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Architect: HARRY BATES, 1967.

A wooden house always seems more primitive, more thrilling to me than stone. I remember as a child always wanting a tree house.” — Melvin Dwork.

Juxtaposed with the “barely there” qualities of Horace Gifford’s glass-walled aeries are a number of robust homes by Harry Bates, the second most prolific mid-century architect in the Pines. Melvin Dwork, an interior designer, summered with Angelo Donghia and Halston at a Gifford home, then rented Harry Bates’ own home. Gifford’s spaces were extroverted and communal, with grand public spaces and tiny bedrooms. Bates’ more inward-looking work better reflected Dwork’s low-key lifestyle. “I wanted my Master Suite to be totally separate from my guests,” Dwork recalled, and he got his wish in the form of two cubes joined by a glass hinge.

Seeking privacy and bay views on a corner lot dotted with pine and cypress, Bates designed a brooding tree house with elevated public spaces, solid deck rails, and a minimum of side-facing windows. Top-heavy volumes and an entry bridge evoke the cantilevered architecture of Brutalist buildings like Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum. But while many Brutalist structures were rendered in cast concrete—an acquired taste in cold, damp climates—Bates’ pleasing scale and wide cypress siding dispensed with the more dispiriting effects of that style. There was nothing brutal about Harry Bates’ Brutalism. Dwork specified bleached oak floors, with black and white furniture in harmony with the spare elegance of the house. Water stains on the cypress walls and other signs of age were accepted and even celebrated. Texture and patina served as all the artwork that was needed in this quietly assured work of modernism.

Melvin Dwork was a noted designer, but one of his last acts also cemented his status as a civil rights activist when he successfully overturned his World War II-era dishonorable discharge for homosexuality. It is the subject of an upcoming documentary.


Photos: Peter Vitale, courtesy of Bates + Masi. Harry Bates portrait: Courtesy Bates + Masi.

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