Early in the 1950s, when the drive from Washington to the Outer Banks took an entire day, Arthur and Lucile Keyes began an annual pilgrimage that has become a family tradition. For many years, Keyes, a Washington architect and the senior partner at Keyes, Condon, Florance, made the trek south for the sun, the sand and the kids.

Although the family rented for many years, one beach cottage after another, they bought some land in 1953. It was a lot more than they needed for a little cottage on the beach -- 24 acres of sand stretching from Currituck Sound to the Atlantic -- and it was miles from the nearest road in Kitty Hawk, in a forgotten little Outer Banks town called Duck. The only way to get to the land was to walk, or drive a Jeep, along the beach. Building on the land was unrealistic. And so the family continued to rent.

Finally, in the late 1970s, the state built a road. And Arthur Keyes designed and developed his own getaway house and his own neighborhood. The neighborhood is called Sea Ridge, a development with 50 lots between the ocean and the sound. Says Keyes of the five-hour drive to Duck, "It's a little too long, but that's one of the reasons it's so nice. It hasn't been spoiled."

THE LARGEST COTTAGE in Sea Ridge belongs to Keyes. In designing the cottage, Keyes tried to use the best aspects of every house he had ever rented or owned. The house takes cues from turn-of-the-century shingle architecture, lots of shore houses and a few boats.

"The shape came out of the arrangement of rooms," says Keyes. The lighthouse-like tower at the middle is a central staircase. The focal point of the first floor is a bit of whimsy -- an antique figurehead Keyes found on a trip to London about 15 years ago.

"I had her in the basement for years," recalls the architect. "And when I started designing this house, I decided that this gal was going to dominate the place. She is at the center of the axis of the living room. She even has her own half-moon window!"

Keyes felt strongly that a vacation house should be expansive -- that it should be larger than the primary residence. Hence, the house is 5,000 square feet. Keyes' home in Washington is not modest; it is 3,500 square feet. "For a second home," he says, "it's so nice to have space." Particularly when you have guests.

There are six bedrooms and six baths in this sprawling ocean-front home. "It's really a small hotel," muses Keyes, who loves having his three children and their spouses and his four grandchildren come to visit. The house is called Mainstay after a small Victorian hotel Keyes admired in Cape May, N.J.

Unlike the Victorian hotels of Cape May, however, the Keyes home is filled with broad open spaces and modest private places. The ground floor is essentially one large room. The kitchen opens on to the living room and dining area. Every room has a view. There is 24 feet of glass facing the ocean and screen porches, balconies and decking at every turn.

After having rented many beach homes over the years, Keyes included a number of features that anyone who has ever entertained at the beach would appreciate. Besides every bedroom having a bath, all the bedrooms have cross-ventilation and most have private porches and balconies. To avoid having sand tracked through the house, there is an open outdoor shower. A bookcase hides the quarry-tile exit to the beach so that guests leaving the house for the beach cannot be seen from the main living area.

When in Duck, Keyes and his family spend time on the beach, play tennis with the grandchildren, go sailing in shallow draft boats and wind surfing on the bay side -- or just do nothing. "You can watch birds and porpoises all day long. You don't feel compelled to do anything. You can fish off the beach. You can even watch the color of the water change as a school of fish is pushed into the shore by porpoises. Then you can grab a pole and run down and bring them in."