Casa Cabo Pulmo


Location: Cabo Pulmo, Mexico
Date: 2012
Building Type: Single Family Residential


This beautiful beach house, situated in a secluded fishing village on the Baja Peninsula, incorporates Green and Universal Design features into an overall package that reflects the surrounding natural landscape and traditional local building practices.

Perspectives and Goals

Pat Wright and Deb Zeyen wanted their house to be Green and Universally Designed. Wright, who is legally blind, is a civil rights lobbyist who worked on the initial passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Neither Wright nor Zeyen are wheelchair users, yet they wanted the house to be fully wheelchair accessible in order to support visitablity and the possibility of changing circumstances in the future. Zeyen has been quoted as saying, “Our main requirement for the design of the home was that the accessibility features needed to be integrated into the design, not an add-on.”

The couple chose Cathi House of House and House Architects to design the home, due to the firm’s commitment to sustainability. The firm’s work often incorporates natural light and ventilation, passive solar heating, grey/rain water systems, recycled materials, the development of microclimates and strong connections to the outdoors. The geometric design and color pallet for the home were chosen to mirror the stark mountains and dramatic red earth in the surrounding natural landscape.


Universal Design

The home is organized on two levels, with the primary living and sleeping spaces on the upper floor in order to take advantage of the sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, desert and beach. The lower level houses the guest suites, a small kitchen, and dining and living spaces. Wheelchair access to the second floor and upper deck areas is via a 165-foot ramp. Multiple landings along the switchback ramp provide resting places and spaces from which to enjoy the cactus garden. Lights along the ramp provide illumination at night. The ramp has proved popular with visitors and pets, proving that Universal Design can be beautiful, functional, and fun for everyone.

Separate areas are defined and divided by cabinets and furniture arrangements instead of walls. This open floor plan makes circulation and maneuvering around furniture easy for everyone, including wheelchair users. Also, all bathrooms and bedrooms in the house feature a 5’ turning radius.

Bathrooms are also equipped with roll-in showers and hand-held sprayers. The custom built soaking tub in the master bathroom has a large ledge around it that can be used as a sitting perch when entering or exiting the tub. Bathroom sinks are located at an accessible reach range, and provide adequate knee clearance.

Ceiling mounted lifts are provided in bedrooms and bathrooms. A lift is also attached to the outdoor plunge pool.

Other UD features include removable cabinets installed under sinks, and light switches and electrical outlets located at accessible reach ranges.

Green Design

The ramp plays double duty, providing accessibility and collecting rainwater. Two cisterns collect the rain water that flows down the ramp, and it is later purified for drinking water or used for outdoor irrigation.

Electricity is gathered by solar panels. Passive solar is also incorporated in the design, as the concrete floors radiate warmth that they have collected from the sun long after it has set; an important feature in the desert where temperatures can plummet at night.

Carefully placed palapa roofs and window shades keep out the summer sun and shade the decks and car port. The palapa reflects local building traditions, but since cooking, sleeping, or living under palapa roofs can lead to air quality issues, the roofing material has only been applied to well-ventilated outdoor areas. These shaded terraces cover wide north windows that can be opened to capture cooler breezes for natural ventilation.


Most of the homes in Cabo Pulmo are simple one-story units with palapa roofs. Cathi House has been quoted as saying that, “The level of skill required to construct the concrete roofs and the very long, complex ramp stretched the abilities of everyone working on the project.” The remote location combined with a hurricane temporarily stalled construction, as the team had to wait for washed-out roads to be rebuilt. Even with these setbacks, the end result is a stunning, sustainable and Universal Designed Oceanside retreat that can welcome all guests.

Project Credits:

Project: Casa Cabo Pulmo
Clients: Pat Wright and Deb Zeyen
Architect/Designer: House and House Architects
Structural: Dominic Chu
Contractor/Fabricator: Roberto Chamorro
Size: 2,100 square feet
Photo Credits: Steven and Cathi House

Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.