Architecture August 5, 2013 By Nalina Moses

Travis-Wall House, Fire Island Pines, NY, 1972-75.  Architect Horace Gifford.

Travis-Wall House, Fire Island Pines, NY, 1972-75. Architect Horace Gifford.

Their taut, boxy volumes, wrapped with horizontal, vertical and diagonal wood planks, recall the vernacular colonial architecture of the region, the beach shacks of central Florida, where Gifford grew up, and the geometrically-inspired designs of Louis Kahn, the great modern architect Gifford studied with at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gifford’s houses have layouts and facades that are deceptively simple, as if each is a pile of boxes. But their proportions and dimensions are derived from ideal geometries, typically squares and circles. And the houses are devised highly strategically. They’re situated on their narrow plots to frame optimal views to the water, and opened with slit and ribbon windows to capture sunlight at specific times during the day. It’s this disciplined form-making that separates Gifford’s houses from other modern-style bungalows. Forty or fifty years after they were built, their pristine, often austere, exteriors still feel bold.

The interiors of the houses are finished in the same knotty cedar planks as the exteriors, yet are shaped with greater theatricality. They’re organized with open plans that have minimal partitions and rooms that seem to spill into one another, and are each centered around a large, high living space that’s hidden from the outside. Many times the central space is set a few feet lower from the adjoining rooms, and furnished with built-in seating along the sides, a freestanding fireplace at the center, exposed rafters on the ceiling, and skylights or clerestories to pull light inside.

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