Beauty and the Beach

Italian architect Antonio Citterio conjures up a modern marvel, perched above the surf in Bridgehampton

Photographs by Francesca Giovanelli

"Phyllis and I called it the ‘Little Jewel,’" says commercial and residential real estate developer Jack Rosen of the tiny Bridgehampton beach house that first caught his eye in the mid-1980s. The somewhat worse-for-wear ’60s-era wooden box, consisting of only a few rooms and a small kitchen, looked as though it had simply washed ashore from the ocean on the highest point of the dunes. "At the time, it was large enough for us and our two boys," says Rosen, and for many years the couple spent happy summers and long weekends in the humble abode, glad that their sons, Daniel and Jordan, grew up in a natural environment that was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Their urban existence in Manhattan was the flip side of life in Bridgehampton; they built a seven-story townhouse on the Upper East Side, close to Central Park and the Guggenheim Museum, in collaboration with Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. "Charles Gwathmey thought of Phyllis as the ultimate client; she filled our house with vintage furniture from the ’40s and a wonderful collection of contemporary art by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat," says Rosen.

Beach life, though, was to remain different, with the simple summer house offering a marvelous contrast to the formal city townhouse. But as time passed and the sons got married, the "little jewel" at the beach suddenly seemed too cramped. "We urgently needed more space, and so we decided to modify the house," Rosen recalls. Antonio Citterio, whom Rosen had gotten to know through his business, "has a very functional style that appealed to us," and the Milan-based architect/designer accepted the project gladly. "Some renowned American architects had already demonstrated their creativity on Long Island in the ’70s, which was very inspiring to me," Citterio says. "So naturally I was particularly pleased to take on this project." The initial tweaks and modifications eventually grew into a large-scale undertaking, during which grandchildren Zachary, Alex, David and Charlie were born. Citterio accommodated the growing Rosen brood wisely, while still adhering to the essence of the cottage vernacular, making the new structure easy to care for and family friendly.

Building on the dunes is strictly protected, so in order to comply with construction specifications, Citterio retained the footprint of the original wooden box and placed the newly constructed housing unit, consisting of two wings with stunning walls of glass, directly onto the existing concrete base. He extended the floor-to-ceiling views even from the corners of the newly built house by installing glass corners, for 270-degree panoramic vistas.

The west wing comprises a living area with a fireplace, dining room and, as one heads toward the east wing, a breakfast area and professional chromium steel kitchen by Arclinea, Citterio’s kitchen-design line. On the ground floor are three bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, and a generous family room. Master bedroom, bathrooms, an office and the stairway to the roof terrace are located on the upper floor. Thanks to the abundance of large windows, terraces and balconies, all rooms are connected with the outside world. The L-shaped structure incorporates several new terraces built on different levels, all overlooking the pre-existing swimming pool.

"Rooms with unique views, glass corners, cantilevered pieces that provide shade and overall functionality are the most important hallmarks of the house," says Citterio. Exterior walls are clad in cedar, the best material, according to Rosen, to endure "sun, humidity, salt, wind and sand. It is durable and takes on an elegant patina over the years." The ten-member-and-counting family now spends weekends year-round in Bridgehampton. "From each room we enjoy the magnificent view of the dunes and the water," says Rosen, "and it always feels like we’re on vacation, like we’re surrounded by nature." The couple is pleased that their grandchildren are growing up next to the ocean and enjoying nature, but they do have some rules to enforce: to start, the kids must learn to swim in the pool.