A North Shore pad is small on size, big on style.

When architect Kevin Miyamura first saw this beachfront location on the North Shore of O‘ahu, it held an existing 800-square-foot beach shack and a few trees, “but not much else,” says Miyamura. “And it was still beautiful.”

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But the beauty of the lot’s dramatic shoreline brought with it a host of challenges. At barely 25 feet deep and a hundred feet wide, it was small and bound by a number of restrictions.

“There are about four different envelope or zoning setbacks all over-laid on each other, which made it almost impossible to build anything on the site,” explains Miyamura.

The preexisting cabin was grandfathered in as a property variance, allowing the construction of a new home, but every single face of the house—down to the floor elevation—would be affected by a zoning, variance, flood or shoreline setback.

“So the project was all about constraints, as opposed to a blank slate. The design really shaped itself as an extrusion of the site and limits.”

Miyamura describes the first floor main level as “one big room, like a cabin turned inside out. Within that, the utility and storage spaces are all built into the perimeter, so they disappear as well.”

Upstairs, the bedrooms facing the ocean are inches from a sloped zoning limit. “We turned it into a set of sloped sliding windows that allow you to see the stars at night from your bed.”

“When you’re standing in the space and the windows are open, you’re literally outside. The sky is above you,” notes the home’s owner, Terry McTigue, who with wife Dorene McTigue, played a strong role in the home’s design.

Nervous about plans for a second floor, which by necessity could only be 10×65 feet including a stairwell, the McTigues built out a full-size mockup of it at their home in Seattle.

“We built the entire second floor in our garage out of 2x4s to get the dimensions right by being able to be in the space. All kinds of subcontractors came to spend time in it. We moved real toilets and furniture around in it, and by the time we were done we were completely comfortable that it would be really cool. It makes a problem look like an advantage.”

The home’s tight sizing required Dorene McTigue, whose career was in the food industry, to make a similar adjustment in seeing a minimalist kitchen as the key to beachside simplicity rather than a sacrifice.

“She was willing to defer a conventional kitchen layout to a long, single-loaded counter up against the street side that runs the length of the house,” says Miyamura. “That took terrific restraint and a leap of faith on the owner’s part. The end result is that the kitchen doesn’t detract as a space from the singularity of the living space oriented towards the beach and the horizon.”

“I have to size down what I do in the kitchen,” explains Dorene, “but it does work and it simplifies our lives. This kitchen sort of disappears visually.”

“You have to live differently in a small space,” adds Terry. “Our Seattle home has all the space you could want. But why would you want to build the same house twice? This house, it lives and feels bigger than the square footage that it measures out to. In the early morning when we open the windows and we’re just waking up and we get the smell of the ocean. We’re always looking for sunsets.”

Miyamura notes that the constraints of the space led the design in the direction he hopes more local architecture will take, one of tropical urban sensibility to space, light, climate and place.

“The size of the lot, ironically, created a modesty of size and space that proved to be really appropriate to a beach house, which it really is. It forces you to engage the outdoors.”

“Terrific architects take what look like problems and turn them into assets,” says Terry McTigue. “You couldn’t imagine the house being anything different than it is.”