Close to the tip of Long Island, the town of Amagansett is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on two sides and Napeague State Park on a third. The Hamptons border the small town to the west, and while some of that area’s flash spills over into it, Amagansett exudes a bucolic maritime rusticity that has attracted fishermen, surfers, and year-round beach lovers for decades. Mansions are easy to find along the town’s ocean and bayside waterfront lots, but the area’s real architectural treasure trove is to be found in a small enclave of 25 midcentury modern cottages nestled away in clandestine dunes.
It was in this small enclave that Bates Masi was recently commissioned to replace an original weather-beaten structure with something new. The challenge was three-fold: The house needed to withstand flooding exacerbated by more powerful storms, stave off noise from the nearby highway and railway, and remain aesthetically consonant with the surrounding properties. In essence, “we were challenged to perpetuate the beach cottage’s serenity of place despite present-day disturbances,” architect Paul Masi explained to AN Interior.
Solving the sound issue was the top concern. “The design is first and foremost a response to the site’s proximity to the noise sources,” said Masi. Because the new structure sits closer to the road than the original, creating a barrier was the most efficient solution. Bates Masi looked to the original structure for inspiration for the barrier, reinterpreting the old home’s half-timbered walls with wood-framed ones. They then nestled the main living area between these two walls and incorporated two sound-dampening solutions into them. First, the firm stretched mass-loaded vinyl, typically used for sound insulation for flooring, across the walls to act as a sheathing. Then, they covered that vinyl with cedar wood siding. In addition to successfully shielding the home from disturbances, the siding evokes the enclave’s vernacular materiality.
Next, the firm devised a way to protect the home from the elements. The property sits at a low elevation, which puts it close to the ocean and the area’s low water table. To counteract the threat of flooding and reconnect the home’s interior sight line with the landscape, Bates Masi once again looked for local inspiration. “Several unbuilt lots in the neighborhood provided untouched examples of what the property would have looked like before it was developed,” says Masi. “We engaged landscapers whose local nursery dates back to the 1930s, so the team was intimately familiar with native species and plant habitats. With the exception of a small lawn in the rear, all of the property has been restored to sand dunes reinforced with beach grass, switchgrass, pitch pines, and cedars.” These plantings will keep the dunes from shifting, and the dunes themselves elevate the home eight feet above the natural grade so that it stays out of the path of floodwaters.
That strong connection to the site’s history and natural surroundings continues inside. “The house’s interior is an adaptation and refinement of its exterior material palette,” Masi said. The firm covered the interior walls with the same cedar siding used outdoors, this time treating the wood with a reactive stain and sealant combo that replicates and accelerates the weathering process that will eventually turn the wood a silvery gray. The ceilings and floors are made of solid, tongue-and-groove, country-grade oak planks. The predominance of wood was not merely an aesthetic choice; the material presented practical advantages, too. Lighting, audio/visual, and even air conditioning systems were easier to integrate into the home by simply cutting grilles and openings into the wood finishes, rather than relying on prefabricated products. Thin, vertical pockets cut out of the walls and embedded with lighting illuminate the hallway, bedroom, and den. These pockets directly correspond to the exterior joints of the structure, which contain pinched and folded mass-loaded vinyl sheathing.
Not wanting to detract from the woody appearance of the interior scheme, Bates Masi specified sandblasted sandstone for the showers, vanities, backsplashes, and countertops in the bathrooms and kitchens. Hardware, faucets, and lighting with matte black finishes add a contemporary touch. Together, these organic materials create a monochromatic and uniformly textured appearance throughout the home, accentuating its linearity and helping it to disappear within the landscape. They also provide a subtle backdrop for the owner’s collection of midcentury modern and contemporary furnishings.
Defined by a calming material palette and minimalist geometry and bolstered by a restored natural environment, the final product is a peaceful retreat for the owner, a California surfer who was pulled in by the site’s remote location and midcentury modern history. For Bates Masi, the project represents an artful, successful blend of past and present that, in Masi’s words, “reinvigorates the spirit of the small enclave’s sense of place while holding the restless world at bay.”