Scandinavian House  |  NC Modernist Houses  |  B+O Design

Written By: Scott Ogden

“Architects live and die by the images taken of their work; as these images alone are what people see.  For every one person who visits a private house, there may be ten thousand who only view it as a photo.”

-Julius Shulman, father of modern architectural photography in LA throughout the 40’s to the 80’s.

This sentiment couldn’t be more true with Pinterest, Houzz, and design blogs and plan websites as the prime way many people ‘shop’ for home ideas, be they full residential designs, spatial ideas, new materials/colors, or objects such as furniture, appliances or lighting.

Many of Shulman’s images are the reason that architects like Charles & Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler, Pierre Koenig and others became household names after WWII.  There’s a great documentary about him; (Visual Acoustics; The Modernism of Julius Shulman– which is available on AmazonPrime and sometimes shows on PBS and Sundance Channel)
julius shulman black white modern architecture photographer

B+O Design Studio

In eleven or so years here in Wilmington, our office, B + O design studio, has developed a specialty of designing custom, contemporary, ‘green’ houses and buildings.   As an architect and landscape architecture firm on the coast, we get to work on some wonderful, unique sites and neighborhoods in North Carolina.  These are one-off, special residential buildings that need some planning and thoughtfulness in terms of capturing those photos that take it from the owner’s day-to-day, intimate use and understanding to sharing as spaces that communicate & encourage others to think ‘outside the box’- even if it is in actuality still a rectangular volume.

It’s also fun to document the process.  Working with an architect is much different from that of a design/build/development or buying stock home plans; the process creates the product and each result is as different as the specific site and the arrangement of rooms & spaces of the program.  This image is a GIF of an early rough perspective rendering of the house, bled into the house as finished.

scandinavian house rendering


Scandinavian House West Exterior facing channel

West Exterior- facing channel

Shulman had the luxury of LA’s mountains & Palm Springs deserts for the contrast of houses with clean lines to jagged mountains, exotic landscapes & sandy vistas.  We’re in a flat relatively urbanized coastal plain with less distinctive natural topography, but when the subject, a simple grey & white box (that’s been nicknamed the ‘Scandinavian House’) is juxtaposed to the surroundings, the uniqueness of the architecture can stand out.  Given that Wrightsville Beach is known for simple salt-box & mid-Atlantic vernacular forms, having the two adjacent houses in this shot shows contrast and difference at all levels.  Windows (black vs. white), (big vs. single), trim (none vs picture framing), siding (lines/texture vs. flatness), accent color (grey vs white), Roof (flat vs. pitched), etcetera.


Given the open floor plan of two of the homes three living levels- we want to highlight the openness, light & views in as many photos as possible.

Here’s the living room w/ 4 unique zones all taking advantage of the water view;  a game area, the main seating group, a corner reading chaise, and the wet bar.

Scandinavian house Living room w/ concrete fireplace & wet bar.

Living room w/ concrete fireplace & wet bar.

A slightly lower view point with this picture allows one to appreciate the dual nature of the main kitchen island.

It features two ‘waterfall’ features; the major one in concrete- 11’ long; the second on a lower walnut ‘table’ that wraps the corner.  There’s seating for six with the various height stools.  The table complements the walnut storage wall behind which contains a vertical pantry, built-in refrigerator, and frames the gas range w/ concrete backsplash.  The eastern/ocean deck doors are in the background.

Scandinavian House Open kitchen w/ double counter/table island in concrete and walnut waterfalls.

Open kitchen w/ double counter/table island in concrete and walnut waterfalls.

Here is the uppermost ‘room’ a library/office that runs the entire length of the house w/ 40+ feet of bookshelves and exposed cedar structure at the roof/ceiling.  I like what Rachel did w/ framing this shot- the bronze ‘dandelion’ chandelier over the landing obscures the wall-hung TV (not a key element) while focusing the eye on the books, gallery/hall, chair (you want to get to read in….) and the track lighting above.  The ceiling plane shows the wash of light from continuous clerestory windows above the bookshelves bringing in cool, natural north daylight.

Scandinavian House LIbrary/Aerie w/ 40 foot bookshelves

Library/Aerie w/ 40 foot bookshelves

Below are two pictures of the bedroom of owner’s suite (master) on the third floor.  While both are pleasant shots, one conveys a sense of the room & space (vaulted ceiling, corner windows, dynamic of volume), while the other is a frontal, more symmetrical ‘flat’ shot.  This image emphasizes the balance of the furniture, and the singular north-wall arrangement of ½ of the room.

Scandinavian House Master Bedroom

Master Bedroom

On the other hand, this image captures more of the feeling of the room- the black ceiling fan gives a scale to the vaulted, shed ceiling (which goes from 9 to 12 feet tall)  Additionally, the perspective shows the size of the space; runner for scale, second seating area w/ mirror & cabinet to right.

Master Bedroom Scandinavian House

Master Bedroom


Scandinavian House Living Room & Kitchen

Living Room

Again, here is the open concept great room/kitchen/dining, looking southeast.   One shot that is a long diagonal of the room, forty or so feet!  With the perspective, number of elements in the shot, and depth of the space, it’s probably too much to take in and convey with a single image.

Scandinavian House Living Room Wrightsville Beach, NC

Living Room

Here is a smaller view- with just the southwest corner and one art wall.  While flat and not quite as spatial, it communicates a vignette of the larger great room.  The game table & lamp can be enjoyed as a focus; the art array connects the corner casement window to the walnut openings at the stairway behind.  The horizontal orientation matches the long openness of the space.   But what about one step more…..

Scandinavian House 'Drop zone' desk w/ cutouts to stairway & flush white full-heigh storage cabinets Wrightsville Beach, NC

‘Drop zone’ desk w/ cutouts to stairway & flush white full-heigh storage cabinets

This vertical picture is a smaller local moment in the bigger great room.  Details can be appreciated in depth; the walnut waterfall of the desk/counter.  The flush white cabinets.  The bronze ‘balancing man’.  The mid-century side chair.  The stainless cable in the landing opening (for code…no toddlers can escape or fall!), even the glass chandelier at the landing beyond.


Here is a key shot of the experience of the Scandinavian house.  Western views from the main level deck to the sunset over Mott’s Channel.  On the main level, we selected bronze accordion doors which open the room completely to the view.  Note the glass panel catches the golden light of the sun- different in tone from the sky beyond, and the flood of artificial light from the living room.  Connecting the dots- one can see there’s an exterior gas fire-frame that mirrors the one inside on the north living room wall!!

Scandinavian Modern House West/Living Room deck sunset wrightsville beach, nc

West/Living Room deck.

Scandinavian Modern House Wrightsville Beach NC East deck w/ outdoor kitchen

East deck w/ outdoor kitchen

There is a similar condition on the east side of the house; accordion door opening to the morning/east deck w/ second dining room & outdoor kitchen.


With any custom home, there are going to be opportunities to highlight those unique & peculiar details that make a home special.  This residence features cast concrete in a variety of ways;  countertops w/ integral sinks (doubled in the mirror shot at the wet bar), openings in stairways to allow light & air to flow through rooms, vertical applications @ the fireplace wall & hearth, as well as custom woodwork- like the wine room shelving.

Concrete Counter & Sink

Concrete Counter & Sink

Stair portal w/ cable rail.

Stair portal w/ cable rail.

Wine room w/ built-in shelving & glass front.

Wine room w/ built-in shelving & glass front.


North Carolina Modernist Houses

We’ve documented the ‘Scandinavian House’ as part of an entry for the 2017 Matsumoto Prize house competition, which is sponsored by the North Carolina Modernist Houses (NCMH) organization, run by George Smart from Durham.  His website, events, tours, lectures and outreach have been critical to educating folks here and beyond about the richness of modern residential architecture in the state (it’s third behind LA and Chicago in number of documented houses!!).  If you’re interested in mid-century, contemporary, ‘case study’ or modern design; his site is a must see.  In addition, the public voting for the prize starts on Monday June 26th, 2017, so if you like this project (or others?)- please visit, review & vote in the Matsumoto program.

North Carolina Modernist Houses

Matsumoto Prize website


Architect: B + O design studio, pllc

Houzz (for additional projects & pictures)

General Contractor: Bennett Construction Group

Interior Designer: Aida Saul

Photographer: Rachel Carter Images

modernist house design wrightsville beach nc

Want to view more images of the Scandinavian House? Visit the portfolio here.