The A Frame house 1965.
Beginning it’s life as a simple modernistic A frame of the late 60’s its design seemed to fit right into it’s plot of land facing the Great South Bay. Built by owners Vera and Paul Weidenhoffer as a family summer home it’s frontage gave you a front row seat to the beautiful sunsets of Long Island.
Sold in 1983 to Joe & Karen Plescia it became an investment property as a rental. And so the gay life of this house began as Rich Kaplan and his partner Bob Franco Long Island locals, and others began their Fire Island memories here. Like many homes in that period and still today shares are sold to individuals. Known as groupers during the 70’s you could have a whole, half or quarter share of time spent in the house. This is how many relationships were formed on Fire Island. Some lasting years becoming what is called Fire Island family.
The home had a rustic feel. In the center of the home was a spiral staircase that would be addressed in the new design. With literally three floors the house could sleep many. It was surrounded by brush. The new owners realizing the potential of the home began improvements on the outside beginning with a deck and pool.
New windows and a pool complete a renovation.
Parties were also part of this house history…
In 1982 Actress Colleen Dewhurst was staying next door, and as Bob Franco was showering in the outdoor shower he heard someone ask if they had any vodka. He turned around to see Colleen out the window next door, She later ended up in the pool topless.
The memories of the many seasons spent at 601 Tuna Walk remain part of the history of a home with many lives. Some lost in the battle against AIDS, and some live on in the minds of those who hold all close to their heart today.
In 2011 partners Doug Harris and Bill Van Parys began their journey with 601. They had watched the home over the years from their nearby rental. When the house became available they decided to take the plunge into FIP ownership. With the guidance of Architect of the Pines Scott Bromley of Bromley & Caldari Architects and builder Walter Boss they began the process of transformation..
The first challenge was the elephant in the room called the staircase.
The spiral stair in the center was by far the most constraining element in terms of plan, obstructing the view and limiting the travel of light. To maximize daylight, views of the bay, and to open the plan the stair had to be relocated. The redesigned stair creates a promenade through the volume framing views from the living space, second floor bedroom and the crow’s nest third floor. The low eaves restricted headroom, but by exploiting a local law that permits windows to project two feet from the envelope, the stair could be tucked into two new, large bay windows. The windows, akin to skylights, are staggered at different elevations on each side of the house and connected by a cat-walk balcony in front of the bedroom. Traversing from one side to the other as you rise, bay views are framed at each floor and newly admitted light enters from the sides.
The A-Frame Re-Think is now a cathedral of light-filled with the color of sky and water, complex but simple, where the pieces lock into place like a Rubik’s cube.
bromley caldari began the project by taking advantage of a local law that permits bay windows to project up to two feet from the building envelope. once extended, a larger staircase was staggered at different elevations on either side of the home, with a cat-walk balcony from the master bedroom to connect the two. commons areas and the kitchen are openly placed on the bottom floor with the master bedroom taking the entirety of the second. in the top space is a crow’s nest perfect for relaxing with a book or a quick bit of privacy. from any point on the three levels, inhabitants have clear views to the water. and, to make things just a bit sweeter, there’s a crystal clear pool just a few yards from the back door. the ‘A-frame re-think’ is a light-filled structure, simple and to the point, just like it was intended to be.
“In a complete renovation of a bayside A-frame house on Fire Island, Bromley Caldari turned a seasoned beach rental into a sleek hideout. Rethinking the iconic 1960s A-frame form, architects R. Scott Bromley and Jerry Caldari broke through the envelope of the building to weave a sculptural staircase through the airy three-story structure.
A typical A-frame, the house had a spiral staircase splitting down the middle, four dark and cramped bedrooms, a leaky roof, and a cracked pile foundation – not the pristine vacation home that is so often associated with Fire Island Pines. The poolside sunsets over the Great South Bay were not to be discounted and the potential was there, yet blocking the fantastic view and occupying the heart of the house was the old six-foot diameter steel spiral staircase. The clients wanted the removal of the staircase and were willing to sacrifice a bedroom or two to make it happen.
With the lot coverage at its limit, Bromley Caldari took advantage of a local law that permits bay windows to project a maximum of two feet out from the building envelope. The new staircase would tuck into two large bay windows staggered at different elevations on each side of the house with a catwalk balcony off of the master bedroom to connect the two sides. Weaving from one side to the other as you ascend the three floors, the staircase offers views of the bay framed at each elevation.
On the main level, a double-height living/dining room stretches the length of the window-clad north façade. The open kitchen and house utilities run along the south side.
The master bedroom suite features full-height glass sliding doors that take advantage of the view. Although the doors stay mostly open, when guests are present and privacy is required, the sliding glass doors fog up at the flick of a switch.
Now owner Bill Van Pary wrote about their experience in Cottage & Garden magazine:
NYC & G – September 2014
A+ A Frame
On Fire Island, Bromley Caldari Architects Reinvents a 1960s A-frame overlooking Great South Bay
Several times a day at our home in Fire Island Pines, the same scene plays out. Visitors, in knots of twos or threes, stand unannounced in our entryway, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the suspended staircase dangling like sculpture above the 18-foot-high living room. First, we hear whispers (“Don’t run away”; “Get back over here!”), before the boldest peeps through the glass, “Excuse me, but we’ve known this house since we were little, and we’ve been watching it change the past few years, and well….” At this point, my partner, Doug Harris, and I usually invite them in. Even before we purchased the house, it was a bit of a curiosity to us, too, so we understand where they’re coming from.
After nearly three years of planning, permitting, and construction, the renovation of out 1965 A-frame on Great South Bay is finally finished, and the results are arresting – even in a community famed for its mid-20th-century architecture.
What began as a clunky triangle (think meh-frame with dark, unusable spaces and a treacherous spiral stair) is now a testament to efficiency, simplicity, and beauty, with energy-friendly materials and technologies. As a friend noted upon its completion, “It looks like a glamorous UFO. Of course people are going to want to see it up close.”
We never would have thought the house would become such an attraction – let alone that we’d be living in it one day. For a decade, we had resided nearby, where we looked upon the jarringly tall structure with mild-to-vigorous disdain. Doug was more forgiving than I, as he viewed it in terms of its significance to the community. Judy Garland spent part of a summer there (she pulled up to the house by seaplane), and movies were once projected, drive-in style, onto its vast windowless roof. But over the decades it had devolved into a hyperactive rental share with an aesthetic most diplomatically described as Brazilian sex hotel. Tatty and partied out, it was well past its prime.
Despite its faded-lounge-act-vibe, Doug and I recognized the value of the location and sensed the house’s potential. The game plan: Clarify its geometry by removing all flimsy partitions, bring four bedrooms down to two, and open up the sides to maximize the light, the views, and the cross-ventilation. Add to that an emissive metal roof with hurricane-resistant skylights that warm it in winter and cool it in summer. All these objectives were doable, particularly in light of the elephant in the room, the dreaded metal stair, rammed squarely up the house’s middle and monopolizing its heart. With its steps at head height, we dubbed it the Scalper. What had been a chic architectural motif in Judy’s day now whiffed of old Steely Dan, and its removal was key to unlocking the house’s potential.
Not so easily done, given the home’s location within the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) and the area’s complicated building code. Enter Scott Bromley of Bromley Caldari Architects, which has designed and renovated dozens of homes on Fire Island for the past several decades. (Bromley designed the original Studio 54, so we knew the lighting would be flawless.)
He initially proposed shifting the stairway to one side, but spiral stairs can no longer be installed on Fire Island due to egress regulations. So he and Walter Boss (a longtime Pines custom builder adept in making things happen) devised a new approach: Create a serpentine, split stair curving up and out from the first floor on the far right, add a catwalk across the second floor, and then curve the stair back up and around to the third. The revised design was submitted to the Town of Brookhaven for approval, along with a request to add windows and skylights to the existing structure. A year after we purchased it, the A-frame was given a new lease on life. The result: An airy cathedral of light and texture, complex in its simplicity to the point where pieces lock into place, like a Rubik’s Cube.
And now, 18 months later, people routinely barge through our entryway, creep around our decks, and slink across our bulkhead. (“Oh, sorry, we were just looking for the bay.”) We generally take it in stride, since hogging the stunning architecture would somehow seem culturally stingy. Still, it takes a surfeit of charity at sunset, when you realize you are sharing it with half a dozen strangers who are peering through your windows. Doug and I just keep telling ourselves that in the spirit of Judy, the show much go on.
Stairway to Heaven: An oak and steel staircase constructed by Euro Metalsmiths snakes through the home’s three levels. The living room’s Modern Lounge sofa is from Montauk Sofa; the kitchen’s barstools are from Restoration Hardware.
Rooms With A View: The dining area include a Knoll table and Room & Board’s Madrid chairs. The kitchen features pine flooring, cedar-covered walls, and custom maple cabinetry. The countertop is by Caesarstone and the appliances are from GE. In the master bedroom, nightstands from Design Within Reach flank the bed. Pocket doors behind the headboard close off the entry to the master bath, where Porcelanosa tiles cover the shower floor and walls. The custom vanity is maple.
Peaked Interest: The third-floor lounge offers bird’s-eye views of Fire Island, both from the Cassina chaise and the Flemming Busk Twilight sleeper sofa from Design Within Reach. The Murcia coffee table is BoConcept.
Deep Blue See: The cedar-lined pool deck, which overlooks Great South Bay, includes a Kona table, Malibu chairs, and an umbrella from Room & Board; the Richard Schultz chaise lounges are from Knoll.
Creating the future with the past… L to R Former renter Bob Franco, now owners Bill Van Parys, Doug Harris, renter Rich Caplan.
At the end of the day the house remains true to it roots of beauty which is the stunning view of a Great South Bay sunset, and the many memories that have filled the house then and now…