Featuring 48 unique coastal properties from around the world, Barry Stone’s By the Sea makes for an impressive coffee table book.
The book begins with a short recount of the history of beaches as spaces of recreation, which according to Stone, largely began during the Renaissance period, when we finally started to move away from myths around sea-monsters, tempests and precipitous horizons. And as the author (accurately) states, we’ve pretty much been obsessed with the ocean ever since.
The 336-page book is split into three sections: Hotels, Residences and Restaurants. For each residence, Stone outlines the history of the site and the architecture that sits upon it. There’s a lot of impressive architecture in this book (too much to mention here), but I was particularly struck by two outstanding (and very different) houses.
WHAT I LIKED
The first building that caught my eye was 566-567 Driftwood Walk (p.223). Designed by Horace Gifford in 1972, this home is located on Fire Island in New York. It’s one of an array of modernist, sustainable timber beach houses designed by the likes of Gifford, Harry Bates and Earl Combs.
Virtually all timber and glass with panoramic ocean views, not only is this house architecturally stunning but also riddled with history.
“Fire Island Pines was a seminal social experiment, an enclave for America’s gay community who first began to live there in large numbers in the 1930s,” writes Stone.
“Calvin Klein lived there; Truman Capote holidayed on Fire Island where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
“The houses turned Fire Island into a modernist laboratory. Bathrooms suddenly had windows because privacy was no longer viewed as necessary. Small spaces had soaring ceilings. Mirrored walls reflected ocean views. Outside there were winding boardwalks and cascading decks, but interestingly no lawns, fences or painted exteriors – the very antithesis of suburban conformity.”
Another interesting project is the cleverly camouflaged Shoreham Beach House (p.285), which effortlessly blends into its coastal surrounds. A recent project, this house was designed by ABIR Architects and completed in 2015.
Pictures speak louder than words with this house, which is defined by the concept of the gabion wall (rock or pebble-filled mesh cages often used on sloping sites to prevent erosion). The base of the house is clad in these walls, filled with pebbles sourced from a nearby channel. The visual effect really is striking.
“Attempts at camouflage are everywhere,” writes Stone.
“It’s silvered chestnut cladding echoes the look and feel of driftwood. When looking at the house from the beach, the sky is reflected in its glazed surfaces. The caged pebbles were dredged up from a nearby channel so as to blend in with the pebble-strewn beach around it. The cladding, the walls and the reflective power of the glass all combine to produce an uncommon level of concealment, and a sense that this building really belongs.”
Overall, I was impressed with this book, which I consider a hybrid between a travel guide and straight-up architecture appreciation. What I really appreciated was the author’s careful curation of projects that have architectural and historical merit, as well as a strong connection to their coastal setting. This book goes to show that buildings are really be worth more than their sum of parts, and every project has a story behind it. If you’re a fan of coastal architecture, I think By the Sea would be a worthy addition to your book collection.