Fire Island Pines was not just a haven for New York’s gay community in the 1970s but home to an extraordinary collection of Modernist beach houses – many of which will be open for tours this weekend.
The resort earned itself a reputation for excess, hosting wild parties, impromptu fashion shows by Diane von Furstenburg and counting Calvin Klein and Truman Capote (who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s there) as residents.
Local architects left their stamp on Fire Island with a series of experimental retreats – everything from a wood-wrapped cottage with a sheepskin-lined ‘makeout loft’, designed by prolific architect Horace Gifford, to an angled beachhouse based on Mexico’s pyramids, by Andrew Geller. The latter upheld the island’s party reputation in 1971, when it became the backdrop for a gay porno.
‘Gone were the painted surfaces, clipped lawns, and all the brute force associated with maintaining the typical suburban home,’ says Christopher Rawlins, who set up non-profit Pines Modern to offer annual tours of Fire Island’s homes, and preserve their cultural and architectural heritage. ‘Naturally-weathering cedar and cypress pavilions in a riot of shapes established our signature architecture. Yet for all their sculptural purity, these homes offered a relaxed and sensual ambience that resonated with weekenders attired in nothing more than a bikini and Bain de Soleil.’
Some of the Modernist homes were lost after their owners tragically passed away during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s and Rawlins warns others are under threat by developers. But there are currently five stellar examples for sale on the island awaiting design-loving new owners, including a pair by Gifford.
His 1975 Sail Walk home – a ‘tree house’ with a dramatically sloping glass side and views over the top of the surrounding greenery – is on the market for $1.75m, having been restored from a ‘forlorn state’ by its current owners.
Another Gifford home, recently renovated by DAS Studio Architects, is listed for $1.895 million. Its three bedrooms are placed higher than the living spaces, lending them views across the water, and the architects have added a stepped terrace that leads down to a new swimming pool and the beach.
Also for sale is a cedar wood and glass home at 241 Bay Walk – listed by Pines Harbor Realty for $1.15 million – and architect Earls Combs’ bold 1966 landmark, the Octagon House on Sunburst Walk, which is going for $995,000. Rounding off the pack of New York properties is the five-bedroom 144 Ocean Walk, which comes with a double-height living room (and is listed for $2.75 million).
Those that want to browser rather than buy can explore six of Fire Island’s homes as part of Pine Modern’s 2017 House Tour, which takes place on 9, 10 and 16 September.