Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction – Christopher Bascom Rawlins

As the 1960s became The Sixties, architect Horace Gifford executed a remarkable series of beach houses that transformed the terrain and culture of New York’s Fire Island. Growing up on the beaches of Florida, Gifford forged a deep connection with coastal landscapes. Pairing this sensitivity with jazzy improvisations on modernist themes, he perfected a sustainable modernism in cedar and glass that was as attuned to natural landscapes as to our animal natures. Gifford’s serene 1960s pavilions provided refuge from a hostile world, while his exuberant post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS masterpieces orchestrated bacchanals of liberation. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift once spurned Hollywood limos for the rustic charm of Fire Island’s boardwalks. Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s here. Diane von Furstenburg showed off her latest wrap dresses to an audience that included Halston, Giorgio Sant’ Angelo, Calvin Klein and Geoffrey Beene. Today, such a roster evokes the aloof, gated compounds of the Hamptons or Malibu. But these celebrities lived in modestly scaled homes alongside middle-class vacationers, all with equal access to Fire Island’s natural beauty. Blending cultural and architectural history, Fire Island Modernist ponders a fascinating era through an overlooked architect whose life, work and colorful milieu trace the operatic arc of a lost generation, and still resonate with artistic and historical import.

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