252 BAY WALK

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Architect: HORACE GIFFORD, 1972-75. Addition, 1977.


A consummate example of Horace Gifford’s mature style, 252 Bay Walk uncoils across the landscape as a series of telescoping cubes. Originally designed for hairstylists Patrick Travis and William Wall, the design process underwent a long gestation during a highly inflationary period. The footprint of the home was reduced to save costs, but an echo of a larger home persisted in a “disembodied facade.” This north-facing brise-soleil provided minimal shade; its function was entirely aesthetic, framing the view, providing an airy complement to the layered opacity of the entry approach, and serving as the “drop-dead” entry threshold requested by Patrick Travis. A stabilizing truss was hastily added to the facade to ensure that this last request remained metaphorical. Gifford’s customary descent from the common boardwalk into mulch wound through a thicket of trees, leading to a three-sided staircase. When Travis and Wall arrived for the first time at their new home, they discovered Gifford busily spreading leaves across the freshly scraped pathways. An elaborate swimming pool extension stretching to the Great South Bay was constructed in 1977.


In plan, the public spaces were laid out as a 27-by-27-foot square that was divided in half, slid apart, and tiered, differentiating the spaces and allowing water views from every vantage point. A high deck toward the boardwalk and a low deck toward the bay extended the two interior rooms into an ensemble of indoor/outdoor stages. Sand-colored carpet covered the floors. There was not a straight-backed chair to be found. Everything was built-in, including the dining pit.


Beginning in the late Sixties, Gifford’s public glass facades invited voyeuristic tendencies from within and without. 252 Bay Walk beckoned with a come-hither stare. The master bath shunned mirrors in favor of plate glass facing the nearby boardwalk. But mirrors abounded everywhere else—as step risers to make objects disappear, and as bedroom ceilings to make objects multiply. A multi-man shower was illuminated by a large skylight set into the upper deck. All of this tailored informality and frank eroticism reflected a decade of libidinous license.

 

This home is featured in Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction.


Photos: Tom Yee. Samsonite ad: Courtesy Sports Illustrated. Plan: Christopher Rawlins. Study model: Horace Gifford courtesy Christopher Rawlins.

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