Sam Wood has been in the building trade for 25 years, working as one of the busiest and best-known construction specialists in one of the most unusual housing markets in America: Fire Island, N.Y. Thirty miles long and rarely more than 800 feet wide, this strip of beach is the summer retreat of choice for a diverse blend of New Yorkers who are attracted to either its un-Hamptonian informality or its thriving gay community (or both). Based in the hamlet of Kismet near the island’s westernmost point, Wood’s eponymous company has been involved in everything from building casual summer cottages to jacking existing structures up above the ever-rising flood planes. But his latest project, he claims, broke the mold: “This was a whole other animal,” Wood says.
Wood is standing in the front hall of the new vacation home of Phil and Lucy Suarez, a simple white-steel structure—modestly sized at 2,000 square feet—that is instantly and undeniably recognizable as the work of Richard Meier, FAIA. The architect has known the clients for so long that “I don’t remember when we met,” Meier says—though it had to have been at some point prior to the late ’60s, when the couple approached him to design the interior of their Manhattan apartment. “We really became friends on that project,” recalls Mrs. Suarez, and their enduring relationship led to this second commission almost 50 years later. “I just didn’t want someone else doing it,” Meier says.
The designer offered his services after the Suarez’s original Fire Island house burned down three years ago—the conflagration having been extinguished, ironically, by Wood, who, in classic Fire Island fashion, moonlights as a local volunteer fireman. But fighting the flames was nothing compared to the problems of building in steel and glass on an elongated sandbar accessible mainly by boat: Putting together the all-glazed, beach-facing northern wall, the minimal and carefully secluded interior living spaces, and perfectly composed fireplace—complete with projecting chimney—took a full year longer than Wood estimated.
Richard Meier & Partners Architects associate partner Bernhard Karpf, AIA, was charged with the logistics for completing the project, and he credits Wood’s team with surmounting hurdles that included the devastation of Hurricane Sandy to realize what is, at bottom, a deeply personal vision shared by architect and client. “This was Richard’s thing that he wanted to do himself,” Karpf says. “It’s just a little glass jewel box on Fire Island.”
Project Fire Island House, Fire Island, N.Y.
Client Phil and Lucy Suarez
Architect Richard Meier & Partners, New York—Richard Meier, FAIA, Bernhard Karpf, AIA (design team); Amalia Rusconi-Clerici (project architect)
Collaborator Alison Macbeth
Structural Engineer Robert Silman Associates
M/E/P Engineer I.P. Group Consulting Engineers
General Contractor Sam Wood
Lighting Consultant L’Observatoire International
AV Consultant The Honest Audio, Video & Lighting Co.
Size 2,000 square feet (floor area); 1,700 square feet (deck)