On a rise overlooking dunes and salt flats on the Shelter Island Sound the site is almost ideal, its impediment are its suburban feeling surroundings to the South East. The design developed out of a need to obscure these neighbors and a desire to create a minimal weekend retreat from New York City.

Project Name: The Box House
Studio Name: Messana O’Rorke
Shelter Island, United States
Photography: Brian Messana

The Box House by Messana O'Rorke - Sheet1
Living Room ©Brian Messana

The Box House is a simple solution for a simple brief, which required accommodations for a couple and their dog, over night guest were not a consideration. They wanted to feel connected, but protected from nature, also the house needed to respond to nature; natural ventilation, solar gain with low winter suns, but shaded in summer. A glass box was the preference, but unsuitable for the site.

A continuous wall became the solution, evocative of a sea wall or barrier, but the structure needed to be light and shaded, a ‘C’ section developed; the floor and roof seemingly cantilever from an axial wall. The structure divides private living space, gardens and the view from public space, the driveway, the road and the neighbors.

The Box House by Messana O'Rorke - Sheet2
Side Elevation ©Brian Messana

The house floats above the terrain, with its base mirroring the roof. The wall clad in white porcelain panels captures the shadows and silhouettes of trees and vegetation, like charcoal on paper, but in an animated rendering. A single opening in the wall reached by two stone steps is the entry into the private world of the house.

Three glass walls, set deep within a broad verandah, enclose the house and provide unobstructed views out over the dunes to the sea and Long Island’s North Folk. Large sliding sections of glass wall open the interior to the outside, and a continuous operable skylight along the inside of the wall opens to capture the soft Summer breezes coming in from the Sound.

The Box House by Messana O'Rorke - Sheet3
Back View ©Brian Messana

A large living space containing a fireplace, seating, dining table and kitchen is divided from the bedroom by a solid block, which contains the bathrooms, service space and storage.

The wooden floor extends out onto the verandah, but also up the inside of the wall and out across the ceiling. The effect will be reminiscent of a cabin or a boat, and the wood will be raw and allowed to weather with the climate and movement of the salty air.


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