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Life is Short, Build the Beach House

Oceanfront homeowners often get a bad rap. Throughout modern-day media and pop culture, they’ve been reduced to caricatures of greedy, self-absorbed opportunists from the North who could care less about the local community or global environment of the South. Though there have been many a high-profile story where oceanfront homeowners wouldn’t give up access to their properties in order to allow for beach replenishment, those hold outs turned out to be few and far between. Undeniably, there are always a few bad apples that spoil the bunch, but overall, in what Ship Bottom-based architect and builder, Michael Pagnotta, has experienced in his thirty-plus years of designing and building oceanfront homes on LBI and along the Jersey Shore, he can attest that most oceanfront homeowners aren’t bad—they are just vastly misunderstood.

“My typical client has a lifetime of memories from the Jersey Shore,” Pagnotta shares in defense of beachfront property owners. “Many have histories that go back for generations—when a weekly stay at a modest shanty was the highlight of a happy childhood,” he adds. He observes that most oceanfront homeowners have used these memories as their “rosebud,” slowly and steadily building toward their dream to return to the beach and provide the same memories for their kids and grandchildren. And as we work through the ravages of the covid19 situation, oceanfront home owners have come to appreciate their hotel-like home in settings that are surprisingly ideal for isolation and working from home, safely surrounded by their loved ones. In this new normal, one can only expect more people choosing to have their primary home at the beach, and reverse commute to the city only when truly necessary.

While family traditions, recipes, and heirlooms can be passed from generation to generation relatively unchanged, in this day and age, factors such as technology, multigenerational households, economic and societal shifts have immensely changed the archetypal family dynamic—and how they gather. The overwhelmingly dominant design theme among homeowners nowadays is to ultimately appeal to their children and grandchildren [who may otherwise reside in scattered parts of the region], offering everyone the opportunity, the space—and an enticing reason—to come together and spend good ol’ fashioned quality time with each other at the shore. And since children’s lives are influenced by their environment, these days, a typical oceanfront owner’s prime directive is not necessarily building a bigger and better home, but more so a central vision of creating a home that is inviting and functional to a larger multigenerational family, comfortably living under one roof. “The plans are almost always centered entirely around family first,” notes Pagnotta.

Because people are more mobile these days, families and friends tend to spread in many directions. Getting people together is more challenging and the logistics of everyone meeting at a central location would seem impractical if not for the large beach house. “Our design goals have become to accommodate for large gatherings, including several suites for parents and grandparents and smaller bedrooms with lots of bunks for the grandkids,” Pagnotta shares. A family stay could easily include three generations of people requiring 6+ bedrooms and a variety of spaces that allow for communal get togethers, while also providing for smaller more private spaces to get away from everyone (while still technically being with everyone).

Along with the internal casting of character comes another assumption that the only people who can afford the skyrocketing prices of oceanfront homes are entitled silver-spooned individuals who were born into a successful life. Often times the general idea is that these homes are giant overblown boxes that serve no need save for the expression of one’s ego or success. But the summer bungalow has a new value and with it a new importance. Free time has become precious and low maintenance homes with the latest materials are the necessity. As the demand for homes by the sea has only grown over the past fifty years, the result that comes with it are soaring values and the desire to maximize the potential for each site. These economic realities coupled with the desire to accommodate growing families gathering at the beach naturally result in larger homes; homes that serve more as bed and breakfasts or mini hotels by the time they are outfitted for the slew of homeowners’ now-grown children, along with their spouses, plus a gang of grandkids in tow.

Michael Pagnotta also notes of his expertise in oceanfront architecture, “our designs create large open great rooms that take advantage of views while providing visual communication between people in the kitchen dining or living areas. The central theme is to connect with family and nature, while turning away from screens and technology.” The kitchen and grill area are oftentimes designed with fluid interchangeability, as natural the heart of the home has the utmost importance, satisfying the need for loved ones to gather while cooking. Ground levels are able to store all of the bicycles, surf boards, paddle boards, kayaks and beach gear required for many people. “Often times we’ll provide double outdoor showers,” he chuckles, “because anybody who has had to wait for little kids to get out of an outdoor shower knows exactly why this can be a godsend.”

Many times, an oceanfront home will even feature a small pool integrated into its design. Seems a little extravagant or over the top to many, but to the multi-generational family, the pool makes lots of sense. Often times pools enable an older family member to watch grandkids while mom and dad get a much-needed break alone at the beach—without the mess and stress of prepping kids for the unpredictable sandy excursion. It also provides an outdoor gathering spot after dark or when beach conditions aren’t ideal. Lower bedroom levels feature smaller bedrooms and suites—much like a cruise ship—intentionally to encourage more time for outdoor activities and less time for Fortnight. Decks are large, allowing for a mix of shade and sunny areas and providing for outdoor dining while listening to the roar of the surf.

The economics all makes sense, but what about the risk? Storms have come and gone, and people keep building. One substantial reassurance is that today’s homes are built to satisfy much stricter building codes, starting with the fact that they are all required to be on raised foundations, with many oceanfront pilings extending more than twenty feet below grade. Oceanfront homes are built well above flood levels, and any serious damage to an oceanfront would probably come from a wind event (not flooding), and that damage would be covered from one’s homeowners’ insurance.

Owning an oceanfront makes a lot sense to ordinary people for the very fact that they are great rentals; managed right, and renting your beach house may let you live in the house for free during non-peak beach season. Take an extended family that requires six bedrooms: A hotel stay could easily be $400 per night x 6 bedrooms x 7 nights so a weekly cost would be $16,800—even before food and travel costs. Plus, in the oceanfront beach house, most meals are able to be created at home which saves additional money. For oceanfront owners who have worked so hard to achieve their dreams and would like to keep these prized properties in the family (despite concerns that the next generation would have the interest or wherewithal to handle such a big investment) the high demand for rental potential is an obvious saving grace. Luckily, these properties are ideal legacy assets, or instruments that can be rented out to carry their costs during the inevitable changes in life cycles when a summer at the beach isn’t practical or impossible—whether it be to the demands of sports, college visits, caring for aging parents, etc.).

Oceanfront owners have worked, saved, and moved up from other coastal homes to finally get have a chance to achieve their dream. These intelligent, savvy successful people weigh evidence with what is important in this time of their lives. Having the resources and desire for an oceanfront home offset an ever-changing threat that may or may not happen for decades or centuries to come. Over time, mitigation and adaptation are equally as likely as the sea rising to a point that affects the enjoyment of owning an oceanfront home, but a property at the shore never goes out of style. In short: Life is Short. Build the Beach House. Preferably, oceanfront.

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