An Oasis of Playfulness

The only Andrew Geller house remaining on the South Fork
Inside the Teepee Durell Godfrey

In an era in which too much is never enough — as ostentatiously expressed in new and reconstructed residences built to the absolute maximum size allowed by zoning — a wooded one-acre-plus parcel in Springs is an oasis of playfulness.

Andrew Geller, the renowned architect, artist, and designer who died in 2011, is known for whimsical, experimental, and irreverent structures, many of them built on the South Fork in the 1950s and ’60s. Few of these “summer-use playhouses,” as he called them, are standing today, but one can still find examples of his strikingly original and innovative designs. 

Much of Geller’s architectural work was accomplished as a freelancer: For 28 years, he was the chief designer and vice president of the Raymond Loewy Corporation, named for Loewy’s iconic products ranging from refrigerators and cars to cameras and cigarette packs.

Last year, Chris Fisher, a director and writer known for his work on the CBS television show “Person of Interest,” and his wife, Blair Moritz, bought the property on which Geller’s Antler House stands from its second owner, the late Mary Braverman. Ms. Braverman had succeeded the house’s original owners, Laurence and Laura Antler, for whom it was named.

Like Geller’s beach houses, including the still intact double-diamond Pearlroth House in Westhampton Beach, the 1968 Antler House is a physical manifestation of an incessantly creative mind, one that helps explain the architect’s “outsider” status. The two-story structure conjures origami that is unfolding before your eyes.

From the exterior, the rectangular box-like structure is joined bya sharp triangle here and a sloping protrusion there, yet it carries itself with a simple elegance reflective of the exuberance and modernism of the postwar years.

The house is also striking in its minimalism, although that is not surprising. According to Alastair Gordon, a biographer of Geller and former columnist for The East Hampton Star, the architect was guided by the principle that only 20 percent of a building lot should be used. Within that area, however, it was his opinion that one should “be as unpredictable as possible.”

“When we found this house, we immediately loved it,” Mr. Fisher said on a recent visit as his daughter, 5-month-old Poppy, smiled in his arms. “It looked like a wooden spaceship that had landed in the middle of a magical forest. It has all these little ‘space portals.’ ”

A native of Orange County in California, Mr. Fisher first came to the South Fork to visit a friend. “I didn’t know how physically beautiful it was,” he said. “I didn’t know how strong the conservation movement was. I came out here and was blown away, and immediately started looking online for houses. This was the first house I saw.” Ms. Moritz, who is from Ohio, “felt the same way I did,” he said. “It was our first purchase as a married couple.”

Mr. Fisher and Ms. Moritz have outfitted their East End getaway in a manner complementary to the house and its era. The sun-splashed second-story living area, which opens to a generous deck, is homey, with natural hues that reflect the surrounding flora, from the original wide-plank flooring and houseplants to the furniture and carpeting. “It’s like sleeping in a tree house,” Mr. Fisher said.

“I’ve always loved midcentury design because of its value — putting the house second and the land first,” he said, “and having this indoor-outdoor vibe. The light dances in here all day long — I think it’s about trying to get you outside.” The mildly psychedelic jazz of Thievery Corporation, flowing from a long-playing record on the turntable, only added to the harmonious feeling. “You can see when you’re up here,” Mr. Fisher said, “that this is just heaven.”

But heaven goes higher still, it turns out. From the ceiling, a pull-down staircase grants access to a hidden loft that has its own quirky angles.

“Originally, there was a tiny bathroom up there,” Mr. Fisher, who intends to restore the house according to Geller’s original drawings, said. “There is definitely whimsey, and little surprises around the corner; angles aren’t exactly what you think they would be, but the oddness never makes you feel uncomfortable. The oddness is a fun joke, nothing serious.”

True to Geller’s oeuvre, the design and construction of the simple and unimposing Antler House were guided by budget and maintenance considerations. “We liked that he would build his homes with something you could just buy at the hardware store,” Mr. Fisher said. “If something isn’t from Riverhead Building Supply, it probably isn’t something he would use.”

Geller’s influence also served to guide Mr. Fisher and Ms. Moritz in the choice of an accessory structure — a teepee that has a surprisingly generous interior. “We found out that teepees were a big inspiration to him,” Mr. Fisher said. “And it’s a temporary structure, it doesn’t take up any more of the land.”

The discovery of Geller’s original hand-drawn plans in another accessory structure (a shed that was removed upon the property’s purchase) will aid in the Antler House’s planned restoration. Jake Gorst, the architect’s grandson and author of the recently published “Andrew Geller: Deconstructed,” has provided other, more detailed plans, Mr. Fisher said, “so when we do restore it, we’ll have everything.”

Close to 50 years after its construction, the Antler House stands firm against the South Fork’s subsequent architectural trends. A listing for the property, Mr. Fisher said with a laugh, might read “No privacy hedges, no gunite pool, no manicured landscaping, no game room.” The land and the house, he said, were already perfect. “We just loved that it was a beautiful piece of land, we loved all the wood — it was so warm and rich, and made us feel hugged,” he said.

“A little house like this starts a conversation as to the type of architecture that respects the land,” Mr. Fisher observed. “We were thinking about a little garage, but that wasn’t the intent of the architect, and that’s not the intent of Mother Nature. You come out here to explore and embrace what naturally exists, so the smallest footprint we could have is what we were looking for.”

The Antler House resembles a work of origami that unfolds before your eyes. The house is small, so a large and welcoming teepee accommodates guests. It also provides a place for music and contemplation.
Because the living area is on the second story, it feels “like living in a tree house,” its occupants say. It was photographed from the loft. Five-month-old Poppy and her mother, Blair Moritz, feel right at home there.
Seashells substitute for beads on a doorway curtain. The varied interests of the writer and director Chris Fisher and his wife are illustrated by the objects and books they collect.
Artwork by Andrew Geller decorates the breakfast nook. The table and chairs evoke the period in which the house was built. After climbing into the loft on a ladder held in place with chain and pulleys, you can look down to the living area, where original wide-plank flooring has a homey vibe.
Unexpected angles in a hidden loft are evidence of Andrew Geller design, and they happen to mirror those of the teepee on the property.