words: Caroline Wilkes | photo: Tracey Elizabeth

Summers spent skipping across the Great South Bay from his boyhood home in East Islip to Fire Island carved a fondness for the barrier island in building consultant Glenn Graham’s heart. Today, that’s part of the reason his Bay Shore firm Graham Associates is working to rebuild one of the areas hardest hit by Sandy.

Long Island Pulse: How did the devastation on Fire Island differ from the mainland?
Glenn Graham:
The incredible thing that happened was Fire Island’s entire dune structure was actually pushed into the towns. Houses were filled with several feet of sand, some still needing to be dug out. Ocean Beach and the village of Ocean Bay Park, as well as other small communities such as Summer Club, were hit very hard…One house actually floated a distance of six houses away from its location, but remained completely intact on the interior. All the furniture stayed in place and the glasses in the cabinets didn’t even shift. On other blocks, houses were pushed together and were touching each other. In the less fortunate areas, homes were totally destroyed and some completely washed away. We can’t even find pieces of them.

LIP: What does your firm’s work on Fire Island entail?
We have to work with the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) and FEMA to meet their standards in the various flood zones, and we are working hand-in-hand with local contractors to perform “housing lifts” where houses are raised up to meet FEMA flood regulations and NYS building codes.

LIP: What other changes to designs and floor plans are you seeing?
Our clients are downsizing without giving up any amenities. With construction costs approaching $400 a square foot on the beach our focus has been smaller sleeping areas and average size bathrooms.

LIP: Are there any new products you’re including in your plans?
We have been looking closely at sustainable and composite materials that look like traditional natural products but can handle the extreme conditions that the oceanfront and salty air forces upon the home. The panel siding systems are good. When used correctly they can really enhance the look and provide virtually-free maintenance.

LIP: Can you tell us about some of the regulatory changes you’re dealing with?
Changes are likely coming, including relocation of the Coastal Erosion Hazard Line. This is the DEC’s line, parallel to the dune line along the beach. Any home that is south of this line and loses more than 50 percent of its value in a storm needs a variance from the state if they want to rebuild. New construction methods include breakaway walls and flood vents that aid in keeping the main house and its supports in place.

Design Tip:
When shopping for property on or near the water, make sure the house meets or exceeds the FEMA Base Flood Elevation.

caroline wilkes

Caroline Sophia Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander derives inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land- and seascapes.