519 PORGIE WALK
Architect: HORACE GIFFORD, 1963. Restoration and Addition: BROMLEY CALDARI ARCHITECTS PC, 1983.
This early Horace Gifford design was the second of two homes commissioned by Edwin Wittstein, a set designer, and Robert Miller, an art director. Wittstein was flush with the proceeds from his set design for The Fantasticks, the longest-running off-Broadway play, and Gifford secured the commission by sketching it in the sand for his delighted clients. In their first home Gifford created a bar-shaped volume with two framed views, of the Bay to the north and trees to the south. This lot lacked the sea and forest contrasts of their first home, so Gifford changed tack. A vast octagonal space, supported by square decks and rooms alternating across each of its eight sides, celebrated all views equally. Sheltered by its great roof, the house remains one of the most sociable and alluring spaces that Gifford ever created. Wittstein and Miller proved to be reluctant modernists, though. They insisted on traditional wooden casement windows and French doors, lending a lodgelike feeling to a home that they filled with antiques.
Scott Bromley, a young protege of Philip Johnson and the designer of Studio 54, began staking his claim as the go-to architect in the Pines as Gifford began to withdraw from the scene in the late 1970’s. In a move that turned out to be as fortuitous as it was symbolic, Bromley purchased the Wittstein/Miller House in 1981 and set about enlarging it. It was a handsome expansion, undertaken with far more grace than the hatchet jobs that would befall many other Gifford residences in the years to come. Utilizing the same 10-feet square proportions and roof pitches as the original home, Bromley created a welcoming outdoor “tea house” that adds another degree of enclosure to the mix of spaces. The eastern deck is now a glass-enclosed dining room, through which one passes into a new Master Bedroom that awaits behind a poplar scrim. For all of its enlargements, the moodily-lit octagonal space remains the star of the show; “a contemplative, dreamy space,” in Bromley’s account, notwithstanding the roller-skating party that was once held there.
This home is featured in Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction.
Pencil drawing: Horace Gifford archive, courtesy Christopher Rawlins. Black and White Photos: Edwin Wittstein. Color Photos: John Hall, courtesy Scott Bromley. Nighttime photo: Scott Bromley.