West coast contemporary is one of my favorite design styles of residential homes.
While this style is often referred to as West Coast modern, that’s not correct. West Coast Modern was a style in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
The West Coast Contemporary style softens the purely modern look by adding warmth to both the exterior and interior with extensive use of wood. In fact it’s interesting how incorporating wood as a primary material can make such an impact on one’s emotional reaction to a design.
For instance, the above design could be purely modern if all white. Imagine that. If that was the case, it would evoke a much different response. I realize many people like the stark modern look, but for me, I prefer softening the pure modern design with wood both on the outside and the inside.
It’s no surprise this design is extremely popular, especially for new builds on the West Coast. In fact, in our neck of the woods, many people are completely overhauling existing simple 1960’s homes and turning it into this design… more often than not doing so very successfully.
Elements of West Coast Modern Design
This post focuses on the exterior because there are many unifying elements to exterior West Coast Modern design. When it comes to the interior, that’s much broader which is kind of cool but you end up with so many options.
Here’s a diagram of the key elements of West Coast Modern exterior design:
1. Straight lines
Straight lines are typical of modern, mid-century and west coast modern. Essentially any “modern” style will focus on straight lines. It’s a clean look. Note that it’s not necessarily symmetrical. In fact, it rarely is symmetrical. What straight lines means is there are peaks and angles and bays, etc.
Without the extensive use of wood, you have modern. It’s the wood that makes all the difference. I love it and I really love the West Coast modern look. The main type of wood used are spruce, fir, pine and cedar.
Wood is used for the walls (exterior and interior), exposed beams (exterior and interior), floors and window frames.
3. Other materials
Another element of this design is that the exterior is seldom entirely wood. That’s a bit excessive and so designers/architects usually incorporate other exterior materials such as stone, concrete and dark colored vinyl. This give the exterior texture and variety which much improves a plain wood exterior.
Some of these homes take on an industrial look by incorporating concrete and/or steel. I think this can be very effective as long as it’s properly balanced with wood. Just concrete or steel is far to industrial looking as far as I’m concerned, but when balanced with wood and glass, it can be striking.
4. Large Windows
The use of large windows enhances both exterior curb appeal as well as increasing natural interior light. You’ll notice in our West Coast contemporary exterior photo gallery below that most have several large windows. Moreover, the windows are simple in design; they are not ornamental and don’t include any ornament aspects such as shutters at all.
Environment and Location
Another thing I like about this design is it works in pretty much all settings including:
Urban: Taller and narrower, yet still looks great.
Rural: More of a sprawling design.
Suburban: We live in a suburb and this style of home is popping up all over the place. They fit in beautifully; of course I live on the West Coast so this style fits well with all the large evergreen trees in my neck of the woods.
View opportunity: Because of the many large windows, this style of home is idea for any lot with a view – whether a view of the mountains, town, city or water.
At the end of the day, most lots on the West Coast, in mountainous areas or pretty much anywhere that isn’t predominated by another style of architecture (i.e. in the Southwest for instance) will work with this style of home.
The interior design of this type of home will vary more widely than the exterior; however, wood and glass will play a part. Some interiors lean toward the rustic with a modern touch while others will learn toward the straight up contemporary or cottage with plenty of wood.
You can go darker or lighter.
Nevertheless, typically the interiors will have the following features:
Open concept: Being a contemporary design, and since open concept is so popular, many of these homes have a great room.
Taller ceilings: Many of these homes will have tall ceilings to really capitalize on all the natural light.
Wood floors: The wood theme is carried out throughout the home with wood flooring throughout the home.
Straight lines: Just like the exterior, the interior will consist of straight lines.
Other materials: It’s not unusual for there to be some incorporation of steel and/or concrete throughout the interior. I’m thinking for railings, stairs and other touches here and there adding a touch of industrial to the otherwise warm wood emphasis.
It’s easy to fall in love with this design. I know I have and would love to own a West Coast contemporary home.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out our growing gallery of examples we love below.