Open to the Dunes on Napeague

Designers fulfill their dream of a magical, but high tech, beach house
The fireplace is a concession to cool nights in a living room with an otherwise uninterrupted glass wall. Durell Godfrey Photos

   It sits on a 100-foot-wide sliver of oceanfront dunes in Montauk-on-Sea, a small subdivision laid out years ago on Napeague. Called Shore House, it is the dream beach house of Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu, partners in a doubly eponymous firm known internationally for restaurant and retail design, which is based in New York and Toronto.
    “We were looking for a house in the Hamptons,” Mr. Pushelberg told a visitor recently, standing on the 548-square-foot second-floor deck, which wraps around from the ocean side to the east side of the house.
    “We wanted something magical, something close to the beach. I saw a flier in The Sunday Times. I said, ‘George, look at this.’ It was a plastic shingle house by the ocean. We came out, and the agent tried to show us the house. We weren’t interested in the house at all.”
    With something else in mind, Mr. Pushelberg said, “We’ll buy it.” It was the oceanfront property they wanted. The surrounding development pleased them as well.
    “We like this community,” Mr. Pushelberg said. “It’s real, earthier. It is not silly. There are real people here. They’re good neighbors.”
    They also liked the proximity of local shops that cater to designers and decorators, with an eclectic mix of antiques and primitive and modern furnishings, he said, mentioning Nellie’s of Amagansett. Thus began a five-year journey.    
    From the beginning the process was an intense collaboration between client and architect. The footprint of the house, the area on which construction was allowed, was small, and the result is a two-story, 2,950-square-foot house that blends into the dunes.
    The idea of variations in natural light led the Stelle Architects team headed by Viola Rouhani to give the house a horizontal exterior skeleton of slatted cedar panels. Some are fixed in place, and some are movable.
    The main living area is on the upper floor. It contains a large room that runs the width of the house from east to west, a master bedroom and bath, a powder room, and a kitchen.
    The large living room’s oceanfront wall disappears when three separate panels — glass, screen, and cedar — are slid away. There are no structural pillars or columns to obstruct the view, save for a fireplace and chimney on the eastern wall. The panels stack up behind a free-standing support column next to the kitchen.
    In the original design, the master bedroom faced the ocean, with the living area running north to south. In a moment of inspiration, Ms. Rouhani said, Mr. Pushelberg and Mr. Yabu suggested rotating the house 90 degrees, positioning the master bedroom on the roadside corner and allowing the main room to have the full dune and ocean view. The bedroom also has sliding panels that open to the wraparound deck.
    “We did the shell of the building,” said Ms. Rouhani. “Everything inside that you see is their design.”
    The oak flooring of the living room is flush with the sliding panels’ sills, as is the deck, which is constructed of a Brazilian hardwood called ipe. If you walk barefoot onto the deck toward the ocean, it is almost as if you are walking on smooth sand.
    “They designed the fireplace; we integrated the fireplace,” Ms. Rouhani said. When the panels are all open, the fireplace seems to float in the air.
    The kitchen elements, chosen by the partners, are for the most part high tech. Some of the drawers under the long kitchen island are refrigerated and others, below the refrigerated units, are designed for food storage. Dishes are stored in four sliding drawers next to the sink that are integral to the dishwasher, which is from Fisher and Payke Appliances. Additional cabinets are up on the western wall, and they open automatically at the touch of a hand.
    The house is also energy self-sufficient, with solar panels on the roof. When possible, energy can be returned to the power grid. The roof is flat and there is a hot tub on it, as well.
    The ground floor has three guestrooms and a media room. One of the guest rooms has been outfitted with bunk beds, with their own lockers and guest bathrobes.
    At ground level, boxed in by fixed cedar panels, is a barbecue area with a tropical feel, open to the air. A dumbwaiter connects it to the kitchen.
    A broad cedar staircase inside a similar slatted enclosure turns in a square “U” from the ground level to the second floor and up to the roof. Technically, it is an exterior staircase because it is open to the elements, but it is the only connection, besides the dumbwaiter, between the floors.
    Because the East Hampton Town Code mandates that single-family residences have only interior staircases between floors, the partners have gone to the zoning board of appeals for a variance. It is pending.
    The downstairs opens out to a “V” in the dunes, with a mahogany walkway leading to the beach. Chris LaGuardia designed the landscaping, using indigenous grasses and pines, which have been planted over the last year to preserve the dunes.
    “I am against light pollution,” Mr. Yabu said. “No landscape lighting on the dunes and beyond. It harkens back to my days as a kid. Seeing a sky that was dark, and you actually see the stars. We appreciate that.” 
    Inside, the feel of moving from space to space through the air that flows in when the walls are open was a vision of the architectural team. The result is a magical beach house, seemingly woven into the sand itself.

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Horizontal cedar slats on the second story of the 2,950-square-foot house bring variations of natural light indoors. The panels along the large living room disappear to provide a column-less view.

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The stairs that connect the two floors are open to the air and enclosed in fixed cedar panels. The toilets in the guest bedrooms are by Philippe Stark. Some are self-flushing.Like the stairs, a gathering and barbecue area is nominally outdoors.

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Automated kitchen cabinets open with a touch of the hand. Drawers below the kitchen sink not only store dishes but wash them.Bunks beds are a playful feature of one of the downstairs guest rooms. Seating in the media room can be adjusted for any social gathering.The glass, screen, and slatted cedar exterior panels can be folded away.
Photos by Durell Godfrey