Architectural Digest July 2013
They would find it not on a deserted island but rather a short drive farther down the Long Island coast, in a dilapidated 1980s residence on a picture-perfect stretch of seashore. Though the interiors were dated and the layout didn’t work, what the two-story house did offer was unobstructed views of the ocean, a sense of isolation, and immediate proximity to the water. “It’s right on the sand, and because you’re on the beach and looking forward, you’re not even aware of neighbors,” Roth says. Building codes, however, dictated that any alterations would have to adhere to the existing footprint and envelope—a challenge given the dwelling’s unstable condition and uninspired aesthetic. To help navigate these rocky shoals, the pair turned to the Manhattan-based architect and designer Thierry Despont.
“All they really wanted was a simple beach house,” explains Despont. “Somewhere they could just relax and entertain a few friends from time to time.” Fulfilling this request meant taking the building down to its studs and shoring up the structure. (In a testament to the renovation, the home survived Hurricane Sandy with nary a scratch.) Save for some expanses of glass judiciously added to maximize the views, the rebuilt exterior looks much like the original. The floor plan is another story.
Despont dramatically reworked the layout, shifting the front door from the second level to the first and, in the process, eliminating a footbridge that led from the driveway to the house in favor of an elegant entry at the bottom of a set of mahogany steps. Inside, an ungainly circular stairway was replaced with a more discreet flight, while the master suite was moved to the top floor for privacy. Once these choices were made, the ground-level spaces fell into place, with a great room, an eat-in kitchen, and two small guest chambers all flowing gracefully to the beachfront decks and pool.
Though Roth largely took a backseat on matters of construction, she fought to retain one aspect of the previous design: the rounded seating alcove extending from the main living area. That spot—perfect for watching the waves and reading scripts—is now one of the most used in the house. “I love taking my coffee there,” she says.
With the layout resolved, Despont and the homeowners turned their attention to more cosmetic matters, chief among them transforming the great room’s pitched ceiling into a handsome barrel vault sheathed in bleached-oak planks. “I envisioned a big overturned boat that had washed up on the shore,” Despont says. Maritime echoes abound, from the smooth river stones that border the fireplace (embraced for the way they resemble overscale beach pebbles) to the nautical-inspired kitchen, with its streamlined cabinetry accented by brushed-aluminum and polished-nickel details.
When furnishing the main living areas, Roth and Despont went for organic shapes and natural materials, evidenced by the driftwood lamps that flank the limestone-top console, the Nakashima-style walnut table, and the curvaceous Vladimir Kagan rocking chair and ottoman. Suspended from the ceiling is an expansive vinelike light sculpture in antiqued brass with handblown glass shades. Created especially for the house by artist Jeff Zimmerman, the piece was assembled on-site to ensure it lit the space just so. “At night, it’s like looking up into the sky,” Roth says.
If the great room takes its cues from the surrounding environment, the master suite evokes a luxury liner circa 1930. In the bedroom, everything is refined yet breezy, with the walls upholstered in neutral fabrics, the dresser and nightstands wrapped in calfskin parchment, and a lyrical Murano-glass chandelier overhead. The adjacent bath, meanwhile, neatly juxtaposes walls and counters of white onyx with floors of striated travertine. Still, as enchanting as the upstairs decor may be, it’s the view that commands attention, offering a constant reminder of what drew Roth to the home in the first place: the calm that only a day by the sea can bring.