Good things happen when a client familiar with real estate and design teams up with a highly respected architecture firm, an interior designer who’s also an architect, and one of the most gifted landscape architects practicing today. After three and a half years of planning and building, the result is a 10,000-square-foot home with six bedrooms, eight baths, a tennis court, and a pool with cabanas on two acres of prime Long Island real estate—and a very happy client.
She’s a New York-based architecture buff and real estate developer who pays attention to the details. She knew all about Robert A. M. Stern Architects, especially their designs on Central Park West. “They’re great architects, and the summer homes they’ve done are gorgeous,” she says. When the time came to design her new beach house, she recalls, “I interviewed them and thought I could work with them. Everything clicked.”
Architect Gary Brewer served as her partner-in-charge and primary contact. “What was interesting is that she’s a developer and a very visual person with great taste and a sense of fun,” Brewer says. “She also brought in interior designer and architect Steven Gambrel, whom we’d never worked with before. She wanted a visual house with a twist.”
Her vision was pure Shingle style. “It relates to the beach with a cozier feel than a more contemporary design,” she says. It was first made popular in the 1870s and 1880s by architects like McKim Mead & White in Newport, Rhode Island. About a century later, Stern began to examine and reinterpret the style. Now it’s become the vernacular for beachfront homes in the Northeast.
“The Shingle Style is popular on Martha’s Vineyard, Long Island, and the Hamptons because, in those places, people want a casual, summery feel,” Brewer says.
“They have a city feel in Manhattan but the Shingle style has a beachy feel to it, especially with a pool, outdoor dining, and outdoor lounging.”
Builders nearby may be selling spec homes in the same style, but architects like Stern and his partners are paying attention to the intricacies and language of the originals and updating them for the 21st century. “We went back and started digging into how they designed windows and porches,” Brewer says. “Here, we wanted to show that a new Shingle-style house could have more detailing and more charm than many you see out there.”
The client already owned one house on the site when an adjacent parcel became available, shifting her original cottage to a guest house. For about two years she worked with her architects and landscape architect to plan the new compound and deal with setbacks, zoning restrictions, and energy codes.
“There was the challenge of working with those kinds of restraints and regulations on what can and can’t be built,” she says. “The biggest challenge was to build a house on the site and make it look like it belongs.”
They moved the house back 40 feet because of coastal erosion issues and changed the roofline because of height restrictions, which actually worked to their advantage. “Utilizing the gambrel roof helped us get better views from the third floor,” says the client. With setbacks to the north and south, the house stretches to the east and west, allowing all the rooms on the ground floor and second floor to open up to the views.
Stern’s office handled the site planning, worked with Gambrel on the interiors, and liased with Ed Hollander, president of New York-based Hollander Design Landscape Architects, on the landscape. “It was a collaboration,” Brewer says. “If you bring the entire team to work together in the right direction, you end up with this kind of house and a high level of detail and quality.”
Hollander agrees, though his process followed a slightly different sequence. He began with studying the ecology of the site. “Then we met with the client and talked about what she wanted it to look like,” he says. “Then we talked with Stern’s office so the elements of landscape and architecture all flowed together.”
Each piece of the property offered pluses and minuses, Hollander says. “The great opportunity was that you’re working with naturally rolling topography to discretely locate landscape elements,” he says. “On the other hand, you want to be respectful of all the environmental setbacks that restrict what you can do.”
Then there was the flow of the spaces, indoors to out. The designers sited the pool at the western end of the house, so when the doors of the home open up, it becomes an extension of the building itself. “The house almost seems to hold the pool in its arms,” Hollander says. “We put it on the side so it wouldn’t restrict the view of the ocean at any time of the year.”
Stern’s office ensured an uninterrupted flow from inside to out, creating a stone terrace that leads to a boardwalk to the beach. After all, the Atlantic is the compound’s raison d’être. It was also the source of inspiration for Hollander. “It’s hard to stand next to the ocean and not be inspired by its majesty and strength and the light from the sky,” he says. “People are drawn to its edge—they always want to be next to it.”
The plantings had to respond not just to the salt air but also to a very healthy population of wild deer. “We used flowering shrubs like vitex and butterfly bush and all the maritime grasses that deer leave alone,” says Hollander. “The grey-blue palette really feels nice at the ocean.”
It may be a large home but it’s nestled tightly into its site. Inside, none of the rooms are overwhelming; the interior is intimate and charming at the same time.
“It has a cozy, domestic feel,” Brewer says. His client uses it for most of the year, plus New Year’s and the occasional Thanksgiving. But its primary function is for weekends in the summer. “It’s for my husband, myself, and our two children, ages 26 and 24, and to make sure everyone keeps coming out to relax in it and enjoy it,” she says. “It’s really a family home and incredibly successful at that. It’s definitely a 12-month house that’s cozy with the fireplaces.”
As a client, Brewer places her in the “patron” category. She understands what architects, interior designers, and landscape architects do and then works patiently with them. “Not many houses get this kind of detail, because clients want it fast and don’t want to spend the extra money to make it distinctive,” he says.
But then again, this is a client who appreciates the value of good design—and a collaborative effort.