A Quonset Hut Becomes A Home

A Shelter Island artist transformed an “unapologetic” industrial space
After sunset on a recent evening, the camera glimpsed the hut through the raindrops Carrie Ann Salvi

    Although it is almost hidden in the woods, a Quonset hut on a quiet Shelter Island road stands out among the houses in the neighborhood.

    “I always thought it was really cool, so out of character for Shelter Island,” said John Pagliaro, a Shelter Island artist, who recently took on the challenge of transforming its 1,200-square-foot, wide-open interior into a home.

    Acknowledging that houses on the island have a whole range of architectural styles, “This was even outside of all of those,” he said, calling it an “unapologetic industrial space.”

    Built about a dozen years ago, the prefabricated metal arch has cedar shingles and both rectangular and triangular windows on the walls at its ends. When a real estate broker showed him the Quonset hut, which he now rents, it was empty but had wide-plank pumpkin pine floors, a bathroom, kitchen appliances, and a loft.

     “All I saw was potential,” Mr. Pagliaro said. “Some find it repulsive,” but “the industrial quality appealed to me.” He thought of it as a vacant canvas on which to express himself and his love of nature, and he undertook to create practical, eye-pleasing, and delineated spaces.

    To counterbalance the 13-foot peak at the building’s apex, and its lack of vertical walls, Mr. Pagliaro placed rectangular contemporary furniture diagonally in what became the living area and put up open shelves, which display some of his prized possessions. Among them is a sought-after piece of Hans Coper pottery, which Mr. Pagliaro, a sculptor and pinch potter himself, thinks is an exemplary example of Mr. Coper’s fine art pottery.

alternate text

 Carrie Ann Salvi

    A few of Mr. Pagliaro’s own pots can be seen in the breakfast nook, just off the kitchen beneath the loft. The nook has simple wood cabinets and a small table, and a spherical paper light fixture. Mr. Pagliaro made the fixture. He made a similar one for a scene in the movie “Twilight.”

    A canvas wall with neon blue lights to one side of the stairs to the loft divides the space and frames his bedroom. The bedspread replicates a design by Maria Martinez, a famous Southwestern potter.

    A 1960s-era wood stove sits smack in the center of the interior and works so well, Mr. Pagliaro said, that it is sometimes hard to moderate the heat: The metal dome and a foot of insulation make the building heat-retentive.

    Rich Ruscica,  a carpenter/builder who owns the hut, has a workshop beneath Mr. Pagliaro’s living area.

    “Rich left a lot of trees,” Mr. Pagliaro said, with the unfortunate result that the interior is dark except in winter, after the leaves are gone. The good thing is that in the warm months ceiling fans provide efficient cooling.

    The artist also made a 10-foot-long, canoe-shaped paper light fixture, which extends from the dining area into the living area. Mr. Pagliaro made the paper himself from crunchy kozo bark from Thailand. He explained that it had to be heated in soda ash for 8 to 12 hours until it broke down to a gauze-like texture, which he then sculpted into shape.

    The painstaking process was a way to channel the grief he felt after a young neighbor, Joe Theinert, was killed in Afghanistan, he said. “I knew it would take an incredibly long time to make the paper.”  

    The living area also contains a glass-topped Japanese-style table he made with a base of native locust and cedar, along with rock. It brings “nature inside a domestic environment seamlessly,” he said, explaining that he keeps a two-man lumberjack saw on board his boat when out fishing in case he sees objects he would like to collect.

    A kitchen bar holds some of the cultural artifacts Mr. Pagliaro has collected from other locales and from different eras. The artist said he has a museum-quality arrowhead collection, although the arrowheads are on a wall of his studio in another building that overlooks the roundabout on North Ferry Road.

    Mr. Pagliaro also has a collection of skulls, which he bought in Oaxaca, Mexico. Skulls are mounted on both sides of the windows at the ends of the hut. He has added a taxidermist’s cougar eyes, which he said he happened to have around, to their eye sockets, finishing them off with antlers.
“It’s part of life,” he said.

         Designed for World War II

     Quonset huts were designed for the Navy during World War II, and Mr. Pagliaro pointed to a shelf of military memorabilia, including objects from Germany and Japan collected by his father, who served in the war.

    The original huts, named for Quonset Point in Rhode Island, where they were built, went through a series of redesigns and were used for everything from barracks to latrines, bakeries to isolation wards. Impact resistant and lightweight, with ends made of plywood, they could be shipped anywhere.

John Pagliaro welcomed a recent visitor.Carrie Ann Salvi
Carrie Ann Salvi
The spherical and canoe-shaped lamps in the bedroom and living areas are his own creations. Carrie Ann Salvi
The artist made a driftwood base for the glass-top table in the living area, where artwork and lamps of his design can be seen.Carrie Ann Salvi
Beach glass and a doll’s head are finds. A taxidermist’s cougar eyes fit into a ceramic animal skull.Carrie Ann Salvi