A Quiet Escape on the North Shore

A tattered gun battery is transformed into a home that celebrates the natural beauty of Tybee Island

JUST BEYOND THE DUNES of Tybee Island’s northern

shoreline stands a relic of the Spanish-American War. Battery

Backus, an Endicott Period gun installation from the 1890s, was

tasked with sinking any unauthorized ships that tried to enter

the Savannah River. Now, in 2021, those cracked cement steps

no longer lead to mortars and magazines but instead to the cozy

home of two avid environmentalists.

“Originally, I had said, ‘Let’s just throw a tent up there,’”

recalls Kathryn, one of the homeowners, smiling at the memory.

What she and her husband, Ed, hadn’t realized was that the architect

they hired to design the project, Dan Snyder, always pays

attention to little details like that — details that would be subtly

woven into the finished framework of the home.

“When you start something like this you have two issues to

satisfy,” says Snyder. “It was important to sustainably preserve the

memory of this place, but the clients needed a home that really

satisfied their hearts, too.” Snyder stands over the process books

and blueprints in his office, flipping through dozens of different

sketches, before landing on the final concept.

“The house reiterates the harsh, angular lines of the battery,”

says Snyder. “There’s a sort of brutality in this concrete. It’s

almost mean. Rough yet sublime.” Perched atop the historic,

sharp-edged foundation, sits a rustic rectangular frame.

Exposed wood, iron rails and a blank, white exterior bridges

the new to the old.

“You can make something beautiful very simple,” says Ed.

Solar panels are hidden flat across the roof. The small storage

garages are closed off with locks and weathered metal doors.

A narrow beach trail curls around the crumbling edges of the

battery’s end. From the street, the house looks stark, and intentionally

so. That way, when Ed and Kathryn enter their front

door, it feels as if they have crossed a threshold to another world

— their world.

During the ascent up the front steps, a small viewing slot was

created, offering a glimpse of the ocean between the boards. Once

inside, that glimpse opens up to a living room lined with 9-foot,

floor-to-ceiling windows that display a panoramic seascape: complete

with vistas of both the shore and the river inlet. “I like this

sort of two-fold presentation,” Snyder adds.

Despite the outdoor grandeur, the living room revolves around

Kathryn’s antique centerpiece: a glass-topped table in the shape of

a snail. Ed’s binoculars are always resting there, next to a stack of

titles from their ever-growing book collection. To the right, hardwood

flooring follows the curved outline of the old cement gun

emplacement, still visible and flush with the rest of the room.

The open kitchen is seamlessly woven into the other common

areas, designed with a floating island that features a built-in stove

top and barstool seating. A slender counter, outfitted along the

back wall, houses the sink, framed by robust wooden shelves and a

window that overlooks the Tybee neighborhood.

If one were to look up, they would find an interlocking wooden

soffit, affectionately known as “the zipper,” running the length

of the ceiling, from the front door to the master bedroom. Not

only does it visually lead a guest through the home, but it also

ties it together, like the two flaps of a tent. It’s thought-provoking

accents like this, in Snyder’s design process, that add a unique and

personal charm to the fully rendered space.

Following the zipper, ample storage and pantry space can be

found behind sliding dividers, cleverly disguised as a wall. The

master bath, on the other side of the storage wall, draws upon

the fort’s aesthetic, incorporating a walk-in shower composed of

exposed wood and translucent fiberglass. Ed’s at-home office is

tucked into a nook just before the master bedroom, where the zipper

eventually ends. Here, the room boasts its own scenic views.

On closer inspection, Ed points out how the ceiling is shaped like

wind-rippled canvas.

“But this is why they’re there,” says Snyder, opening up his

site analysis binder to a particularly stunning photo of nighttime

on the beachfront. Knowing this site isn’t only meant to

be enjoyed from the inside, Ed and Kathryn made one last addition

to their beachfront residence: an elevated porch with an

umber-stained, wooden pergola overhead. To the left, a handbent

oculus captures a moving vignette of rolling clouds and

infi nite sky.

“The house is subtle, quiet, humble and caring,” says Snyder,

piling his journals, solar calculations and wind diagrams into a

neat stack. “When I say caring, I mean caring for Ed and Kathryn,

caring about the battery, caring for the broader place of Tybee and

caring about the Earth, as a whole.”

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