Located between the North and South Forks of Long Island, New York, Shelter Island is sometimes referred to as the "un-Hamptons," a low-key alternative to Montauk with equally great beaches and food. It is decidedly less crowded and flashy than its neighboring towns to the south. Though more discreet, Shelter Island is still full of surprises — enter in Stuart Parr’s Clearhouse. The house — whose design was realized by architect Michael P Johnson — is elevated on stilts not uncommon to the area’s beach houses, which elevates Shelter Island’s unpretentious style to a new level, thanks to its sophisticated and minimal design.
The stilts used in the Clearhouse design were inspired by his rental house in nearby Sag Harbor. Stuart Parr had long rented a simple wooden house there, and he liked the area’s active lifestyle, including water skiing. His rental house sat on stilts over the water of the town’s scenic cove, which gave it striking views of the water and sailboats. He considered buying the house from its owner, but was unexpectedly seduced by the wooded plot of land on Shelter Island that would eventually become the site of his home.
Something of the Sag Harbor house, however, would eventually find its way to the Island. Parr shared how a nearby property inspired him to wait to build his dream home. "I went to this property, where there wasn’t an existing house, and the gentleman who owned the property had cut a few trees down at the top of the property where the house lies today so that your eyes could explore the view," Parr says. "He’d cut a path or a driveway to get to the top, and I remember driving up — it was about 900 feet long — and saw Connecticut thirty-five miles away beyond the Peconic. There was this 180-degree view." The vista caused Parr to change course. "I had this moment where I thought, if I can afford this, I’ll forgo a house and wait till I can afford to build," he says.
The elevated house in Sag Harbor offered a more intimate — almost immersive — perspective on the water than an earthbound house.
Buying the land was just the beginning. He soon learned the way of the land long before embarking on designing and building the house. He slowly removed trees and underbrush to clarify the landscape and open views. He camped on the site to understand the arc of sunlight throughout the day. All told, eight years passed between the purchase of the land and the completion of the house.
The elevated house in Sag Harbor offered a more intimate — almost immersive — perspective on the water than an earthbound house. So Parr gave his new house a lift. Though he might not talk about it as a point of reference, Parr’s contemporary house also draws on one of the early landmarks of modernism: the Villa Savoye by the master architect Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier raised his house, which he referred to as a "machine for living" on small columns. It created a covered parking area for cars, an economical and space-saving move that was radical at the time. On Shelter Island, Parr uses this still relatively unconventional design, to elevate the house, opening out views on all sides, including out to the Peconic Bay. He created, in effect, a machine for viewing. "The inspiration came from the idea of keeping nature inside the house," he says.
Navigating Shelter Island's beachy roads, and up the driveway carved out of the surrounding woods, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit's luxury interiors provide a sense of purposeful tranquility as you approach the Clearhouse.
The rooms are arranged in a horizontal band with floor to ceiling windows or sliding glass walls to maximize the views of the bay and the landscape. At ground level, a terrace with a glass balustrade extends from the house like an outdoor room with no walls.
Though the steel and glass house might look austere from the outside — an intentional contrast with its natural surroundings — inside it is both warm and serene. Stone floors throughout the living and dining rooms and kitchen have a slight golden hue. Many of the furnishing are rich woods or upholstered in leather, giving the house a masculine feeling. Dark rosewood panels with richly grained surfaces divide the living area from the bedrooms. Parr acquired this luxurious material through a friend who owns a design gallery; they were reclaimed from a former bank in Manhattan. Quirky elements, like anatomical models in the living room and a life-sized sculpture of a cow in the dining, provide a dose of levity and personality to the house.
The time and care Parr took to create the home belie its deceptive simplicity. "For a modern house, a lot of people come in and exclaim,’ I don’t usually like modern, but I like your house,’" Parr says. "I know why that is, it’s because your eye isn’t diverted all over the place. It’s very calm."