Cliffside Homes Invite Living on the Edge

What is it about living on the border that we find so attractive? Is it that the exhilaration of straddling the secure and the precarious? Or maybe it’s the capacity to be elevated on high, as though on a perch, from where we can examine our planet.

Whatever the reason, not all steep slopes and slopes are to be avoided. Sure, there are. But there are a few that hold amazing homes which can truly improve the lives of men and women who live in them. Homes for example Richard Meier’s Douglas House, perched along a steep incline overlooking Lake Michigan, is just one such example. And there are many more.

Here are only a couple.

Synthesis Design Inc..

There are choices for the way the house is positioned on a sloped site. One is to set the house near the peak of the increase, allowing some of this structure to cantilever out outside the start of the falloff. Such a house can have a minimal effect on the site slope, minimizing the actual physical attachment that the structure has to the site.

Randy Thueme Design Inc. – Landscape Architecture

Another approach is to get the structure stay away from the border. That may, in actuality, be mandated by local regulations which prohibit construction too near an environmentally sensitive location.

When the structure is pulled back from the border, the result is more like a house built on a conventional flat lot — a necessity in cases where the cliff is unstable, protected or overly costly to assemble.

House + House Architects

Homes built along a slope, like this one, can yield something quite distinctive. For example, whereas a typical house has public spaces (living room, kitchen, family room etc.) on the first floor with private rooms over, a house built along a slope may have the public areas at the top level, because that is where the entrance is. Together with the bedroom areas at a lower level, the residence is “upside down.”

Fougeron Architecture FAIA


Whether it’s that the entire house or only a room, another approach is to go out beyond the border. This is a more daring approach, and the house becomes less secure abode and more aerie perch. This relationship between site and home isn’t for the faint of heart.

Synthesis Design Inc..

Be it at the peak of the cliff, away from the border, along the incline or past the border, a house built on a steeply sloping site or cliff has a special connection to the property. The house can mix with its environment or, like the Douglas House, stand out and proclaim itself.

But one of the greatest aspects of living in a house perched on the border is …

Ron Herman Landscape Architect

… having a spot that is secure and safe to observe the planet from — a wonderful place for watching the sun move across the sky and the surf pound away at the rocks.

See related