A Modernist House on Gardiner’s Bay

This family doesn’t understand why anyone would prefer an ocean view.
Juxtaposed “frames” create privacy and intrigue at this modernist Lion’s Head house. Bates Masi + Architects

    The geometric planes of a sleek new house on a bluff overlooking Gardiner’s Bay at Lion’s Head make it at once solemn and serene.
Joseph and Herbert Shalant, who are brothers, were catalysts for the modernist design, after a house on the property that had been in the family for 32 years was destroyed by fire.
    The fire occurred in 2001, at about the time of the national tragedy. “It was terrible. The house burned down completely, and to this day, we have no idea how it happened,” Joseph Shalant said. The original house was, Mr. Shalant said, “very modern for its day, with a spectacular openness which really did inspire us.”
    Mr. Shalant collaborated with Bates Masi + Architects of Sag Harbor. Their goals were to collapse the barrier between the house and the surrounding sea, to minimize maintenance, and to protect privacy on the three-quarter-acre lot.
     Mr. Shalant and his wife, Wendy, come to East Hampton as often as they can, but spend most of the year in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Herbert Shalant and his wife, Phyllis, who live in Hartsdale, N.Y., are here more frequently, as are their daughters, Jenny and Emily Shalant, an editor and fashion designer respectively, and Emily’s 2-year-old son, Charlie.
    The 3,500-square-foot house was completed in the winter of 2010. Paul Masi explained that building a new house provided the extended Shalant family with a unique opportunity to rethink the use of manmade spaces as well as to take into consideration the sometimes harsh weather of the waterfront location.
    Where the previous house had required time-consuming maintenance, Mr. Masi chose materials that not only are durable but weather naturally, such as wood with water-resistant tannins and oils and repurposed slate roofing for siding material. The stark coupling of stone and wood, Mr. Shalant said, melds the structure with the natural environment.
     The family enjoys two master bedrooms, one on the first floor and one on the second. “The theory is that when we come in the wintertime we don’t have to heat the entire house,” Mr. Shalant said.    
    The most salient element of the design, however, is what Mr. Masi calls “frames.” Walls and windows create varying vignettes that frame “snapshots” of the sky, sea, and bluff, and one space leads into another.The deep frames that flank the second-floor balconies provide privacy, while the east and west facades are open to views of the water.
    “They create spaces that defy the conventional distinctions between indoors and outdoors. At the roof deck, portions of the ceiling and upper walls are omitted to create an ‘outdoor room’ open to the sky and the landscape, yet more contiguous with the interior than a conventional deck or terrace. The frames direct attention away from the house to the water views and surrounding landscape,” Mr. Masi said.
    Herbert and Phyllis Shalant took charge of the interior, selecting furnishings with muted hues and clean lines to complement and interact with the architecture. While Ms. Shalant enjoys the sense of space and privacy the house allows, one of her favorite features is a Sonos sound system that provides music throughout the house and on the porch, where family and friends gather to watch the passing boats or dance beneath the stars.
    Phyllis Shalant said she had always enjoyed living in traditional houses but that the new, totally modern home had become a place she savors.          
   “There is so much light, it’s phenomenal. It makes me happy all the time. You open your eyes and it’s bright. It’s also very roomy, with a big kitchen. I love to cook and so do my daughters.”
    Ms. Shalant said the house had influenced the children’s books she writes, which always feature a small animal like a skunk or raccoon, as well as Jenny’s career at the Wildlife Conservation Society, where she edits its Web site.
    Much to Joseph Shalant’s chagrin, however, it took five years to get the construction under way because of zoning restrictions that were adopted in the years after the previous house was put up. Mr. Shalant praised the contractor, Karl Avallone, but said he had found the local bureaucracy maddening.
    Mr. Masi explained: “The house is a couple hundred feet from the edge of the bluff; we moved it back about 50 feet from where it was before.” He added that, environmentally, the new house was a huge improvement.
    “There are a whole host of agencies that you have to coordinate including the D.E.C. [State Department of Environmental Conservation], local and state regulations, the Health Department, et cetera, and their information does not necessarily coincide with one another. It was a long process,” Mr. Masi said. He noted that the Lion’s Head property owners association also has building regulations.
    “But we really wanted to work within the parameters of the regulations because they are in place for good reasons, it makes for a better community. We try to turn those boundaries into design challenges,” Mr. Masi said.
     Solving the challenges worked out to the family’s satisfaction.
    “We love the location of the house particularly,” Phyllis Shalant said. “With the woods that belong to the Girl Scout camp on one side, you can always expect to have deer visit on a daily basis. There are also big flocks of wild turkeys and frogs and turtles to rescue from the pool. We’re also down at the bay early in the morning to walk the dog, Ozzie. The bay is always exciting because it always looks different.”
    Joseph Shalant, who is a swimmer, kayaker, and windsurfer, echoed these sentiments. His nautical playthings can be put right on the bulkhead for immediate access to the water. Furthermore, the house has exceptional vistas that, as far as he is concerned, far exceed any oceanside view.     
    “I really don’t know why the oceanside is preferable,” Mr. Shalant said. “You can see Gardiner’s Island, and you don’t have to worry about the waves washing your kids away! And all the fishermen are setting their net traps right off the property; sometimes we even have lobster bakes with them. And the night sky is fabulous, particularly along the bay. The stars shine so brightly above the clanging of the buoys down there and the water sloshing against the shore.”