Home decorators, take note: You might feel compelled to imitate everything after scrolling through the images of Alex Bates’ Fire Island house. We don’t blame you; we’ve had the same “my house stinks” and “I want this house” feelings. Fortunately for us, we can achieve the look courtesy to Alex Bates’s recently launched Bloomist – soulful, ecological objects that instantly add beauty to any area, all with that unmistakable Alex Bates style.
This Fire Island cottage epitomizes coastal living
A brief glance of Alex’s interview responses reveals that, aside from the design, the location is a big part of what makes this house so special Fire Island is an amazing, excellent vacation from city life, only an hour and a half from Manhattan (you had us at no cars.) We want this house not only in general, but precisely on this island. Tell us about your house on Fire Island. Why this house, and why this location?
We acquired this house while the kids were young, maybe more than 25 years ago. It is located in Saltaire, one of Fire Island’s second incorporated communities. The Fire Island Beach Corporate founded Saltaire in 1910, and it was established in 1917. Our house, a basic cedar shingle cottage, was completed in 1911, and it was one of the first residences built by the company’s lead carpenter, Mike Coffey. In his lifetime, he built 100 homes, and today’s Coffey homes are prized for their distinctive Coffey features such as batten walls, brick fireplaces, and antique multi-paned windows. It’s an hour and a half drive from the city, and life is really simple – no vehicles, no formalities, and you ride bikes everywhere on wooden boardwalks, according to an old sales brochure. Friends drop in on the spur of the moment, and the kids enjoy amazing independence, which is such a contrast to our city existence, a nature fix, and our NYC cure. The kids used to sprint out the door in the morning and be home in time for dinner when they were younger. We live at a much slower pace here, and you can tell the difference as soon as you walk on the ferry; stress just melts away. This home’s design finds the ideal blend of light and airy with warm and inviting. What was the source of inspiration for the design?
We wanted to pay homage to the bones and spirit of the 1911 era without being overly preservationist, so we kept things basic. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on Fire Island, and we were forced to gut the interiors down to the studs. We restored all of the original wall elements (spaced out batten, etc.) during the re-construction, but we installed a fully new kitchen and bath. We used a simple shaker profile for the cabinets and tongue and groove paneling in unexpected places to make it appear as if it were original to the house, but our marble counters are a dramatic 2 1/2 thick with a sharp knife edge to give it a modern note and keep it from looking too “ye olde.”
It certainly isn’t ye olde! Which room in the house is your favorite?
It’s difficult to tell because there are so many areas in such a small house that make me happy — the light streams through in such amazing ways – the kitchen door to the garden looks due east, and the first beams come flooding through the door when the sun rises low in the sky. It’s such a lovely way to start the day, making a quiet cup of coffee before anyone else is awake and watching the light shift from pale pinks to warmer yellows – I’ll sit and watch it bounce around the room with the dancing shadows of the trees, or I’ll go out into the garden and just take it all in. On the western side of the home, the same process happens in opposite order at the end of the day. At cocktail hour on the front screen porch, the shadows are long and the light fades to a dramatic pink before flooding through the front door.
Looking around your house, it appears like you had a clear vision for the entire decorating process. What is your best interior design advice for someone starting a project like this?
When in doubt, use white paint. We used hi-gloss Fine Paints of Europe 0001 White on all surfaces, including walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s like pure Titanium white straight from a paint tube, the clearest white you’ll get without any tints on the market. The light bounces and reflects off every surface, and the inspiration for this piece came from the gleaming marine paints used on boats. All of our furniture is slipcovered in white linen that can be readily washed, making it incredibly durable and surprisingly easy to live with. What words would you use to characterize your interior design style?
Collected rather than decorated, eclectic and personal. Natural elements, such as beach stones, driftwood, or fallen bird’s nests, are scattered around the house at the shore. The city, on the other hand, is a different tale altogether, with too many layers of paintings and antiques from my family and trips. I’m attempting to pare down there, but fighting my inner magpie collection impulses is proving difficult. What are some of your favorite design resources, we’re all itching to know? All of them show the designer’s and owner’s eclectic, distinctive, and well-honed point of view or vision.
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