552 BEACHCOMBER WALK
Architect: HORACE GIFFORD, 1969.
By 1969, Horace Gifford preferred flamboyant geometries that embodied the heady lifestyle of a post-Stonewall world. After a curvaceous design for James Cashel’s steeply sloping site proved too expensive to build, Gifford looked back to his archive and produced a highly refined version of a “tree house” that he had designed several years earlier. It was entered by a bridge that pivoted around an existing holly grove. Delicately scaled “fin” walls held the home aloft, as minimalist benches and cantilevered planters created a necessary barrier without resorting to bulky railings. Outstretched decks kissed the hillside to the south and ventured high over the landscape toward the north.
The entry stair is snug, heightening the contrast with the treetop aerie above. Bedrooms filled the lower level, one to each side. A third, smaller bedroom behind the Foyer sulked under the veil of shadow created by the sundeck above. Cashel christened it the “Divorce Room.” An open kitchen acknowledged the home’s diminutive scale, joining a single great room with panoramic bay and ocean views. As in several homes from this period, plate glass took the place of mirrors in the master bath, an intriguing provocation that scorned vanity while inviting prurience, and celebrated nature while leading to “unnatural” acts. Cashel, one of Gifford’s less flamboyant clients, succumbed to practicality and installed a shaving mirror after Gifford’s departure from the construction site. 552 Beachcomber Walk is still inhabited by its original patron, and remains in pristine condition.
This home is featured in Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction.
Black and White Photos: Courtesy James Cashel. Color Photos: Michael Weber. Porch detail: Horace Gifford courtesy Christopher Rawlins.