A story that dates back nearly a half-century and includes the world renowned legendary architect Richard Meier stands against you today. Richard Meier`story about a small compact white beach mini-skyscraper located on a barrier island is probably destined for extinction as this is not one of his popular works. However we have found interesting at the very least and we are honored to host a page of history in our small website.
Back in 1969 there were two newlyweds entitled Phil and Lucy Suarez. At a certain point Mr Suarez became the business part of the renowned acclaimed chef Jean Georges Vongerichten, at that time he had just helped in founding the company that became highly successful years later for producing popular commercials and music videos. As a result he and Mrs. Suarez have bought their first apartment in Gramercy Park and young in their twenties were contemplating a complete transformation of the space. At that point Mr. Suarez asked colleagues for recommendations of a good architects, later receiving the name of what was about to become a legendary star architect :Richard Meier. He was already popular for highly dramatic impeccable stark white buildings but that was just the beginning.
At that time legends were popular but the media was slowly grabbing attention, nowhere near to what it is today, therefore, Mrs. Suarez never heard of him : “So Lucy calls him and says, ‘I want to see your portfolio,’ ” recalled Mr. Suarez, now at the age of 73. “And Richard replied, ‘Excuse me?’ ”
After presenting a couple of photographs of just one of the Mr. Meier`s homes she was thrilled, astonished: “I saw this house and said: ‘Oh, my God! If you can do this, you can do our apartment.’ ”
During the renovation process the three individuals became good friends and the connection lasted even after Mrs. Suarez dared to redecorate the stark white interior envisioned by Mr. Maier with an amalgam of colors and textures.
“I want you to be prepared for a little bit of a change” she told him in a phone call that was meant to prepare him for the amalgam yet he simply answered ‘You can do what you want with your house.’ . A minute later he called back asking ‘What is it you did?
At that time George Lois, the ad man legend and Mr.Suarez`s first boss invited the couple in Fair Harbor, a relatively small town located on the Fire Island with wooden bungalows filled with bohemian personality. Because Mrs. Suarez already had a reputation for being a party enthusiasts he instantly fell in love with the barefoot dining and the communal cocktails. As a result, the couple bought a bay-front summer cottage in 1971 in Fair Harbor. Several years later they’ve moved in what it was back then an expensive midcentury modern house residing on a relaxing quiet street for almost 80,000 dollars. That meant a wooden structure with no air conditioning or insulation whatsoever but it also meant views across the bay and enough deck space to entertain guests and install a grill. Nearly four decades that shelter has been the soul of every party and the host of all their friends, in time two adjacent waterfront houses have been bought by the couple for guest quarters, creating a small compound. “There was a lot of love in the walls here” Mr. Suarez said. The memory of those years made the event of 2011 painfully; in 2011 an electric fire took down the house.
“It was 40 years of pictures, and all the tchotchkes and gifts that were given to us,” Mrs. Suarez said. “Everything that was something to do with the beach, something to do with our friends.” Several weeks later on a regular dinner with Mr. Meier, the legend offered to help them rebuild, he already won the Pritzker Prize, what is know as the architecture`s version of the Nobel prize, he was renown for ambitious projects like the Getty Center in Los Angeles and his offer sounded astonishing, far better than the first time they’ve contacted him.
For Mr. Meier as well it was great thought, the idea resonated, the first house ever designed and built by him as an architect was here, on Fire Island back in 1961, envisioned for illustrator Saul Lambert and his wife. They had $9,000 to spend,” Mr. Meier recalled. “I didn’t have a lot to do in those days, so I said fine.”
After this dining they had regular meeting in his studio, Mr.Suarez wanted the reminiscence and charm of the old wood house yet very soon in the design process the couple confronted the sad reality : they had to elevate the home to minimize storm damage. Amalia Rusconi-Clerici, one of the contributing designers stated : “They were used to having a house that was pretty much on the ground; now you have this grand entrance that you walk up. It’s a new concept we all had to accept.”
This was only the beginning. As soon as they`ve accepted this compromise the couple accepted Mr.Meier`s ideas far easier though. The original project was nowhere near the contemporary one, a 2.25 million dollar steel and glass structure was in no manner related with a wooden bungalow. The steel structure has been translated in a huge effort, digging 10 feet below sea level to bury the wood pies, a steel frame that would support more than 25 tons of glass among others. The contractor, Sam Wood, stated that in 30 years of working on the Fire Island he never seen such a masterpiece “It’s built like a mini-skyscraper,” he said. “We had ironworkers on the job for two months straight,” he added. “An ironworker on Fire Island? Maybe once before in 25 years we’ve welded on job sites here.” Moreover some of the I-beams had a weight of 5,000 pounds, this meant that they’ve had to rent a barge-mounted crane to plant them directly from the ferry. Upon arrival they`ve realized that the bay was too shallow for the barge to get anywhere near the shore. “So one by one,” he said, “we brought every single steel column from the dock up to the house by wagon and dolly.”
If you take a glance at the surrounding conventional beach homes you might think the steel and glass structure is out of place and, frankly, quite strange. But in fact the design has not raised any discussions yet and due to the calm, peaceful community, we see no reason it would, ever.
Mr. Vongerichten suggests a possible explanation: “A lot of people who are successful have people who are jealous of them,” he said. “But with Phil and Lucy, you just want to hang out with them.”
What do you think about the white beach mini-skyscraper? We would love to hear your opinion on the masterpiece in the comment section below.
Photo Courtesy to Trevor Tondro