Tour a Striking North Sea Home Fit for Entertaining

Architect Cass Calder Smith does some California dreaming for a new build in North Sea.
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Absorbing the waning sun of late afternoon, the stucco and wood house exudes a warm glow. The aluminum windows and doors are from Fleetwood. Photograph by Colin Miller.

The 1960s ranch house, on a generous acre with distant views of Scallop Pond Preserve in North Sea, was apparently abandoned, save for a couple of gravestones tucked into the property. Eyeing an opportunity, Saunders & Associates broker Lylla Carter purchased the place for herself as a teardown and enlisted architect Cass Calder Smith, a friend and trusted collaborator, for a full set of new house plans. Smith came up with a bold 2,500-square-foot villa that took its style cues from modern architectural tropes typical of the West Coast, where he had spent his formative years. His proposal featured a flat roof and white stucco walls, with gray cedar accents. “I don’t really create controversial buildings,” says Smith, who cites legendary Southern California modernist Richard Neutra as an important influence. Nevertheless, this would be a memorable, iconic house, very visible from the road.

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In the den, armchairs from Homenature flank a custom Jouir coffee table from 1stdibs. The walls are covered in Schumacher’s Feather Bloom in Onyx Gold. Photograph by Colin Miller.

Turns out it was not to be. Carter never razed the ranch or even broke ground for the structure. Instead, she sold the lot in 2018 to immunologist Fairley Pilaro—and graciously threw in the unrealized plans. The new owner, a single mother of four who has lived on Long Island for a dozen years, was delighted, having already toured several Smith houses with her boyfriend, Joe Messina, a builder with Joseph Scott Consulting. Half of the front porch had collapsed and “nothing was salvageable,” Pilaro recounts, although she was pleased that she got “a lot more bang” for her real estate buck. But after closely studying Smith’s scale model, a miniature in cardboard and strips of wood, Pilaro and Messina decided that the layout was too small for their blended family, which often increases in size when relatives arrive for extended beach stays. “We have an open-door policy and are kind of full service when anyone comes here,” Pilaro says. “I’m a home girl.”

Smith went back to the drawing board. “I’m not the type who considers my houses trophies, and I don’t have any ego about it,” the architect says. What had been a boomerang-shaped footprint grew into more of a U. The front retained its relationship to the road, and views through the rear windows are still oriented to a spectacular specimen oak—now spotlit as a backyard focal point. (“I hate cutting down trees,” Smith admits.) The total square footage ballooned to 8,585 square feet, including an enormous earth-sheltered lower level, six bedrooms, and a primary suite above the garage, which can be completely compartmentalized and sealed off for extra privacy or even seasonal renters. “I’m a down-to-earth person,” Pilaro jokes, but “nobody else needs to sleep in my bed!”

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A red plaster wall amplifies the screened porch. The sofa and coffee table are from RH. Photograph by Colin Miller.

Following six months of design adjustments and approvals, Messina finally began building the couple’s dream house. One of Pilaro’s sons even apprenticed for his summer job—despite having no construction experience. He proved handy for “things older guys don’t want to do,” Messina recalls, particularly riding the crane piggyback and helping to position large, unwieldy windows throughout the house. Cleverly, he also found space for a laundry chute. (His reward for the summer stint: a nail gun of his very own.)

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Seating pieces from RH furnish the outdoor living room. Photograph by Colin Miller.

Smith signed off on the inventive banquette that Messina inserted into what had been drawn, originally, as an enormous kitchen island. Pilaro and Messina also added a koi pond and chose earth tones and neutrals for painted interior walls, while interior paneling recalls the cedar outside. They finished decorating and moved in just as COVID-19 was at its height. Still, the pandemic didn’t put a damper on the couple’s socially distanced housewarming party, complete with live band. But the hostess, ever the immunologist, put the kibosh on the chips and dip.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Left of Center.