This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy

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By Arlene Hirst
Two of the worst hurricanes in New York history bookend the saga of a Saltaire cottage.

Michael Silber spent twenty years on Fire Island in three communities, living in many houses before he found the one that was right for him. The house that put an end to his search was a 1939 bungalow in the village of Saltaire, just 50 yards from the beach. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 1 of 20 - Three-quarters of a century after it was built, a beach home in Saltaire, New York, was elevated eight feet and enlarged by adding a new second story. Its cedar shingles were coated in Benjamin Moore's Westcott Navy 1624. 

Three-quarters of a century after it was built, a beach home in Saltaire, New York, was elevated eight feet and enlarged by adding a new second story. Its cedar shingles were coated in Benjamin Moore's Westcott Navy 1624. 

With its combination of distinctive architecture, good light, and oceanfront location, it completely won the Manhattan-based management consultant’s heart. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 2 of 20 - Owner Michael Silber introduced an eclectic mix of furniture with help from interior designer Tracey Garet. By the front door, an antique mirror hangs over a rattan desk; the leather T chairs are by Katavolos, Littell & Kelley.

Owner Michael Silber introduced an eclectic mix of furniture with help from interior designer Tracey Garet. By the front door, an antique mirror hangs over a rattan desk; the leather T chairs are by Katavolos, Littell & Kelley.

The shingle cottage is one of many that were built by master carpenter Mike Coffey after the record-shattering Great New England Hurricane of 1938 hit the area. Michael rented it for three years before buying it in 2011, at which point he decided to renovate and expand. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 3 of 20 -  In the dining room, there’s a Poul Henningsen pendant, a Hans Wegner table, and Ward Bennett Landmark chairs. 

 In the dining room, there’s a Poul Henningsen pendant, a Hans Wegner table, and Ward Bennett Landmark chairs. 

Through a mutual friend, he found Eric Schiller, a Brooklyn-based architect who worked for 15 years in the office of I.M. Pei and also has a house and practice on Fire Island.

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 4 of 20 - Architect Eric Schiller built storage units underneath the stairs in the kitchen and had them painted Geranium by Benjamin Moore. Old Herman Miller posters hang on a nearby wall.

Architect Eric Schiller built storage units underneath the stairs in the kitchen and had them painted Geranium by Benjamin Moore. Old Herman Miller posters hang on a nearby wall.

Schiller had a clear brief: "Michael wanted the house to be big enough for his sister and her family to visit, but it had to be done in the character of the Coffey house," he remembers. "It had to be light and airy but retain the original’s spirit." And, set at the foot of a dune, right near the water, it had to meet the strictest FEMA requirements. 

Shop the Look
Herman Miller Landmark Chair
Herman Miller Landmark Chair
Ward Bennett based the design of his Landmark Chair on the shape of a classic English chair. He then pared away what he deemed to be nonessential elements of the design to reveal the beauty inherent to the chair’s function: in a word, comfort.
Louis Poulsen PH 5 Pendant Light
Louis Poulsen PH 5 Pendant Light
Poul Henningsen introduced the PH 5 Pendant Light in 1958 as a classic new product. No one knew at the time that it would eventually become synonymous with the PH brand. Regardless of how the light is installed or the light source used, the PH 5 is completely glare–free.
Benjamin Moore Paint – Geranium
Benjamin Moore Paint – Geranium
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This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 5 of 20 - In the living room, a yellow fiberglass stool by Nanna Ditzel sits alongside a French chain-link floor lamp from the 1940s. 

In the living room, a yellow fiberglass stool by Nanna Ditzel sits alongside a French chain-link floor lamp from the 1940s. 

The restrictions didn’t deter either man. "Everything is planned for disaster," says Schiller, who adds that houses that were fully FEMA-compliant and were prepared following FEMA storm guidelines avoided significant damage from Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that swept through the region in 2012, just months before Michael began construction. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 6 of 20 - There are two outdoor showers. The upstairs one is an extension off the master bath, with shades for privacy. The fixtures are by Sonoma Forge.

There are two outdoor showers. The upstairs one is an extension off the master bath, with shades for privacy. The fixtures are by Sonoma Forge.

The rules require that the house be elevated eight feet above the ground. To avoid a leggy look, Schiller set it on a plinth with a base that tapers upward at an angle. A steel frame is hidden beneath the cedar shingles, which are covered with a gray-blue stain. "We wanted it to go dark, so that the white trim around the windows would pop," explains Schiller. He also thought to add the geraniums to brighten the window boxes.

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 7 of 20 - The sun-filled second story, which serves as the master bedroom and lounge, is pierced by a metal chimney. The Fusion bed by Zeitraum is flanked by nightstands by Robert Kuo and lamps by Cedric Hartman from the 1960s. A custom Moroccan rug covers the floor. A pair of refinished midcentury Danish chairs sit beside a Hans Wegner chest.

The sun-filled second story, which serves as the master bedroom and lounge, is pierced by a metal chimney. The Fusion bed by Zeitraum is flanked by nightstands by Robert Kuo and lamps by Cedric Hartman from the 1960s. A custom Moroccan rug covers the floor. A pair of refinished midcentury Danish chairs sit beside a Hans Wegner chest.

"Fire Island is a critical levee for the mainland. There’s a commitment to maintaining it. If you grow up here, you get the bug." Eric Schiller, architect

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 8 of 20 - The painting at the top of the stairs is by Barbara Johnson. "Having paintings in the house gives a wonderful sense of fantasy," says Michael. "They enrich the house without competing with the beach."

The painting at the top of the stairs is by Barbara Johnson. "Having paintings in the house gives a wonderful sense of fantasy," says Michael. "They enrich the house without competing with the beach."

While the project had a happy ending, the process was bumpy—not because of Sandy, which thankfully spared Michael’s home, but because he lost almost a year in a bitter zoning fight. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 9 of 20 - A Bend Sofa by Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia commands one corner of the second floor; joining it is a Maria Preciosa coffee table by Etel Carmona. A vintage red Italian pendant hangs overhead.

A Bend Sofa by Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia commands one corner of the second floor; joining it is a Maria Preciosa coffee table by Etel Carmona. A vintage red Italian pendant hangs overhead.

He explains that in 1939 the setback had been 10 feet, but that later it was changed to 15 feet, so he actually needed a variance to build on the original footprint. (He also discovered that the existing detached garage was built one foot over the property line, so it was lifted, inched over, and attached to the house, where it now serves as a guest bedroom.) 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 10 of 20 -

Michael thought getting a variance wouldn’t be a problem, but anxious neighbors protested his design to the zoning board. A long approval process and hefty legal bills ensued. He finally won over the board when he presented them with a drawing of a starkly modern cube and said, "I could have built this."

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 11 of 20 -

Michael decided to keep the layout of the 1,330-square-foot first floor, but the second-story addition, which roughly doubles the space, took a dramatically different direction. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 12 of 20 -

"I wanted a loft-like feel," he says. The large room includes an expansive seating area where company can enjoy drinks and the view. There’s also a separate nook he uses as an office, with a couch that folds out as a bed for guests. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 13 of 20 -

To top it off, Schiller created a ceiling of varying heights: The low points reduce the scale, while the high points make it soar and give the structure more strength against storm winds. No section of the ceiling is more than 16 feet wide. "It feels like origami," the architect observes. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 14 of 20 -

Michael admits it would have been cheaper to demolish the house and start from scratch. But, he says, "I wanted to keep the quality at any cost." 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 15 of 20 -

Earning Its Sea Legs 

Raised to avoid floodwaters, Michael Silber’s beach house begins a resilient new chapter. 

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 16 of 20 -

1938 The Great New England Hurricane slams the East Coast, destroying scores of homes and businesses on Fire Island. 

1939 Carpenter Mike Coffey starts rebuilding the village of Saltaire with shingle cottages. 

2011 Michael Silber buys a Coffey house 50 yards from the beach, with plans to renovate. 

2011–2012 A zoning dispute delays construction. 

2012 Hurricane Sandy washes away at least a dozen Fire Island homes and damages hundreds more. Silber’s cottage is spared. 

 2013 The renovation, which includes FEMA-compliant upgrades, begins. 

2015 Construction ends. The new house is now elevated eight feet above the ground.   

This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 17 of 20 -
This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 18 of 20 -
This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 19 of 20 -
This Eclectic Beach Bungalow on Fire Island Was Saved After Sandy - Photo 20 of 20 -

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