These luxury beach homes are made to cozy up to nature
While Leslie and Clifford Cohen were dreaming up the home they planned to build on a wetland property on the North Fork of Long Island in New York, their architect arrived with an unusual tool for an empty property: a 12-foot ladder.
“Every time we came to the property, the first thing we did was walk up the ladder and, in essence, see the view that we were going to have,” says Clifford Cohen, a retired New York Department of Education school counselor who now teaches at Hunter College and New York University. “That was captivating for us.”
The Cohens, who spend most of the year at home in Brooklyn, wanted their new home to give them the same experience as standing on that ladder, which is why the screened porch became their favorite spot when they moved in at the end of 2016. The three-sided, 200-square-foot porch, complete with a fireplace, looks out over the wetlands to the bay.
“In the pleasant weather, we spend almost all our time in the screened-in porch,” says Clifford Cohen. “It’s really hard to not be out there, it’s pretty special.”
The Cohens regularly started coming out to the North Fork when they bought a more traditional vacation home in the town of Orient in 2005. After ten years there, they wanted a more modern home and found the property along the Peconic River and Long Beach Bay. The wetlands seemed the perfect spot for their dream vacation home.
In places like the North Fork, where the natural environment draws vacationers looking to escape, homeowners are increasingly looking for ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.
“Almost all of my projects begin with a screened porch,” says Bill Ryall the architect who designed the Cohen’s home. “We’re out here to enjoy the nature and even though people will make big glass windows, you’re still more inside than you are outside.”
Screened porches allow homeowners to feel the bay breeze, catch the smells of the landscape and the water, and hear the sound of birds and wind — but also avoid the annual summertime onslaught of mosquitoes and other bugs, he says.
“Access to the land was something that was important to us,” says Clifford Cohen. “We always envisioned that this house would be designed in a way that we could access the outdoors from every room.”
But the area where their property is located is more water than land. It sits on 10-foot-high reinforced concrete walls to accommodate the ever increasing tidal flow and to prepare for flooding in case of storms or hurricanes.
The effect is that the home soars above the 15-acre wetland meadow with a series of landings and balconies.
“We really wanted this house to feel like it was just dropped into this field,” says Leslie Cohen, who recently retired from the agency she co-founded to represent artists. “We want to disturb very little around us.”
Even the pool appears dropped in. Without a sundeck, the 60-foot-long saltwater pool sits right in the grass.
“The pool looks like it’s just this body of water in the ground,” says Ryall, whose firm Ryall Sheridan Architects has worked on several projects in the North Fork area. “It’s amazing when you swim in it because you’re really seeing almost nothing but the sky and the grasses.”
Bringing the outdoor experience home
People come to the North Fork of Long Island, with its organic produce farms, vineyards and fishing, for the experience of being outdoors, says Jerry Cibulski an agent at Century 21 Albertson Realty in Southold, New York. And when they come home from a long day of fun or relaxation, they don’t want to leave that experience behind.
“My clients are coming out of Manhattan and Brooklyn and they are looking for that combination of indoor and outdoor living,” Cibulski says. “They want to go get fresh produce off the organic farms. Or go pick blueberries, then make breakfast from that.”
Recent clients of his bought a home on the North Fork because of its oversized sliding doors, offering full views of the scenic property. They plan to build a three-season screened-in room addition.
“Builders are including screened porches as a design feature, and sure people love the addition of extra space, but what they really love about it is bringing the outdoors in,” says Cibulski.
Even decks, which can feel cut off from nature, aren’t being built as much, he says. “Instead, you’re seeing more outdoor patio areas with natural plantings around a sitting area, then you have the breeze and more of a connection to the land, as opposed to a flat deck that feels separate and sterile.”
Homes designed in a modern style can be stylish and efficient, but may not feel immediately connected to nature. That’s why when architect Caleb Mulvena and his firm, Mapos Architects DPC, designed a home on a dramatic 60-foot bluff overlooking the Peconic Bay in Hampton Bays, New York, in 2016, he strove to make it one with the natural landscape.
The house, with a green grassy roof that lowers its energy consumption and cools the five-bedroom home, is wedged into a triangular space near the bluff without disturbing a large sycamore tree the owners cherish. It sits where there was a grassy meadow that now appears to be on top of the low-slung home.
Mulvena also connected the indoor living areas, featuring a 100-foot-long wall of glass, to the outdoor patio deck with large sliders that allow people to take in the view as they follow the slope of the land down to a pool.
“We wanted to respect the idea that a meadow was here,” says Mulvena. “Rather than obliterating the meadow and planting a large trophy home, we wanted to take the idea of peeling the meadow up and kind of tuck the house underneath it.”