Ocean Sundial

Ocean Sundial


By Robert E. Haywood | Photography by Anice Hoachlander



Most everything in architect Donald Lococo’s “Ocean Sundial” stands against the conventional beach house architecture that line the Delaware and
Maryland beaches.

Take the street-side entry of the typical oceanfront home, where you see seemingly endless versions of gable roof lines, a deck of some variety, standard windows that look out onto the street and ocean, and the occasional dramatic exterior staircase leading to a porch and front door. Ocean Sundial does not conform to any of these conventions. 

When one turns onto the street of this oceanfront home, it’s hard not to gasp at its distinctive form. The street-side façade is formed of elegant bands, or ‘fins’ as Lococo calls them. Aligned horizontally, they possess a musical rhythm in their linear repetition. 

The grayish fins are a type called Shou Sugi Ban. In this Japanese technique, each plank is charred and wire-brushed—a process that reveals long grain patterns and textures. The Shou Sugi Ban fins are resistant to insects and moisture damage, without harmful chemicals that leach into the environment. The fins were constructed in four full height segments and lifted upright into place. This feat of custom building is the work of Shay Gallo and his team at Shay Gallo Construction.

Rather than following familiar styles of beach architecture, this façade of fins draws inspiration—unexpectedly—from a built form installed to protect the beach: dune fencing. Beyond serving as a barrier, dune fencing is critical in limiting erosion and fostering animal and plant life.

Without being a wall, the fins minimize views from the interior of the mostly ho-hum architecture along the street. Plus, as Lococo points out, we don’t drive hours and hours to look at the street. We travel to experience an expansive body of salt water and forceful waves that never stop and to look out toward the horizon’s singular line that stretches across the sea. 

The street-side front entry is unlike the predictable grand exterior stairs of beach house architecture. This entry off to the right side is discreet and almost disguised as if to preserve an exterior modesty and to build anticipation with a small, covered porch leading to the front door. Upon opening the front door, one is greeted by a small foyer and interior stair that immediately allow one to experience the effects of light and shadow. Once inside, your focus turns to the three-story stair shaft and outward to panoramic views of ocean. 

A solid wall would have blocked the sunlight, but the fins allow the sun to flood the interior with light. And light brings with it shadows—shadows that slowly move across the floor, the stairs, and other objects, creating a formal play of light and shade.

Lococo followed the strict technical requirements of beachfront architecture but designed this house using light as a tool. The house is built with enduring materials such as wood, glass, and steel, but it is this immaterial element of light that has its own temporal flow, continuously changing the feel, temperature, and look of the home throughout the day.

Lococo, in fact, calls light “the driver”. He studied the sun’s patterns and meticulously calculated its movements and their effects on the interior. He and his team went so far as to stay overnight in the open air when there was just a platform so he could experience the sun rising in the morning. “I wanted to see if it really worked. So even way before the house windows were in, we experienced that level, which I just really, really loved,” he explains.

Lococo notes, for example, that at 10:00 a.m. the sun penetrates the central interior stair shaft, “dissipating light and warming remote areas of the home, while bringing the morning’s longest rays of light into the core of the home.”

The sweeping oceanfront sliding glass doors and windows allow light to inundate the interior. According to Nick Neidig of Quality Window and Door, Lococo wanted “three panel sliding doors, where the two end panels operate and slide into the center,” a custom design Weather Shield was able to provide. All this glass allows for a house that, Lococo says, “is about the bouncing and shimmering of light—what reflects light, what absorbs light, what’s chalky to light, and how light skims along some of the ceilings and how shadows moved within it.” Even the flooring selection was based on the effects of light. A chalky wood floor surface, he explains, became “really important” because, by contrast, “chalky makes shimmering things shimmer more.”

The home is designed in such a way that nothing can distract from the light effects and ocean views. Lococo’s team also planned the interior design and kept the furnishings comfortable and modest with mostly neutral tones. Even the kitchen is minimalist but functional. He points out that the kitchen is “really not about cabinetry,” so even the knobs, with their streamlined forms, are minimalist. This feature is employed throughout the home with forms such as the knobs and the suspended tubular staircase lights that echo the exterior fins and the linear shadows
they create.

A home of this distinction required highly sophisticated homeowners who trusted a seasoned and immensely creative architect. The homeowners are doctors, and this is the second home Lococo has designed for them, although the first home in metro D.C. is completely different from the beach home. 

The style of this home is modern, but today that characterization can mean almost anything when the design possesses minimal ornamentation and geometric forms. With this beach home, one thing modern does not mean is a box. Says Lococo: “I don’t make a box and put people in it. And that’s what I try to teach, too. I’m almost in a 3D space frame. [I] have people create relationships and then drop walls and things around where they are. The walls land around [those] relationships to foster them,” he adds.

In this case, the relationships start with a family of five plus an extended family. Nine beds and a pull-out couch allow for fourteen guests to sleep in this somewhat modest 3,230-square-foot home. 

From the ocean side, the home appears like a series of stacked cubicles with frontal glass doors and windows instead of walls. However, the home has a sawtooth form, most evident from the sides, which Lococo says was “used to meet the 1:4 roof pitch requirement.” The three-part sloped roof allows the sun to enter and facilitates water drainage, with the tallest slope creating the ceiling for the third-level kitchen, dining, and living areas. This floor offers dramatic ocean views from the room’s entire width and from the deck, where you are hypnotized by the repetitive crash of waves.

There are many modern beachfront homes, although their quality is by no means of equal value. It’s a rare modern home that rises to this level of originality and magnificence, where architecture unquestionably asserts itself as an art. Ocean Sundial is also an exceptional home in that it sets a new, higher standard for architecture along the Delaware and Maryland beaches.



ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN: Donald Lococo Architects, donaldlococoarchitects.com, Washington, D.C.  | CONTRACTOR: Shay Gallo, Shay Gallo Construction, shaygalloconstruction.com, Bishopville, Maryland | STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: David Linton, Linton Engineering, lintonengineering.com, Potomac Falls, Virginia | DOOR AND WINDOWS: Nick Neidig, Quality Window & Door, qwdinc.com, Merrifield, Virginia | CUSTOM CABINETRY: Farlow Taylor Woodworks, Selbyville, Delaware | COUNTERTOP: In Home Stone, Caesarstone Airy Concrete, inhomestone.com, Annapolis, Maryland | GLASS VASES: Sklo Studio and American Eye


© Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 14, No. 3 2023