It’s possibly not a coincidence that this project evokes the statue of the world’s most loyal dog, Hachiko, poised forever outside a Japanese train station awaiting the return of his master. Resembling a dog in a dutiful sit, this building on Fishers Island, New York, gazes toward the sea, its window wall focused on the horizon.
It awaits the return by ferry of architects Charles Haver, AIA, Stewart Skolnick, AIA, and their dog Keeper from their full-time home and work in Connecticut. The weekend home, Pointer Perch, is named for Keeper’s breed, and it’s the culmination of years of learning how the family likes to live on vacation.
“We had a second home on Fire Island and it was low maintenance, really simple, and very small,” Stewart explains. “We outgrew Fire Island and were looking for a different lifestyle. Real estate on Fire Island was very soft, so it took a long time to sell the house and that served us well, because we had time to think about what we really needed in our next house.
“It was a two-bedroom residence, and the truth was, we didn’t have a lot of guests and the second bedroom was not really being used,” he continues. “It made us evaluate what we really did need. And that was just a very simple one-bedroom with an open living space.”
“We knew we wanted a small house, and we knew we needed to be up high to get the views,” Charles adds. “That led us to the upside-down plan. It’s very unusual to have the public rooms weighted toward the top, but we were basically making a tower to look out.”
The “upside-down” floor plan places the living space, compact kitchen, and powder room at the top level. The main level contains a single bedroom, full bath, laundry room, and the entry hall. And an open lower level functions as a mudroom and storage area for all the appurtenances of beachside life.
Exterior materials were selected with low-maintenance and durability first and foremost, but, of course, aesthetics were never far from mind. “We chose Alaskan yellow cedar because we wanted a material we could use on both the walls and the roof,” says Stewart. “Usually people go with red and white cedar for roof and walls, but it never weathers the same. The only painted surfaces are the lower door and front door. The windows are aluminum clad in a dark gray. We had to deal with a whole list of coastal proximity code issues, and every week there is at least one day when you have gale-force winds. But we worked with a very conservative engineer and the structure is very robust. You don’t really feel those winds inside.”
The architects kept the interiors crisp and spare. Says Charles, who also runs an antiques business, “We wanted them to serve as a backdrop for European antiques and Modern art. The floors are white oak in a combination of rift and quartersawn, with just a water-based sealer. It looks like almost no finish on the floors. And the horizontal planking has a nickel gap. We had everything—including the furniture and artwork—in place on move-in day, as we do with our clients.”
Although the skinny house, as the locals call it, is a mere 1,200 square feet, the architects’ meticulous detailing took 18 months to build. “We know as architects, the first thing to do is find the best builder possible,” says Stewart. “Our builder has been working on the island for 30 years. But we asked him how long it would take to build, and he said nine months. We told him, double it.” Unsurprisingly, the architects were spot on.
Fishers Island, New York
Architect/Interior Designer: Charles M. Haver, AIA, and Stewart R. Skolnick, AIA, Haver & Skolnick Architects, Roxbury, Connecticut
Landscape Architect: Charles M. Haver, AIA , Stewart R. Skolnick, AIA, Haver & Skolnick Architects in association with Jeff Edwards, Race Rock Garden Co., Fishers Island, New York
Builder/Cabinetmaker: Skip Broom, H P Broom Housewright, Hadlyme, Connecticut
Structural Engineer: Kevin Chamberlain, DeStefano & Chamberlain, Fairfield, Connecticut
Mechanical Engineer: Delbert Smith, CES Engineering, Middletown, Connecticut
Project Size: 1,200 square feet
Site Size: 3.1 acres
Construction Cost: $1,500 a square foot
Photography: Robert Benson Photography
Cladding/Millwork/Moulding/Trim: Alaskan yellow cedar
Counters/backsplash/shelves: Honed Calacatta Oro Marble
Decking: Custom ipe
Entry Doors: Custom mahogany by Fairfield County Millwork, Bethany, Connecticut
Faucets: Newport brass (kitchen), Phylrich, Sonoma Forge (outdoor shower)
Flooring: Rift and quartersawn white oak
HVAC: Mitsubishi heat pumps
Lighting: Bevolo (exterior); Dennis & Leen, Paul Ferrante, Lantern Masters, Hacienda Lights
Lighting Control: Lutron
Paints: Benjamin Moore
Sinks: Franke (kitchen); Signature Hardware (primary); Cheviot (powder)
Wallboard: Custom painted tulip poplar wallboards
Water filtration: Aquasana
Windows/French Doors: Loewen