Fishers Island House

This vacation home enjoys a high, windswept site on Fishers Island looking north across a sound to the Connecticut shoreline. As one approaches from the west, the design comes into focus as a tribe of connected buildings, a brood of structures surrounding a mother house, all sharing a family resemblance in their cedar shingle siding, dark gabled roofs, and random “crazy quilt” stick-work.

Location Fishers Island, NY
Size 2,650 Sq. Ft.
Year Completed 1988
Photo Credit Timothy Hursley

The porte-cochere, created by the extension of the storage shed’s roof over the driveway, leads into a small gravel court where the main house faces a “drunken fence” to the south. The pickets here begin straight and then stumble along. The house’s gabled court face has windows, also gabled, giving some order to their random placement. A wide cornice band under the eaves is punctuated by tall, regular, polychrome brackets.

The six exterior doorways of the house are protected by roofed gates, each with a variation on the crazy quilt sticks and each sitting next to the house in its own way. A long one tucks itself under the porte-cochere to shelter visitors and then politely steps into the house at the front door. Only one is attached, to allow for a second story balcony on the north side.

The meandering exterior structures only hint at the colliding spaces inside, where within the taut exterior walls, formally shaped rooms are placed in balanced chaos, like shaken blocks in a toy box. The cylindrical, elliptical, cubical, and rectangular volumes are comfortable: functional, familiar, and easy to live with. But their union is full of tension, offering extraordinary spatial changes as one moves between them and a new vista at each doorway.

The circular entry hall leads many ways. Next to the shaded front door, a crooked staircase of cornflower blue brings daylight from above. Farther to the right, a tall hall descends to a tiny circular chamber and then into the rolling ellipse of the living room. This high-ceilinged space is lowered with a wreathlike cornice of stick work. Up a few steps from the living room is the rectangular dining room offset from exterior walls to leave recessed bays. A square kitchen fills the plan’s southeast corner. A tiny library, closets, and service spaces are tucked into the space left over between the major rooms.

Upstairs, the staircase lands at a circular antechamber leading to the oval master bedroom, which sports a gabled alcove that pokes out of the house as the balcony gate offering views north to Long Island Sound. Three smaller bedrooms line the east wall and share a bath. Several furnishings were designed by the architects. The dining table is bird’s-eye maple and cherry, with stick-work legs, while the circular coffee table in the living room is copper clad. Lighting sconces use a standard double porcelain socket with custom shades of frosted, slumped glass – no two alike. The master bed imitates tree branches.

This house revels in eccentricity, but with precedent: the Gothic revival of nearby houses; American craftsman idiosyncrasy; or the rambling, connected farm buildings of New England. The house melds old and new, packing the traditional vernacular with a jumble of modern volumetric surprises and new spatial relationships. These and constantly shifting light and views of the interior and landscape keep this house good humored and entertains its many guests.

PRESS & AWARDS

Awards

  • Design Award, AIA New England
  • Honor Award, AIA Connecticut
  • Grand Award, Builder's Choice
  • First Award, Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau/AIA
  • Design Award, American Wood Council