Charles Gwathmey

All American

The Saltbox house is actually about as American as it gets. First created in the 1600’s in New England, it gets its name from having the same shape as the traditional wooden box used to store salt, that had a gabled roof shape. The New England classic then had a makeover in the mid 20th century when architects like Charles Gwathmey and Norman Jaffe embraced the form and used it to inspire their Modernist beach houses.

The extreme roof line and textured wood paneling give the Saltbox a very distinct feel. To me it says summer, Hamptons, beach.

With materials meant to be raw and weathered from the salt air and sun, and lines that are clean and modern in form, it’s a gorgeous contrast of sensibilities and as with anything classic, totally stands the test of time.

Evocative sensations of the season, with glimpses of a classic East Coast summer, best captured in Tom Bianchi’s ‘Fire Island Pines, Polaroids 1975-1983’. You can almost feel the heat of the sun and sense the long, lazy summer days, where the focus is on enjoying life, being in the moment, and appreciating the beauty in simple things.

Beauty in ourselves, beauty in others and beauty in the places we’ve built to inhabit.

Unfortunately over the past 8 years, since I have lived in the Hamptons, many of these beautiful homes have been torn down and replaced with colossal cookie-cutter Dutch Colonial’s.

Enjoy the Saltbox shapes while you can, as they are not much in fashion these days. Hopefully people will restore the few remaining ones we have left. 

To put my money where my mouth is, I am in the process of buying one and will be blogging the restoration over the next 12 months…

I look forward to sharing the process as it unfolds!

Modernist Superstar

I’m looking back to move forward and focusing my eye on the work of Charles Gwathmey, an architect and designer known for his innovative work that started in the 1960’s. At 27 years old, he designed his first home, a beach house in Amagansett made for his parents. The home was a study in geometric forms (a common thread of his DNA) and the building redefined the idea of the classic Hamptons beach house. The home appeared on a multiple choice question for his final exam at Yale, as one of the examples for ‘organic design’. The correct answer was Frank Lloyd Wright, but this was a clear nod to his early brilliance.

“I have always been interested in fashion as an informing design discipline: proportion structure, detail, materiality, texture, color and quality. With a heightened interest in, and awareness of the build environment, the ‘store’ has become a critical, perceptual and psychological component of merchandising as we as imaging. Architecture and fashion are partners.”  

I think Peter Marino would agree with this statement.

Gwathmey was dubbed a ‘modernist superstar’ and quickly became named as one of the New York five in 1969 (along with Richard Meier). His namesake firm has created countless private residences and iconic structures like his renovation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, the Astor Place condominiums, and the Yale Art Complex. He designed amazing homes for clients like Faye Dunaway, Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen.

In true modernist philosophy, Gwathmey’s designs were often led by the vision of how and who would be living in his structure. Form was a response to the need and reactive to the inspiration. A Gwathmey bedroom would be the first time I saw a bed positioned in the middle of the room. I recently moved into a new house and positioned my bed in the center of the space. One day while I was out and the cleaning lady was there I came home to find the bed neatly made, but pushed back into the corner of the room. This is what I love about design…

Who ever said the bed had to be against a wall?