“People know this house,” says West Chin, the softly spoken architect and interior designer of arguably the most recognizable property in Long Beach on New York’s Long Island. “It injected a new architectural vernacular into the area.”
It certainly did. This strikingly modern beach house is the hallmark of Chin’s increasingly celebrated design philosophy, which seeks to combine contemporary style with exacting functionality. Using minimal, clean lines to create fluid, light-filled and spacious living environments, Chin has created a home that at first appears somewhat at odds with a beach setting dominated by traditional Long Island cottages and bungalows.
Inspired by the folding geometry of the sand dunes just outside, this award-winning 5,500-square-foot beach house on a narrow corner lot – just 60 feet wide by 100 feet deep – takes full advantage of its spectacular views over Long Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
Built in 2011 for a New York-based doctor and his family – his wife had a strong connection with the area, having summered in Long Beach since she was a child – the house is inverted with the main living spaces positioned upstairs to make the most of the dramatic ocean panoramas.
But that’s not the only facet of the design where Chin turned convention on its head. The front door to the property opens not into a foyer but directly into a family room, a welcoming, open space that’s connected to the pool, patio and the beach beyond by large, sliding glass doors.
The travertine floor continues from the family room to the patio, further blurring the line between inside and out. Four of the home’s six bedrooms are also on this lower level.
Chin cleverly created a mezzanine level to maximize space and to navigate around strict height restrictions on coastal property. But it is upstairs at the heart of the house, in the kitchen and the main living room, that one can appreciate the full scope of the magnificent view across the beach and ocean.
The clever design ensures even the deepest reaches have unobstructed views of the beach and the ocean
The expansive living room blends into the dining room and a state-of-the-art Boffi kitchen, which is an integral part of the design firm’s vocabulary. The whole house is designed smoothly to flow from one room to another, especially in its entertaining spaces.
The finishes throughout are travertine, dark wood and exposed concrete. The interior design, with its simple furnishings and neutral palette, emphasizes the clean lines of the architecture with a minimalist, uncluttered feel. Only in the family room does a splash of color punctuate the crisp white, tranquil taupes and steely grays.
“Our designs are successful because they are functional, logical and pragmatic, and they cater to the client’s interests and needs,” Chin says. “Being creative doesn’t always mean being sculptural and crazy with colors. Sometimes creative just means understanding the challenge that is presented to you by the client and creating the best piece of architecture or design within that.”
The brief from the owner in this case was crystal clear: optimize the views, maximize the space, and keep the movement between spaces fluid. He wanted something modern, but that would not look out of place. The challenges were evident too – a narrow coastal lot with height restrictions in an area that is prone to storms.
But everything about this house, Chin says, gravitates back to the ocean. The south-facing roof is angled towards the water to protect the house from the strong southern rays.
It also houses one of the most unique elements of any residential property on Long Island: a 26-foot-wide, four- ton, glass airport-hangar door that retracts to the ceiling at the push of a button, opening the living room completely to the beach and ocean.
The door, a sheer wall of glass custom-made for the property – as was a screen that shields the living space from the sun – allows the design and experience to flow, uninterrupted, from inside to out. Something, Chin says, that was high on his client’s wish list.
“I haven’t seen anything like this, it really makes this a magical space,” he says. “The Atlantic Ocean comes right into the living room.”
Another unique feature is the shower in the master bathroom. Clad in stacked river stones, it has a glass ceiling that slides back fully to allow for showers with nothing but the sky above. This indoor-outdoor shower, Chin says, is his favorite space in the house.
The architect was uncompromising, too, with the materials he used for the build. This is the first house in the United States built with environmentally conscious BBS structural wood panels from Austria. A unique quality of this laminated lumber is that it can span long distances at minimum depth without intermediate support.
By using this material, Chin created wide, open spaces and a roof that slopes to maximize views, light and air, ensuring that even the deepest reaches of the house have an unobstructed view of the ocean. In addition, the wood can be exposed as interior or exterior finishes (in this case Chin used it for both) and it offers a warm balance to the expansive use of glass and concrete.
The wood is also extremely structurally sound and will withstand the fury of the Atlantic hurricane season. The house is also anchored to the earth with almost 100 piles and a concrete vertical wall. Tellingly, when Hurricane Sandy swept through the area in October 2012 leaving devastation its path, the beach house was unscathed, despite sand drifts some three feet deep in the street alongside.
The exposed concrete wall is not only a structural element, but also an integral part of the decorative vocabulary of the house – serving as the canvas for a swarm of blue butterflies. It also acts as a thermal mass, collecting heat from the sun during the day and radiating it out to the house in the evening. Solar panels on the south- facing roof collect sunlight, too, enough that the owner is able to sell some of the excess power back to the grid.
Chin is the principal of WCA, a full-service architecture, interior design and decorating firm based in New York City. The studio is known for its distinctly modern commercial and residential work. Chin was selected by “New York” magazine as one of the city’s 100 Best Architects and Decorators, and was included in New York Spaces’ annuallist of The Top 50 Names You Need to Know in Metro New York Design.
Commercial and residential projects include Lux Photography Studio for photographer Michael Thompson; fashionable New York City restaurants Whym and Eatery; The Campbell condominiums at 148 Chambers Street in TriBeCa; and private residences in Manhattan, the HudsonValley and the Hamptons. The dynamic team at WCA have also designed and decorated the homes of Christy Turlington and Ed Burns, Francois Nars, Shalom Harlow and Alexis Glick.
Chin has just launched his newest venture: the design firm’s second location in East Hampton as well as a retail store, West | Out East, which specializes in high-end, modern furniture, kitchen and bath, lighting, rugs, closet systems, and accessories curated to look like a home designed by the WCA team.
For more information on West Chin Architects, visit wcarchitect.com.
Image Credits: Photos by Eric Laignel.