Home Sweet Homo

Architect Christopher Rawlins on some of the mid-century masterpieces featured on his Fire Island homes tour.
August 12, 2015

The exterior of 607 Shore Walk.

Anyone who has strutted down Fire Island’s boardwalks knows that the Pines has some of the most gorgeous mid-century architecture in the country. Architect Christopher Rawlins is so endlessly fascinated by the houses of the gay destination that this month he’ll lead small groups on tours of some of the historic hamlet’s most captivating homes.

“Each embodies the heady atmosphere in the Pines during the ’60s and ’70s, when architects like Horace Gifford and Harry Bates honed an architecture that was as colorful as its inhabitants,” says Rawlins, author of Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction. “There was glamour, but it was filtered through hippie communality.”

The architecture of the Pines is understated yet powerful, unique even from neighboring Cherry Grove, where, Rawlins says, the architecture reflects the campy, coded sensibility of the ’40s and ’50s. “It is architecture in drag.” Meanwhile, Rawlins considers the Pines’ newer, spare architecture to be more “butch.” Those cedar and glass structures, he says, were home to “the generation that traded muumuus for muscles, and mascara for moustaches. [The Pines] puts on just as much of a show as the Grove, but it delivers a hyper-masculine form of drag.”

“I give equal billing to architecture and social lore,” Rawlins adds, so the tour is just as naughty and fun as it is educational.” Proceeds from the tour will fund a website and app that will allow anyone to take a virtual tour of the Pines.

Rawlins picked six mid-century masterpieces to give Next readers an exclusive first look at his seaside stroll.
 

219 BAY WALK 

“This is the first beach house designed by Horace Gifford, reinvigorated with sensual finishes by current owner Charles Renfro and his friend Anne Nixon at Brooklyn Office.

 

635 FIRE ISLAND BLVD

“Once occupied by a Rockefeller, this home is a charming and verdant early work of post-and-beam construction by Harry Bates of Bates-Masi fame. In the 1970s it hosted outrageous parties. The disco anthem ‘Native New Yorker’ was first spun here.”

 

607 SHORE WALK 

“This is an innovative ‘tree house’ by Horace Gifford, sporting screened vents between slanted glass walls and suspended floors that draw breezes through a chimney-like skylight. Built-in sofas define the living area, with cushions that slide off their frames into a sunken pit for a fireside love nest.”

 

529 SAIL WALK

“[This home] is delicately tethered to its slender tower bases—a ‘spaceship,’ as its architect, Horace Gifford, called it—hovering over its earthbound neighbors. Cantilevered decks facing due east, south, and west chase the sun. Its central space is left open for dancing.”

 

482 TARPON WALK

“A typical early ’60s beach shack by an unknown architect, it transcends its humble origins with its modernist garden design and the meticulousness of its restoration. Betty Draper would feel right at home chain-smoking around its Formica kitchen peninsula. Best of all, the homeowners refrained from erecting a big fence around it all, capturing the original spirit of the Pines as a public place to enjoy private architecture.”

 

214 BEACH HILL WALK

“Designed by a senior associate to the architect I. M. Pei in 1962, this house has been gently transported into the 21st century with a comprehensive renovation by Rawlins Design. Out front, a new glass tower stitches two previously disconnected floors of the house, in a nod to Fire Island’s voyeuristic brand of modernism.”
 

Mid-Century Masterpieces at the Pines Harbor, Fire Island Pines, August 15–16 and 22–23 from 2:15pm–6pm; $110. Visit rawlinsdesign.com for more info.