with a client who wanted to add on to their house to the east, as far as they could go to the property line setback.  After briefly looking into it, we had to tell them that they couldn’t go any farther, as they were already in the setback.  We were able to come up with a different design solution, but if they had known this before they bought the house they might have thought differently.  By the way, if your house is over the setback, and has been for several years or decades, you can often be “grandfathered in”.  However, if you built it yourself a few years ago, then you’re most likely out of luck.

Lakefront building site setback restrictions

This lakefront building site needs to adhere to a high water setback, as well as front and side setback distances.

Architects can verify the restrictions with the local planning department, neighborhoods, and any other applicable jurisdictions, codes, bylaws, etc.  Once we know all of this we can creatively work within the limitations.  That being said, you can also apply for variances.  If there are instances where you are a little over a regulation and your options are limited, where it is a hardship to you and does not cause hardship to others, then you may have a chance to be granted a variance.

Some areas, including gated communities and other neighborhoods, may have design guidelines, which are added restrictions on top of the governing jurisdiction and applicable building codes.  These may include maximum and minimum floor areas allowed, engineered drainage plans, and maximum exterior lighting allowed.  Other non-allowable items may include certain exterior materials and colors, visible skylights, and flagpoles.

Cities and towns in general have more stringent requirements than rural areas.  One example is the Town of Telluride, which has its own Historic and Architectural Review Commission.  This commission strives to maintain the historic integrity of Telluride, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark District.

Waterfront lots typically have more prerequisites as well, mainly to keep the water pure and the scenery pristine.  An example of this is the California Coastal Act, which regulates land use in the coastal zones, such as development activities, construction of buildings, and public access.

Every state in the United States (except Wisconsin) adheres to the International Residential Code (IRC), as do the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Most of the IRC deals with the internal requirements of residences.  A few things to be aware of in reference to site design include wind speeds, snow loads, earthquakes, and coastal high-hazard areas.  The International Building Code (IBC) relates to all other buildings, including multi-family residences, and regulates allowable building heights and floor areas based on fire-resistance.  Your governing jurisdiction may have additional or more defined requirements.  Some states and cities have their own additional codes.

It should be noted that you might also consider the constraints of your neighbors as well.  If there is a neighbor downhill from you, and there are no height limitations, there is a chance that you could have your views blocked in the future.

Next –  Part 3: Solar Orientation and Control

Previous Post – Architecture for Specific Sites (Part 1): Personalities and Views

John Hendricks, Architect AIA, NCARB.  Hendricks Architecture has designed residential homes throughout the US.  We have designed in various states, cities, towns and neighborhoods with most of the requirements named above.  John Hendricks has also served on architectural review boards in the past, so has experience on both sides.  Please visit our selected projects page for some of our more recent projects.  Click to Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog

Architecture for Specific Sites (Part 1): Personalities and Views

Architecture is highly site specific.  Every one of our clients has their own personalities, and we design to fit each of their unique goals, yet each home is also created to fit into its own specific site.  We’ve designed all over, from snowy mountain slopes to warm oceanfront beaches, and everywhere in between.  This wide range of locales brings different influences into the process of placing a home on a site.

However, there are many other factors that also go into the individual building and site designs.  The views, local restrictions, solar orientation, wind, water, vegetation, topography, and numerous other factors, also play a role in the overall concept.  This topic is so extensive that I’m breaking it up into separate posts, and, because I’m an architect and not a book writer, I’ll only be covering the basics.

View site Lake Coeur d'Alene Sunup Bay

Building Site above Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Individual Personalities

Every building site is unique and deserves its own design.  Taking advantage of everything the site has to offer (the layout of trees, boulders, topography, etc.) is important, but so is matching the owner’s individual personalities.

The design process is typically a collaborative one.  I’ll talk with the owner and discuss their site, or potential site, along with what they would like in and around their home.  I’ll also provide a questionnaire to give them more opportunities to share their passions and ambitions.  If they are looking for something playful, I’ll throw out some fun ideas to help provide some sparks.  It’s an enjoyable brainstorming process where we’ll create something appropriately unique for them to treasure in the years ahead.  This is important since they will most likely be spending a good amount of their lives in and around the home.

One homeowner I’ve been working with has a home he’d like to remodel, as well as a barn that we’ll transform into a guest cabin.  The site is surrounded by large cedar trees.  We started talking about a way to connect the two, and came up with an enclosed bridge that will travel between the trees.  A connecting  open bridge will link trees and end up in a tree house.



Most building sites have at least one of the following; good views, neighbors, adjacent roads, or unwanted noise.  The trick is to take advantage of the views, while masking out the neighbors, roads, and noise.  Unless of course you enjoy observing the neighbors a la Dudley Moore (or vice-versa), listening to their music, and watching the cars go by.

Mountain home deck view

Mountain home view from a side deck

Not everyone has a beautiful view of the Grand Tetons or the Pacific Ocean, and I have yet to meet anyone who has both from the same house.  Many, however, may have broad or peek-a-boo views of mountains, hills, a pond, a grassy area, a beautiful tree, or other “territorial” views.

Placing and designing the home, or parts of the home, to face the best views is essential, yet needs to work with the topography and landscaping.  Most of our clients want the great room, kitchen, dining areas, master bedroom, and the main decks and patios facing the best views.

When there are unwanted elements in the view corridor, the field of vision can be enhanced by framing the landscape with trees, shrubs, hedges, boulders, and natural or man-made berms or other topography.  Man-made structures such as fences, half walls, sculptural elements, a playhouse, and even a guest house could also be placed in the right spot to frame the view.

For privacy, strategically placed plantings similar to all of the above could be used, as well as thicker railings to provide privacy on decks.  If your site is above the unwanted views, a simple solution from the interior is to have window shades that pull up, which will block the neighbors below, while providing views above.  When we lived in Seattle we had these to see the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound, while blocking the neighbors below us.

The best way to mask noise is to provide a fountain near the point where the owner wishes to admire the views.  The farther away the water feature, the less effective it is.  Vegetation can absorb some of the noise, and vertical walls, fences, etc. can provide a sound barrier by reflecting some of the noise away.

Next: Part 2 – Site Restrictions

John Hendricks, Architect AIA, NCARB

Hendricks Architecture is located in Sandpoint, Idaho.  We specialize in mountain architecture, and have been listed the past few years as one of Mountain Living’s Top Mountain Architects.  We have designed all over North America, from open oceanfront homes to mountain homes.  Please visit our selected projects page for some of our more recent projects.  Click to Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog

Previous Post: Idaho Mountain Camping Vacation

Idaho Mountain Camping Vacation

Every summer I take the family on a camping trip.  Last summer we stayed in the State of Idaho.  We made a counter clockwise route from Sandpoint to Stanley, and back through Missoula, Montana.  We were also able to visit a ghost town on the way, and see some rustic building techniques, maybe a little too rustic for some.

Rustic Log Rail Fence Stanley

Rustic Log Rail Fence in Lower Stanley, Idaho

Except for the southern central section of the state, there are not a lot of flat places in Idaho.  In fact, percentage-wise, Idaho is more mountainous than any other state.  And where there are mountains, there are rivers.  About ¾ of our trip was along some very beautiful rivers, and much of these where along Idaho “Scenic Byways”.   Many parts of these rivers are popular for rafting, and hot springs are abundant.

Our first day was spent driving down Highway 95 from Sandpoint, through Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston, along the rivers to McCall, and down to Lake Cascade.  The drive down into Lewiston is pretty dramatic.  The highway towers above as it weaves down into the city, which is hugged by the Clearwater and Snake Rivers.  We then drove up the Salmon River towards Riggins, and then up the Little Salmon River towards the beautiful town of McCall.  We finally arrived at Amanita Campground on Lake Cascade as dusk was setting in.

Coho Salmon Spawning

Coho salmon spawning near our campsite

The next morning we saw coho salmon spawning in the stream next to our campsite.  After trying some fishing on the lake, we took a side trip to visit Tamarack Resort, a golf and ski community nearby.  In addition to the golf and skiing, they have a couple of nice amenities including the lodge, a fun little chapel, a ballroom building and a meeting building disguised as a barn and schoolhouse respectively.  The golf course is a signature Robert Trent Jones II design.  A village is in a long standing state of construction as they have been in and out of foreclosure.  However, I can see that once it gets resolved they could be in good shape.  That afternoon we went swimming in the lake, and finished off the day around the campfire.

The next day we continued on our way, driving south along the Payette River towards Banks.  We had lunch at a restaurant in Banks, just south of Banks Lowman road, which overlooks the Payette.  We sat back and relaxed, while below us was a bustle of activity as Bear Valley Rafting was beginning their half-day trips down the river.  After lunch we drove up the very windy, yet scenic Banks Lowman Road.  I had to stop and get out, looking down into the South Fork of the Payette River, which is known for its white water.  It just so happened that at that spot, far below, a rafting expedition was currently carrying their rafts a short ways down the river to avoid a more dangerous stretch.

South Fork Payette River Rafting

Rafting on the South Fork of the Payette River

We made our way east past Lowman towards Mountain View Campground, where we stayed the night.  This campground doesn’t exactly have a mountain view, other than the hills on the other side of the Payette River, but it does have some great spots on the river.  There weren’t any mosquitoes, but in the evening the no-see-ums were so horrendous that we didn’t last long around the campfire.

Lower Stanley Sawtooth Mountains

The Salmon River in Lower Stanley with the Sawtooth Mountains to the South.

The next day we drove up Highway 21 along the “Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route”, and down into Stanley as we got our first glimpses of the Sawtooth Mountains.  The jagged panorama of the Sawtooths is one of the most beautiful mountain ranges I’ve ever seen.  Nestled in the valley below is  the Salmon River and the town of Stanley, Idaho.  Hardy folk live in this town, which has the honor of being ranked #1 for having the “most days with the coldest temperature” in the lower 48 states.

Salmon River

The Salmon River north of Stanley

We were there in late August, so other than a few semi-cold mornings it was t-shirt and shorts weather.  On our first night we stayed in a hotel so we could take showers and enjoy soft beds (we’re tent campers).  The next four nights we stayed south of town at Casino Creek Campground, along the Salmon River.  It was a nice spot.  The sites were fairly open and close together, but because it was late summer the campground was only about 20% full.

Sawtooth Mountains Galena Summit

Looking NW at the Sawtooth Mountains from Galena Summit, between Stanley and Ketchum

On one of the days we drove over Galena Summit to the Sun Valley and Ketchum areas, about 75 minutes south of Stanley.  On another we took a short drive north to the Bonanza and Custer ghost towns.  Being an architect who designs mountain homes, I get a kick out of seeing these old, rustic buildings.

Mountain Home Bonanza Ghost Town

A home in the ghost town of Bonanza

Bonanza is spread out with various buildings and a cemetery.  Custer is in better shape and has a nice self-guided tour, starting with panning for gold outside a schoolhouse, the first building on the tour.

Custer Ghost Town Empire Saloon

The Empire Saloon in the Ghost Town of Custer

One of the homes had an interesting roof material.  Flattened tin cans covered the whole roof, and were in great shape after 100+ years.  So if you’re willing to take the time to collect and flatten them, start saving your tin cans.  Just make sure you use a good underlayment.

Rustic Tin Can Roof Custer Idaho

This tin can roof in Custer has lasted many years.

I also found an innovative way to make a double powder room, OR double toilets in the master bathroom!

rustic double toilets master bathroom

Double toilets – too rustic?

All kinds of ideas flow when looking at this master bathroom.

Simple rustic master bath tub sitting area

Simple and Rustic Master Bath: Tub and Sitting Area

We also experienced Sunbeam Hot Springs.  Here, the hot springs mingle with the Salmon River, and there are several man-made pools, built with moveable rocks.  Temperatures vary depending on your proximity to the river. This would be a fun thing to design into a house.  Hmmm……

Sunbeam Hot Springs Salmon River

Sunbeam Hot Springs merges with the Salmon River

On our last day we caught several trout in the morning, and in the afternoon we went to beautiful (and popular) Redfish Lake, just south of Stanley.  Campgrounds and Redfish Lake Lodge and marina surround the north end of the lake.  To the west, the Sawtooths loom overhead.   A ferry ride from the lodge takes you to the base of the mountains, where there are numerous hikes and backpacking excursions to alpine lakes.  At 6457 feet above sea level, Redfish Lake is at the top end of Idaho’s Columbia River sockeye salmon migration.  The salmon enter the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean, then up the Snake and Salmon Rivers, before traveling up Redfish Lake Creek.  After traveling about 900 miles from the Pacific, the salmon finally arrive at Redfish Lake.  See a map of the quest.

Redfish Lake Idaho Sawtooth Mountains

Redfish Lake and the Sawtooth Mountains

We had a visitor on our last night after enjoying a nice trout dinner.  Apparently the smell was pretty good, as in the middle of the night I woke up to some rustling around the campsite.  I got up and sat there listening, trying to figure out what it was.  I heard the small huffing sounds that bears make, and came to the conclusion that there weren’t grizzlies in the area.  In most cases I would have just stayed there and let it pass.  However, my daughter, who didn’t want to sleep in our big tent, was in a small tent about 30 feet away, and I didn’t want the bear getting close to her tent.

I decided I would quickly get out of the tent, make a run for the minivan, jump in, and start the engine to scare it off if it hadn’t already bolted.  Just then, it brushed against the side of the tent where Annie was sleeping, and she bolted upright with wide eyes. “What the hell was that?”

I mouthed “bear”, paused, and then keys and flashlight in my hand, I quickly unzipped the tent, scanned quickly, and ran for the minivan.  I quickly grabbed the handle and pulled.  It was locked!  Cursing myself and the non-working keyless remote (which would have been useful from inside the tent), I fumbled for the right key and jumped in.  I started the car, turned on the lights, turned the car around to face the campsite, and then turned it off.  The bear was gone.

Trout Dinner on Campfire

Trout dinner. Make sure you clean up thoroughly before going to bed.

The next day we drove north up highway 93 (also called the Lewis and Clark Trail), along the Salmon River, and then up and over the spectacular Bitterroot Mountains via Lost Trail Pass.  This pass is about a half mile west of the Continental Divide.  We then traveled north through Hamilton and into Missoula, Montana, where we spent the night.  We then took Highway 200 northwest along the Clark Fork River to Lake Pend Oreille and home in Sandpoint.

Idaho Camping Map

A map of the trip from Google Maps. (A/I) Sandpoint (B) Lewiston (C) Cascade Lake (D) Banks (E) Lowman (F) Sun Valley/Ketchum (G) Stanley/Casino Creek Campground (H) Missoula, Montana

John Hendricks is a licensed AIA architect at Hendricks Architecture.  We are an architectural  firm in Sandpoint, Idaho, specializing in mountain style homes.  Click to Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog

Previous Post: Mexico Beach House: The Infinity Edge Pool

Previous Camping Trip: Selkirk Loop Vacation in British Columbia

Mexico Beach House: The Infinity Edge Pool

As mountain architects predominantly specializing in mountain style homes, we aren’t asked very often to design infinity edge pools on the building sites.  For this hilltop Mexican style beach house, near the city of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, we were given the opportunity, designing an organically shaped home and infinity edge pool hovering over the Pacific Ocean.

Beach House Infinity Pool Hendricks Architecture

Mexico Beach House Infinity Pool

The site is steeply sloping, with a guest house towards the top, the main residence in the center, and the pool just below.   The guest house, pool, and landscaping are being constructed in phase one, with the main house to follow later.

Beach House Infinity Pool Sunset Architects

Sunset view from the Mexico Beach House

These photos show the recently completed pool.  Infinity edge pools, also called vanishing edge pools, have no curb on the down-slope side, so the water cascades over the edge.  At the right angles, this gives the illusion of the water continuing into an ocean, lake, or river beyond.  There is a different affect when there is a city, forest or other landscaping beyond, though it can be just as dramatic, if not more so.  The water cascades over the edge, into a receiving channel, and is recycled back into the pool.

The curved pool in this case is similarly matched with the organically shaped Mexico beach house design.  For a plan of the existing site, see our previous post Beach Home on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

Pool tile architectural detail for beach house

Pool tile detail

This particular pool is intricately detailed in Mexican style, and creates its own shimmering light show under sunlight.  Thousands of elliptical glass tiles were placed one at a time at the bottom of the pool, with even smaller square tiles along the walls, curb, and outer walls into the drainage basin .  Needless to say, labor is cheap in Mexico.

Organic pool architecture from below

The organically shaped concrete pool from below

Many thanks to Sandau Builders for sending me these photos.  Most of us in the Northern Hemisphere can only dream about places like this during the winter.

John Hendricks, AIA Architect

At Hendricks Architecture, we specialize in the mountain architectural style, but have designed all over the spectrum, from beach houses in Mexico to storybook cottages in the northeastern United States.  We’re located in Sandpoint, Idaho.  Click to Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog.