As the founders of Haver & Skolnick Architects, an upscale firm based in Roxbury, Conn., Charles M. Haver and Stewart R. Skolnick spend most of their days designing expansive country estates. But when it came time to design their own getaway, they wanted the exact opposite.
“We wanted something very small, with privacy and an ocean view,” said Mr. Haver, 64.
Specifically, they wanted a home that was just big enough for the two of them and their German shorthaired pointer, Keeper, after discovering that maintaining a 1790s house in Connecticut was a full-time job.
“In Roxbury, we have about 3,500 square feet in our home, and our offices are in an antique barn that’s an additional 3,500 square feet,” said Mr. Skolnick, 68. “So you have two guys rambling around in 7,000 square feet.”
Looking to build a weekend house near the ocean, the couple bought two adjacent lots totaling 3.1 acres on Fishers Island, in Southold, N.Y., for $500,000 in 2012.
Deciding what to build there took them nearly a decade. “We went through probably 100 different schemes,” Mr. Skolnick said. “It was really good, though, because with each scheme we fleshed out what was really important to us without worrying about the check marks from a real estate point of view.”
A house with a single bedroom and a single full bathroom, they determined, would suit them just fine — although it might not be ideal for resale. Their builder, HP Broom Housewright, began construction on the 1,200-square-foot house, tower-like house in September 2020.
The first floor contains just one bedroom, one bathroom and a laundry room. The second floor feels surprisingly expansive, with a 20-foot hip-roof ceiling and water views on three sides. But it contains only a living room, a small galley kitchen and a powder room.
“The real thrust of the design was to capture the views,” Mr. Skolnick said. “We’re looking at the Atlantic Ocean, but we also see Fishers Island Sound off to one side, and we’re surrounded by ponds.”
To keep maintenance to a minimum, they chose exterior materials that would weather over time, including Alaskan yellow cedar shingles, bronze railings and aluminum-clad windows in a charcoal gray. “The only paint that’s required to maintain the exterior is on the front door and the mudroom door” in the walkout basement, Mr. Skolnick said.
Inside, they installed light oak floors and doors, a beamed ceiling on the first floor and nickel-gap paneling on the second floor. For furniture and lighting, they combined finds from auctions and antiques shops, an activity Mr. Haver excels at, as he is also an antiques dealer.
“In Roxbury, we live with Americana antiques, so in this house we wanted to mix it up a little,” Mr. Skolnick said. “Most of the antiques are European, and we really liked the idea of contrasting antique furnishings with modern abstract art.” The living room furnishings, for instance, include a 19th-century French fruitwood chest and an 18th-century walnut armoire along with colorful contemporary paintings by Denise Driscoll and Michael Hedges.
To open up the views, the landscape around the house required plenty of work, too. The site was part of a 1920s development by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., a son of the Central Park designer, but it had become so overgrown with dense brush and invasive vines that it was difficult to see much of anything.
Mr. Haver and Mr. Skolnick worked with Jeff Edwards, of Race Rock Garden Co., to return it to an open landscape inspired by Mr. Olmsted’s vision. They cleared out the invasive plants to make way for a grassy meadow that spills from the house toward the ocean with meandering walking paths, and they pruned and preserved the cherry, hickory and oak trees.
Next to the house, they installed a garden of smooth rocks like those found on the island’s beaches. It sprouts with easy-to-care-for decorative grasses, lavender and caryopteris.
The house was completed in March 2022, at a cost of $1,500 a square foot. And there is no room for guests, which was the intention.
“We have lots of guest rooms in Connecticut, and they’re welcome to come there,” Mr. Haver said.
“Or they can come for lunch,” Mr. Skolnick added.
Their Fishers Island house — named Pointer Perch, after their dog — offers a private place for quiet downtime. Although that doesn’t always happen.
“We love the house, but what hasn’t worked out is the relaxing part,” Mr. Skolnick said. “We spend every weekend on the land doing various projects — pruning, clearing, planting — and we love that. But at the end of each day, we’re absolutely exhausted.”
Living Small is a biweekly column exploring what it takes to lead a simpler, more sustainable or more compact life.
For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here.