How can a home best take advantage of the light and air that moves off the Little Peconic Bay at Nassau Point?
That question was central to a four-year renovation project completed in 2019 by architect Melissa Cicetti, owner of Studio Cicetti Architecture in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
In the house, which previously featured Italianate white stucco with terracotta tiles, Cicetti saw a structure that felt out of place in the waterfront Cutchogue community. It was a home that perhaps failed to live up to its full potential in a spectacular location.
“It didn’t take advantage of the site,” she said of the home in its previous state. “It’s such a dramatic site — that bluff and all those views.”
So the architect, who worked on the project with local contractor Eugene Burger of Burger Custom Homes, set out to raise the height of the home, which Cicetti describes as “traditional with contemporary lines,” to expand the views farther out. When you walk through the front door today, you now see expansive water views that were previously obscured. There’s also newly designed landscaping from another local firm, Marshall Paetzel Landscape Architecture of Mattituck.
We asked Cicetti to give us a tour of the project and her advice on how you can make the most of the natural beauty of the North Fork. Read along below.
Northforker: When you’re an architect and you’re working on a project like this, how do you balance your vision with a client’s expectations?
Melissa Cicetti: The main thing is to listen to your client really carefully and respect what they’re saying. You just have a dialogue. I’m not an architect who forces a vision upon people, I kind of listen to what they want. And listen to what their desires are right? And their wish list, what they enjoy.
NF: So it’s a conversation?
MC: There’s a dialogue back and forth … I listen to how they want to live and then I do what I do best to allow them to have that reality.
NF: This was a four-year project that grew from what it was. In what ways did it grow?
MC: I think it grew just because of desires to have space for family members to visit and to accommodate more entertaining space. It’s not like it grew exponentially, but more in the volume, the shape, to have a sense of height in addition to length.
NF: Is there something about the the natural beauty and aesthetic of the North Fork that you draw inspiration from in a project like this?
MC: With Nassau Point it’s somewhat hidden and off the beaten track and you have this higher position in relationship to the water … [With the North Fork] there’s this beautiful expanse and quality of life on the water, and also a rich farming history. There’s also pretty amazing native vegetation.
NF: What else about that waterfront location is important to consider?
MC: The sense air moving through [the home]. That’s another thing that’s really amazing when you’re close to water, it’s like, that breeze off the water … Light and air, those are the two things when you’re at the seashore.
NF: It’s an interesting profession you’ve chosen. How long have you been doing this and what got you into it?
MC: I’ve had my own firm about 12 years, but I’ve been working in architecture firms for 33 years. I actually got into it because I made all my own clothes [as a teenager]. Your clothing is the immediate environment for your body. The room is the next environment. So it kind of grows like a Russian doll. How we inhabit clothes can extend to how we inhabit space.
NF: And you also teach?
MC: In the interior design department at Pratt Institute [in Brooklyn]. I’ve also learned through teaching. It keeps my thoughts about my profession fresh. It really made me understand how I got into architecture, because I’m having to describe to students why you do what you do and how to make space, how to choose materials and how to work with people. That’s helped define me as a professional.
NF: And working with people extends beyond just the client doesn’t it?
MC: Yeah like on the Nassau Point project, Stacy [Paetzel] and her team and Eugene Burger, everyone did an excellent job. And the clients themselves are really wonderful people. They gave latitude and they gave good pushback. I think that’s a great kind of client, somebody who wants to be involved but also listens.