A Modernist Beach Cottage by Andrew Geller Gets a Contemporary Update

Situated on five acres, and surrounded by dogwood and oak trees, this cottage at 375 Brick Kiln Road in Bridgehampton is serene and charming. It’s also a modernist masterpiece.

Unconventional architect Andrew Geller in 1963 built the 1,200 square-foot vacation home for friend and co-worker Betty Reese in 1963. It was the second residence he built for her; a storm the previous year destroyed the first, a sideways A-frame on the sand dunes of Sagaponack. That home, which had been built and furnished for $7,000—a bargain even in the 1950s—marked the start of Geller’s prolific career. When The New York Times featured it in 1957, Geller received hundreds of calls. “I very cleverly told these people I don’t reproduce anything I’ve ever done,” he said in the documentary Modern Tide. “I do it once, and that’s it.”

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For Reese’s new cottage, Geller improved on his original A-frame design; he flattened the roof and reduced the slant of the walls. He also added triangular windows that jutted out from the siding and provided varied perspectives of the woods. “Most of [Geller’s] clients live in the cube of a Manhattan apartment, work in the cube of a Manhattan office and feel liberated in the new definitions of space around them,” Fred Smith wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1963. Betty Reese, of her home, said, “I don’t care if I never see another box of a room. My windows frame the treetops and the sky.”

Geller went on to create dozens of quirky, quintessential weekend houses, and in doing so, introduced a sense of playfulness to architecture in The Hamptons. “They were little dream houses that inspired self-expression and personal freedom,” wrote author Alastair Gordon in 2002 in Beach Houses: Andrew Geller. “His clients loved them.”

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When Hamptons-based designer John Bjornen first saw the Reese residence, 10 years ago, he fell for it, too. “I loved its energy, the artistic spirit and fresh sculptural forms of the house,” he says. So when Bjornen was tasked to renovate and re-design the home for re-sale, it was a labor of love. “My dream was to extract the essence of the original design and riff on that,” he explains.

The essence of this house, like all of his others, was whimsy: “These houses are for play,” Geller once told Gordon, “so you can do fun things with them.” In keeping with that vision, Bjornen updated the architectural gem to make it the perfect modern escape from the city. Here, Bjornen shares some of these improvements, which can be applied to your home too.

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Honor yet improve the original

The original house had a vaulted living room, kitchen, half bath and small bedroom downstairs, with a bedroom, bath and two loft beds upstairs. It had great bones, but felt small. Bjornen “cleansed the palette,” and painted all the interior surfaces white—from the cedar plank walls and floors to the original stone fireplace—which made the house feel bigger and brighter. “It makes the interiors crisp and tactile,” Bjornen explains, “and allows the architecture to shine.”

He decorated the home with both vintage and contemporary furnishings, including Prouvé dining chairs and a teak table in the living room; a vintage life preserver and Javanese indigo throw in the downstairs bedroom; and mid-century table lamps and leather Milo Baughman furniture in the master. “We wanted to breathe new life into the house and bring it up to date,” he says.

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Add modern amenities

Bjornen paid careful attention to the kitchen and bathrooms to make the home feel more harmonious. He utilized white, glass and stone throughout, and transformed the kitchen with custom wood cabinets, nautical hardware and white Caesarstone quartz counters. He also created a spa-like experience in the baths, with white subway tiles and glazed penny-tile floors. In the upstairs bathroom, one of Geller’s original angular windows allows for a private view of the trees, adding to the feeling of sanctuary.

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Incorporate nature, create views

Balancing architecture with nature is key for peace mind, so Bjornen stained the exterior shingles shades of black, gray and green. “We stained the outside dark to marry it to nature,” he explains. “Now your eye goes to all of the elements that make it unique.” Bjornen also worked with friend and landscape designer Joseph Cornetta to rework the grounds to create serene vistas from the house. “I love the upper deck off the master-bedroom loft,” Bjornen says. “It really feels like a perch in a tree house, looking over the entire property.”

geller-3Dedicate or create a space to relax

For ultimate relaxation, Bjornen added a heated Gunite pool to the property, as well as a 250 square-foot pool house, complete with its own bath and basement for extra storage. He placed by the pool Design Within Reach reclining patio chairs and Moroccan tea tables, framed the area with low hedges, and strung hammocks from the trees.

Consider the future

The five-acre property still has room for further customization. “Someone could buy it and fall in love with this quirky little cottage as is, or, someone could build a larger main house, allowing the original house to become a fabulous guest house or artist’s studio.” There is also room for a tennis court or whatever suits the next homeowner’s needs. Pleasure and play were essential to the original design of the home, and should also be in its future.

For more information about this property, contact Cee Scott Brown and Jack Pearson.

Photography by Costas Picadas