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Architect: HORACE GIFFORD, 1965.


A swimming pool, a gatehouse, a fence and roof deck are recent additions to 523 Snapper Walk, but the house remains intact.


Gifford's second personal residence formed a pinwheel of shed-roofed towers around a living area that exploded into voyeuristic stages for living. Glass doors opened wide in the public spaces to create a breezeway through each birds flew, achieving a remarkable tension between the openness of the flat-roofed public spaces and the high-waisted sentinels housing the bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchen. On this low-lying site, Gifford conjured “towers that reach out and grab for light.” As he told Newsday in 1966, “I planned for the sun, but when the moon goes around the house, it is so beautiful.” A shifting ceiling plane acted as an ever-changing foil to a floor plan that was consistently composed using “golden section” proportions.


With this home, Gifford perfected the transition from nature to architecture. Upon stepping off the common boardwalk, a leaf-strewn path threaded between two trees and ascended two exterior decks, which progressed to two interior stages, and culminated in a fifth outdoor level at the other end of the inhabited breezeway. This progression formed a multitude of experiences, from leaves and shade toward western light, treetops, and a water view. Gifford was so proud of this project that he sent photographs to Louis Kahn; his mentor replied, “Horace, you have created a mountain and a valley.”


Inside, narrow steps formed threshold between public and private spaces, compressing the senses before the release of the spare, light-filled bedrooms. Compact in plan, from a reclining position they were expansive. Low furniture exaggerated the sensation of height. The first walking moments witnessed a dance of light skimming across the high, rough-hewn spruce ceiling. Slim, floor-to-ceiling jalousie windows in the master bedroom fostered an interior focus in counterpoint with the extroverted public spaces. Wooden wall surfaces were hung with archaic farm implements, a column capital, and the inner workings of a clock. Another found object – the felt-and-wire innards of a piano – watched over the living area, in silent tribute to the musicality of the architecture.


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


Photos: Vintage: Horace Gifford courtesy Christopher Rawlins. New: Tom Sibley. Magazine covers: Ricardo Labougle, AD Spain. Plan and rendering: Christopher Rawlins. Piano Drawing: Horace Gifford courtesy Christopher Rawlins. Vintage magazine: The American Home/Horace Gifford.

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