How a Strangely Shaped Summer House Revived One Artist’s Practice

Pat J. Fraley

Often referred to as the architect of happiness, Andrew Geller is best known for designing a handful of small, unique houses that dotted the shorelines of Long Island, N.Y., in the late 1950s and ’60s. There was the Grasshopper, built in 1966, an abstract wood-and-glass structure that, with its sharp, tilting angles, looked as if it were going to jump off the beach in Southampton; the Milk Carton (1958), a rectangular box turned at a 45 degree angle to the sea in Ocean Bay Park on Fire Island; and the Double Diamond (1959), made of two congruent 17-foot-tall cedar cubes, balanced on their edges, that resemble a pair of binoculars pointed toward the horizon in Westhampton Beach. In the latter home — one of the few projects of Geller’s that’s still standing — the void between the two pods is filled with triangular windows at both the north and south sides, and a tall brick chimney painted in swirling sky blue and white stripes rises from the facade like a candy cane. These buildings were celebrated not only for their playfulness and practicality — Geller, who died in 2011 at age 87, believed homes had a better chance of weathering gale-force winds if their leading edges faced the water — but also for their accessibility, given that most of his designs cost under $10,000 to build.

“These ‘summer-use playhouses,’ as Geller liked to call them, provided the opportunity to express himself and try out his own ideas,” wrote the architectural historian Alastair Gordon in his 2003 book “Beach Houses,” a monograph on the architect, who would sketch seaside cottages as a way to break up the monotony of his day job devising shopping centers at the New York design firm Raymond Loewy & Associates. In turn, Gordon continued, “these little dream houses inspired self-expression and personal freedom” for those lucky enough to inhabit them.

The Double Diamond’s current resident, the artist Jason Bard Yarmosky, arrived in need of just that. A native New Yorker, Yarmosky, 33, made a name for himself with his hyper-realistic oil paintings and drawings of his maternal grandfather and grandmother playing make-believe — him in a tutu, wielding a baseball bat, as in “Ballet” (2012), for example, or her in a star-printed, Wonder Woman-style leotard, as in “The Wanderer” (2015) — works that explore ideas of self-identity and the passing of time. But last April, he lost his 92-year-old grandfather, Leonard Bard, to illness. And with his grandmother, Elaine, having died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2018, Yarmosky found himself alone and without a muse.

Overcome with grief, he didn’t paint for a month. It was only in October, when he moved from his home in Brooklyn into his cousin’s beach house — which has been in Yarmosky’s family since it was built for his relative’s parents, Arthur Pearlroth and Mitch Rein — that he felt motivated to take risks with his work again. “It’s become my journal,” he says of the Double Diamond, where, for the past five months, cocooned within the space, he has created dozens of abstract paintings in oil and wax, some of which feature a silver skeletonlike figure that appears to be searching for something that is no longer physically there. “All my notes and ideas, whether they are paintings or writings, I put them up everywhere on the walls, and then I take them down and put other ones up,” he says. “I found a space for all of my thoughts to live in.”

The spare, 600-square-foot house made for a perfect canvas — every cedar plank wall, cabinet and door is painted the same shade of pale driftwood gray, and the only seating is a hanging podlike wicker chair and a pair of tan cushioned benches that fold into the walls of the living area that forms the hull of the diamonds — but the building’s eccentric angles make the structure anything but basic; within its recesses, secret spaces abound. As with a boat, much of the living is meant to happen outdoors, and the washing and sleeping quarters are small and tucked away, accessible through cubbylike doors. In the 350-square-foot main room, there is the brick wood-burning fireplace, the only source of heat; a white, round pedestal table; and an open kitchen alcove with built-in shelves and new retro-style appliances, including a mint green refrigerator. In the enclosed pods, located at either side of the house, are a total of three bedrooms, with two queen-size beds and a set of narrow bunk beds — Geller called them “bunk rooms” for their small footprint and cramped head space — and a bathroom whose wooden shower stall opens, through a hatch, onto a steep staircase down to the dunes. A shower that leads straight to the outdoors is a signature shared by most of Geller’s residential projects. While his structures differed greatly in size and shape — he had a rule that he would never repeat himself — they were all designed with one thing in mind: the water.

When it was built, the house was barely 100 feet from the beach, but in 2015, the family enlisted the environmentally conscious design firm Cookfox Architects to set it back behind the coastal erosion hazard line — a move that kept the historic structure safe from the elements but also allowed for an additional, 3,300-square-foot residence, which is more in keeping with the oversize neighboring homes, to be constructed on the property. (Though the second home complements its older counterpart with its cubic shape, two-by-four wooden pool deck and hand-cut cedar plank facade.) Still, from the Double Diamond, which received a new copper roof and was raised above the dunes to its original height (over the years, its base had become buried under 10 feet of sand), the Atlantic remains clearly visible — and has made its way into Yarmosky’s paintings.

On the northeastern wall of the main room, where the best light can be found, Yarmosky has hung two of his abstract oil-and-wax works, which feature a man swimming in the sea, his arm carving the water and his eyes wide and intent on his task. Across the room are another pair of paintings: a sun breaking through a gray sky over the waves, and a moon dangling in the darkness. Pinned beside the latter piece is a poem by Yarmosky, the ending of which reads, “As long as you look up from time to time, you’ll see that time sleeps in the sky too.”

Nearby are a few black-and-white renderings of a pine tree Yarmosky found on the side of the road after Christmas. He decided to bring it to the beach and stick it on the property’s jetty and watch as waves of saltwater crashed into it — just for the pleasure of witnessing it, he says. Clearly, living at the house has made room for inspiration to arise in unexpected ways, infusing his work with depth and spontaneity. “I’ve been able to deal with loss and my grief in a space that doesn’t pressure me,” he says, “and that has allowed me to enjoy the process of making art in a new way. It’s been a blessing.”

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