Fire Island is barely 60 miles from New York City off the southern shore of Long Island, but getting there can feel—in a good way—like a journey to the end of the earth. Eighty percent of the island is protected public land, and with the exception of Robert Moses Beach at its western tip, the 32-mile-long, one-mile-wide island can be reached only by passenger ferry—no cars allowed. For summer vacationers traveling from beyond the New York area, such as Washington, DC, residents Rich Walker and Frank DeCrosta, reaching their favorite summer place is indeed a journey, one that can involve planes, trains, automobiles—and a final trek by foot or golf cart.
The decelerating pace of successive modes of travel is a big part of the Fire Island experience; even the most stressed-out of city dwellers steps off the ferry onto the island a different person. So when Walker, an executive with Constellation Energy, and DeCrosta, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker, decided to build their own home after renting for many summers on the island, the design had to be a fitting end to the journey. “We thought a lot about the house as a threshold, creating a sense of arrival, and then leading homeowners and guests through a sequence of increasingly private spaces,” says Bethan Llewellyn, project architect at Studio27 Architecture of DC. “That initial experience contrasts with the daily rhythm of life at a beach house—mornings by the pool, midday at the beach, afternoon cocktails.” The long, narrow site, stretching from east to west, enabled the architects to intertwine these two design concepts.
A long, stepped boardwalk stretches out from the front door on the west side to welcome visitors. The house is clad in traditional cedar siding—popular on the island.
As one steps across the threshold, the rough-hewn cedar shell reveals a pristine, modern interior of precise millwork and fine materials, like the pearl in an oyster. The sleek metal stair and handrails, a semi-custom installation by Europa Stairways, seem to float in the entry between the kitchen and dining area on the left and the living room on the right. The living spaces are otherwise completely open, with a view through broad expanses of glass to the pool deck beyond. At the far end of the pool, the wood deck becomes a low wall that screens from view a smaller deck with a Jacuzzi tub.
“We walk in and are utterly amazed,” says Walker. “What Frank and I appreciate most is the openness of house. You walk in, and it feels so expansive. You can see front to back, side to side; the outside comes in.”
The house is two stories tall along the northern side; the second-floor bedrooms screen the living areas from the neighboring properties. “We wanted to take advantage of the solar orientation,” says Llewellyn. “The movement of the sun through the house reflects the daily rhythm.” The master bedroom juts out to the east and has a deck of its own overlooking the pool, creating a covered outdoor terrace for alfresco dining. Early mornings on that east-facing and very private upper deck are a special time. “The tree canopy hangs just a couple of feet above us, with birds hopping around,” says Walker. “It’s like being in a nature preserve.”
The living room juts out from the main volume of the house, separating the private pool deck to the east from the afternoon cocktail terrace to the west. “We just love all the outdoor spaces, and how they are separated,” says Walker. “They are like additional rooms that are outside, separated to give us conversation spaces.”
For the interior finishes and furnishings, the architects and homeowners collaborated on blending high fashion with affordable chic. “We didn’t want to skimp on design,” says Walker. “But there are things you can integrate into the design that don’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.” The gas fireplace by European Home is set into a wall of white rifted oak, while the hearth and the kitchen counters are CaesarStone. A bright blue Swan Chair from Design Within Reach anchors one corner of the living room, while a leather sectional from Crate and Barrel surrounds a soft pony hair coffee table by Casamilano from Contemporaria in Georgetown. LEM Piston Stools from Design Within Reach face the kitchen bar. An oversize chrome Nur Lamp by Artemide hangs above the dining table by Poliform, which is surrounded by Air Chairs from Design Within Reach. Walker confesses with a chuckle that the lounge chairs on the deck were ordered online from Walmart, while the deck dining table and chairs by Terrazza came from Overstock.com. “There was only one chair left on Overstock,” says Walker with a laugh. “So we found and bought the rest on eBay.”
Architecture: Todd Ray, AIA, LEED-AP, lead architect; Bethan Llewellyn, project architect; Studio27 Architecture, Washington, DC.