The Sweet Escape: This Circa-1911 Cottage on Fire Island Was Restored with Its Rustic Heritage in Mind
When a design dynamo and her husband need a break from city life, they don't have to go far. A 90-minute drive and a stress-melting ferry ride transport them to Fire Island, where they've updated a century-old cottage just enough to make coming together with family effortless. Welcome to the Village of Saltaire, where the living is easy, the showers are outdoors, and the sunsets are spectacular.
There are few places as carefree as the Village of Saltaire on Fire Island, a sliver of sandy, forested land off the southern shore of Long Island, New York. Cars are forbidden, the "streets" are narrow wooden boardwalks, and residents bike or walk barefoot to the bay and ocean beaches, often pulling their belongings behind them in red wagons. Those qualities won over Alex Bates and Andrew Hoffman as young parents 30 years ago, when they began renting summer houses there as a getaway from their place on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Their then-six-year-old daughter, Katie, encouraged them to put down roots. "She said to me, 'Mommy, you know, I have friends who keep the same house every year,'" says Bates.
Since then, the Bates-Hoffman clan has returned to the same 1911 cedar-shingled cottage they bought 25 years ago. The couple have decorated with a light touch, incorporating many pieces inherited from the previous owner. Even the garden furniture has a pedigree: It belonged to Bates's grandparents, who ran their family's bygone Buffalo, New York, department store, called Flint & Kent. That's also the name she chose for her new home-furnishings line, and the design consultancy she began nine years ago after working in executive creative roles at Macy's, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and West Elm. Many of the home's textiles arrived via her other current endeavor, as creative director and cofounder of Bloomist, an online retailer of small-batch home goods.
Bates and Hoffman, a former menswear executive who now lends his expertise to Flint & Kent, have deliberately kept the three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot cottage rustic and true to its heritage. It wasn't until 2013, after Hurricane Sandy flooded it with 14 inches of water, that they embarked on renovations. "I finally built my dream kitchen," says Bates. It has custom cabinetry, and undercounter freezer drawers she calls "game changers" because they made way for a 36-inch Viking All refrigerator she can fill for gatherings and guests—including Katie, who lives in New York and visits regularly. (Their other daughter and son live in Vermont and Colorado, respectively.) The sole bathroom was refurbished too, but left intentionally spare. "We only take showers indoors a few times a year," she says. "We have an outdoor one that we use all the time."
Bates never tires of Fire Island's isolation from the mainland, or its low-key social scene. "The minute you get on the ferry, your shoulders relax and your stress dissipates," she says. "Getting dressed up here means putting on lipstick." It's no wonder she spends much of the spring and fall here as well. "I set up my office on the porch, and when I need a break, I dig in the garden," she says. The front of the 1911 beach cottage—one of the first built by the Fire Island Beach Development Company, whose slogan was "Saltaire, a Children's Paradise"—is wrapped with Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' grass. "We love sitting on the porch and watching it dance in the wind," says owner Alex Bates. "And at the end of the workday, I walk to the bay and watch the sunset."
Room to Breathe
The front-porch banquettes double as guest beds; Bates calls the hemp covering the cushions the "best fabric ever" because it holds its shape, gets softer with use, and is mold-resistant. Most of the pillows are made from vintage Turkish rugs. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Alex Bates stripped the raffia-and-rattan coffee table to its plywood core. The rattan chair is Indonesian; the floor is finished in Benjamin Moore high-gloss floor and patio paint in a custom white.
A Serene Scene
Their house's walls, ceilings, cabinets, and most of its floors are painted in Fine Paints of Europe White 0001, in the Eurolux Gloss formula, which Bates loves because it reflects light and mimics the enamel finishes used on boats. The custom Cisco Brothers sofa from Dixon Rye in the living room is slipcovered in sturdy white linen; the throw pillows from Flint & Kent are made of vintage hemp and a rare, naturally brown cotton from Guatemala. The bookshelf to the right of the sofa is from the Martha Stewart for Bernhardt Turkey Hill furniture collection, which Bates worked on. It was originally a natural maple that she painted white.
The living room's Tunisian Halfa rug from Flint & Kent was woven by women in the village of Garat Agueb using soft, durable indigenous halfa grass. On the vintage side table, which came with the house, stand a Tracie Hervy vase from Bloomist and a clay head sculpted by women in Sejnane, Tunisia. Above is a "floral-inspired fossil" from Ron Nicole. The basket to the left was a housewarming gift; they use it to store kindling and newspaper for the fireplace.
A glass-topped coffee table was a hand-me-down from their neighbors. Bates painted it white and filled it with an ombré arrangement of seashells collected from their local beaches and on trips to Florida and Harbour Island, in the Bahamas.
Atop an inherited jelly cabinet, homegrown dahlias spring out of a Peter Sheldon vase from Bloomist; the hand-thrown Bob Dinetz "Pistachio" pitcher is also from Bloomist. Bates found the fluted bowl at the Brimfield Antique Flea Market, in Massachusetts. The watercolor was a gift from her sister, who painted it.
Happy to Host
Instead of a built-in island, Bates and her husband, Andrew Hoffman, refinished a turn-of-the-century oak shop table from Bobo Intriguing Objects, in High Point, North Carolina, in Dark Watermark by Sydney Harbour Paint Company. Their Viking All refrigerator, which easily fits platters of clams or tomatoes, hides behind cabinets painted in Fine Paints of Europe White 0001, in the durable Eco Brilliant formula.
The kitchen cabinets hold a trove of finds both new and antique, high and low. The pitcher is Ilse Crawford for IKEA, while the bowls are from Mud Australia and Heath Ceramics; pottery by Bob Dinetz, Peter Sheldon, and Eric Bonin is from Bloomist. On the counter are baskets Bates found at a Moroccan market and a vintage photograph snagged at Brimfield. The stool is from Tortoise General Store, in Los Angeles. The Tunisian Berber rug is from Flint & Kent; it was handmade by women artisans in Gafsa, in the southwestern part of the country.
In the master bedroom, crisp Matteo linens contrast with stonewashed shams from The Citizenry and a Tunisian hayek checkerboard wool throw. Bates bought the upholstered headboard years ago at West Elm; the painting was a Mother's Day gift from her husband. Two stacked tables, found on a trip to India, improvise a nightstand, and a vintage goatskin and a Flint & Kent Tunisian halfa grass rug layer in texture. Outside, wisteria and highbush blueberry bushes offer privacy.
A Cisco Brothers table in the master bedroom displays an array of mementos, including black pots and artwork made by their children, local beach stones, and a sketch of their home drawn by a houseguest as a thank-you gift. A vintage silver toast rack holds an old postcard of the Fire Island lighthouse. The bronze lamp is by Thomas O'Brien for Circa Lighting.
A rustic table on the front porch is also Bates's home office. Around it are midcentury Norman Cherner molded-plywood chairs and a junk-shop find she painted black. She collected the straw totes on spring vacations in the Bahamas; the tobacco-drying basket above the doorway is another Brimfield score.
A Fond Farewell
"The sound of summer is a screen door banging," says Bates, who hung an exit sign (also from Brimfield) over the front entrance.
Bathing in Beauty
Bates and Hoffman refurbished the cottage's sole bathroom when they did the kitchen. Its shower rarely gets used, however, except for on cold spring or fall days. They prefer this outdoor shower. "We use it all the time," says Bates. "It is heaven to start your day there under blue skies." The planters by the back door hold verbena bonariensis, heuchera, lavender and a wisteria vine.
A Place in the Sun
The garden furniture originally belonged to Bates's grandparents. The pillows, from Flint & Kent, are made of vintage fabric. White crepe myrtle covers the privacy trellis.