Ward Bennett’s Warm, American Modernism

Imagine you are on vacation and your destination of choice is the Hamptons —located along the eastern South Fork of Long Island. Along this strip of ocean-front land, is an enclave of impressive homes belonging to wealthy Americans and other investors who enjoy the Hamptons as a summer retreat. Long stretches of sandy beach greet the owners who gaze out of their summer homes towards the majestic Atlantic Ocean.

Now imagine you have purchased a strip of ocean-front land and want to build your dream summer home. Would you blend your design in with your neighbors, all hidden behind the green bulwark of privet hedges indigenous to this area, or would you be more adventurous and seek individuality—your indentity? If you chose to be original and separate yourself from you Long Island neighbors, what would your dream design be for your beach house?

Marvin Sugarman—producer of the children’s show ‘Captain Kangaroo’— and his wife Ronnie had ocean-front land in Southhampton, Long Island. They commissioned Ward Bennett to design a beach house for them. Bennett was not a licensed architect, and during his five decades of design practice, he only designed about a handful of residences. Bennett was recognized for his interests in interior design! The Sugarman’s were fully aware of Bennett’s practice but were confident he could fix into design their dream house!

Bennett created a Cubist house of stucco-clad concrete on the 2. 75 seafront acres the Sugarman’s had purchased. Bennett’s design emerges from the dunes organically as it melded to the natural forms and landscape of the Southhampton environment. Bennett found ways to cite the residence on the land so that the major rooms had ocean views. Bennett’s design featured monochromatic structural elements of embellishments—mimicking both the texture and hues of the Southhampton sand. Bennett was a committed follower of Modernism and his forms, including his renowned attention to interior details, was a reputation that Bennett both fostered and protected!

Bennett’s Modernism preferred visual austerity where natural light and shadow define the residence’s identity within the environmental milieu of Southhampton. Does this designer’s image of a beach-front residence fit within your dream of ocean-front property? Would you commission Ward Bennett to design your summer beach house and select the interior elements? This blog post taps into your dreams and desires, so does Bennett succeed in moving you to his vision?

Ward Bennett
Beach Front View of the 1963 Sugarman House
Living Room of the Sugarman House with Ed Ruscha’s Universe With Wrinkles Painting, 2016
View From the Den of the Sugarman House

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

20 Comments

20 thoughts on “Ward Bennett’s Warm, American Modernism”

  1. I am always open to anything outside of the conventional norm. If I had the means and money to buy a land in the South Hamptons, I would definitely push the boundaries of the architecture. As an artist myself, I can appreciate revolutionary architecture and aesthetically pleasing indoor designs. I would definitely hire Ward Bennett to design my dream home. I’m impressed by the amount of light he managed to play with to liven up every room in the house. I really like large windows in homes because it looks good both from the inside and outside. Looking out, you can see a beautiful view of the beach or a spectacular view of the city. Looking in, you can appreciate the modern design of several stories of windows. Another thing I really like about the Sugarman house is that he was able to fit the home in the South Hampton environment flawlessly by blending colors and textures to the sand itself. He also made use of the environment to accentuate the house, rather than just be a part of it.

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  2. As an architect, my dream would be more than hiring Ward Bennett to design the house for me, it would be to design it myself, in fact, I hope one day I can … dreams… What I am sure, is that modernism is my favorite style, and before designing a contemporary eclectic kitsch house I prefer something modernist style. The use of local natural elements, as Bennett did I think is essential too, without a doubt they make you be more in tune with the place and move the construction from term House to Home.
    The two things that I like the most as Bennett has handled are, first the light, you can see as an interior designer the importance he gives to the experience of the interior. It is interesting as a house in front of the sea (cold), it can be changed through design to a warm environment, this is a magical handling of materials (I include light in this classification). And second, the dialogue between the exterior (the beach) and the interior, is fluid, natural. Both are perfectly integrated, again thanks to the management of light, materials, and also the orientation, (which cites the sea views from the bedrooms)

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  3. If I could buy a piece of ocean-front land in Southampton, I would definitely want something that fits my preferences and not just follow what my neighbors were doing. Looking at Ward Bennett’s exterior and interior design, I would definitely commission him to design a summer beach house as his modern and innovative design fits with my tastes, as shown in the pictures of the Sugarman House.
    Fitting in with the natural surrounding landscape as shown in the beach front view of the Sugarman House is something that caught my attention immediately with how well it blends in. Particularly, I’m a big fan of the den of the Sugarman house, consisting of a clear and open view of the ocean. From that image, I feel I could be calm and focused throughout the day on anything I work on. Also, I like that the large windows in the den and the living room help to bring in natural lighting into the interior of the home and instill a feeling of connection between the interior and the surrounding landscape instead of separating the two. I like this because most people who live in an ocean-front property would probably desire a constant and clear view of the ocean and overall landscape as they move around the house, myself included. Bennett’s design definitely wins me over and I can only dream to call something like the Sugarman House a home in the future.

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  4. My vision of a dream beach house is one that that actually combines Ward Bennett’s vision with incorporating more natural details and elements that best fit the aesthetic with the land it is built upon. Ward Bennett’s approach to creating a beach house, however, is very close to what I would imagine for my own space, therefore I could see myself commissioning him to seek his expertise as he appears more knowledgeable in incorporating individuality with interior design. One thing that especially catches my eye about Ward Bennett’s design is the fact that he ensures that windows are big and open to not just let more light in, but to also make the person inside feel as if they are still truly enjoying what the beachfront has, all while experiencing the comfort of a space made to suit one’s individuality. I also find the location chosen for this beach house to have an interesting composition in “Beach Front View of the 1963 Sugarman House,” since the hills seem to slant downwards towards the middle of the house, encapsulating the home in the natural habitat provided by the land and almost framing the entrance, acting as a welcoming sign to those who want to enter the space.

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  5. I like the idea of having a mesh in blending the design to the nature surrounding the area on where the dream beach house is built. I can definitely consider commissioning Bennett with designing the house since he has a great grasp in combining elements that will compliment each other than trying to do something too extra or awkward that wouldn’t fit the space because of someone’s own interests. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that as everyone has the ability to use the space and design it as their own. I personally prefer something that definitely compliments the area and have a nice blend.
    If there’s one thing I would not want in a dream house is a lot of open window panels/walls. Although the sun shining through it may be nice, I don’t like the idea of being watched somewhere I won’t know and prefer my privacy and safety. The view looks wonderful with the beach, don’t get me wrong but that’s something I wouldn’t want in my own dream house. If it’s a place to visit and stay for a while then I definitely wouldn’t mind that. Then there’s making sure the house isn’t too close to the shores or water in case an uprising of the water comes.

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  6. I would hire Ward Bennett to design my summer beach house but I would want to select the interior elements myself. While I do like modern design, Bennett’s interior design is a little too cold and minimalistic for my personal taste. I would still want Bennett to design the property because I enjoy the thoughtful details of making sure the property blends in with its surroundings, as well as the floor-to-ceiling windows that face the ocean. His design also includes light, and so I could count on him on making a well-lit and happy space for the house. If I were to design the interior of my beach house, I would stick to much lighter and warmer colors, replacing the black tiled floor with wood and keeping all countertops white or cream-colored. I enjoy having a colored theme in my rooms, so I’d use a neutral palette of warm browns and creams with the accent color of pink! (Pink is my favorite color). One thing that I would find important in a beach house is an outdoor shower, and I would let Bennett design that since he blends indoor/outdoor space nicely. For the indoor shower, however, I would design that myself, because my dream is to have a pink bathroom. I would make the shower and sink out of pink quartz, then keep everything else white.

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  7. I think the beach house that Bennett created is really lovely, and its simplicity is one of the reasons that I find it so appealing. In a setting like the ocean, the beauty lives in the beach and water, so to have too many distractions inside the home would be in competition with the views. I thought it was a really smart move to have the home be more in conversation with the land as opposed to just bulldozing the land and shaping it. The hues being similar to the sand present on the beach allows for the home to go unnoticed and shows respect for the place. While my taste is often bold and bright, the look of the Sugarman property fits with the aesthetic of the location in Southampton, a mellow, cool atmosphere. I would probably commission Bennett to design a home for me on the beach, but first I have to make millions of dollars to even be able to entertain the idea. I have been thinking a lot about the beach lately, and I think reading about this is a sign that I should go.

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  8. Ward Bennett’s beach front property is gorgeous. However, I’m just not a big fan of Modernism in houses. My dream beach house would be more traditional I guess? Blue exterior with white trim, a giant porch with stairs that extend toward the ocean, two story house is more of what I would personally want from a beach front house. As for the interior, I’d probably have it be mainly white wood or fake wood and a very open floor plan. I do love the windows though, and I definitely would love to have his input on lighting. I wouldn’t necessarily commission him to design the entire home, but it would be nice to hire him for input on the process! I may not be entirely moved to his vision, but I still really appreciate Bennett’s eye for aesthetics.

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  9. I myself would personally not care about what my potential neighbors would think of my home if it were to look different or out of place. After looking up the area, I like the general style of houses there, they’re pretty nice, but I would still aim for something more in my preference. If I’m paying that much to have a home, I am going to make it look the way I want it to. I do like the way Bennett’s style of home looks like. Having large windows to allow for natural light is always beautiful. Though I must admit, whenever I see houses with windows that large, while I definitely love the look, I always worry that someone could watch me from outside at night or something. Bennett is someone I would commission to design my home though, because I do like what I am seeing with this home. A great feature is his ability to make the house blend into the natural environment, so instead of seeming placed there, it feels like it belongs there. I may have some suggestions of my own, but Bennett’s design hits most of the marks.

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  10. Lizbeth Ramirez | Art 434
    I think Bennett’s design for the Sugarman’s is beautiful, but not 100% my style. I would want my home to blend in with the surroundings, but I wouldn’t want too many windows. I do love ocean views, but I’d be a little paranoid if the majority of my home’s walls were windows. I think I’d want big windows on the second floor to look at the ocean, but that’s about it. Having so many windows is beautiful during the day for lighting but at night I’d be uncomfortable. Overall aesthetic-wise, Bennett did a really good job complementing the land rather than overwhelming it. If I could I think would still commission Bennett with just a couple of different ideas in mind.

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  11. Ward Bennett may only have designed a handful of buildings, but from what I see here, if I didn’t know better I would have thought that he is an architectural genius! It seems that he did not want to create an everyday house where the location just happened to be at the beach, he knew better than to waste such a grand opportunity as this. All the main rooms have a view of the beach while most people who room at a Las Vegas Casino are lucky to have a room with a view of the Strip! What is the point of having a house near the beach if it is not filled with natural lighting and a beach view? What makes this home amazing is that Bennett is able to utilize the natural surroundings. When asked if I would make my home different than the neighbors here, I did not think that I would want to and let the plants help give privacy, but since Bennett was able to pull off a different and modern look, I would trust him to build my dream beach house any day. He has good judgement on how to make the most of living at a beach house.

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  12. Honestly, I don’t think much about my dream ocean-front property specifically (gotta move from LV first, right?), but the aspects of Bennett’s design sound great. It wouldn’t hurt to let him do the whole design (exterior and interior), but the exterior is where I would need more help. I think I can handle interior, although I’m not entirely knowledgeable in that area. Definitely, his vision of a dream summer beach house is on point. I always welcome an out-of-the-box design, unless it is clearly inappropriate haha.

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  13. Warm, American Modernism. These are the exact words I would use to describe the Sugarman project. The usage of light and form has been orchestrated in a way to emphasize the feeling of “relaxation”. There is a reason the South Hamptons have gained such popularity. The textures, ambience and environment play an integral role in creating the Hampton experience. I appreciate Bennett’s approach of neutral tones that reflected the sites surrounding environments. From its exterior, the home is nestled in the dunes but is equivocally bold. Clean and simple geometries are contrasted with the natural hardscape. The home does not impose itself on the site, but is rather well integrated. The interiors are contrasted yet balanced, usage of natural lighting and hints of color bring in the warmth of the outdoors. In the third photo, we see how the selection of a darker structure have framed and highlighted the outdoor context. This would fit my dream ocean front property. Ward Bennetts selection of furnishing’s and his approach to design and form, flow in a cohesive matter.

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  14. I think that Ward Bennett did a beautiful job working on the Sugarman’s beach home. I honestly believe that Bennet not having a solid background in architecture is a big reason why I think the beach house works so well. As someone who is primarily a designer, Bennett has a firm understanding of important artistic elements/practices such as compositions, framing, lighting, and balance. Because of this, he’s able to approach the building of the beach house in a more artistic, sculptural manner rather than focusing on the architecture of it. From the pictures, you can see that the design of the home purposefully and articulately frames the beach views that surround the house. It takes a great artist and great designers’ eye to be able to spot those areas and frame them in a way that does them justice. Bennet, I think, does that spectacularly. Even less-attractive views such as growing weeds and bushes in the sand are framed in a way that makes them look like a beautiful landscape view. Furthermore, the placement of the windows makes the rooms capture the sunlight in a way that amplifies the beauty of the interiors.

    I love how unique the home is overall. The main point of having a beach-front house is to enjoy the view of the sand and ocean, yet I’ve seen so many beach houses that only have balconies that overlook the water. This is why I like Bennett’s design so much – because he built the house to depit the view not as just a view – but a piece of live art attached to the house. By hiring a primary designer to build a house instead of an architect, the Sugermans knew that they were prioritizing the visual appeal of the home rather than the practicality, and that’s something I personally would love to do if I ever get an opportunity to buy a beach home.

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  15. I adore out of the norm houses, but i especially love the usage of natural light in a house! I think this style of a beach house is so unique but it works. I am so tired of seeing the same old theme of beach houses. But this design gives a breathe of light into the beach house. Whenever we think of beach houses, we think of the typical design which is bamboo objects, seashells as decorations, and obviously beach themed furniture. But Ward Bennett’s style truly calls to me because of how simple but beautiful it is. Breaking out of traditional norms and creating a truly breathtaking design.
    I love how there are open window in almost every room bringing in natural light, and also having a more modern feel. I would defiantly have Ward Bennett design my home, because I just love the style that he makes in not only the architecture of the house but also the interior design of it. Plus I would love to see what ideas he would have for my home.

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  16. I am a fan of modernism and enjoy the aesthetics of Ward Bennett’s beach house design. Bennett’s window placement may provide excellent views of the ocean but I would want to understand the energy efficiency of such a move prior to committing to a house like that one.

    With the advancements in Building Information Modeling (BIM) it would be more environmentally responsible to utilize the tools available to make smart energy choices rather than simply having design contingent on the views from the windows.

    In this day in age, we have so much information at hand to design responsibly. I would rather have a home designed to function with its surroundings in the likes of Glenn Murcutt. The London born architect creates homes that function well in their Australian surroundings. Instead of having a modern homes plopped near the ocean where it may seem out of place, Glen Murcutt uses the environment to establish homes that blend into their surroundings with materials that function well in their own elements. For example, the Donaldson House in Sydney, Murcutt uses metal panels to protect it from wildfires. If we all consider the environment we are in and the materials we want to build with than we can make dream homes that are eco-friendly that meet and exceed not only our personal dreams but maintain the integrity of the planet. After all we owe it to the planet and all its creatures to protect it better.

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  17. Bennett’s preferred visual austerity where the natural light and shadows define the residence’s identity in their environment milieu of Southhampton inhabits another type of beauty. Most beach houses blend in with the other in a similar layout within their landscape causing them to all look very similar. Bennett’s beach house standout for his location of the house between the sandy hills. His designer’s image of the beach-front residence somewhat fits in within my dream of ocean-front property. My dream oceanfront property would be similar to other properties, being near the beach, pushing out of the landscape, with a nice porch to overlook the ocean. The positioning of his house from looking at the photo of his house seems in a more awkward or unnatural place but none more than other beach houses. His design is very beautiful and I enjoy this unnatural placement of the house. I would commission Ward Bennett to design my summer beach house so it could stand out and be original. Interior elements I would like his elements with random pops of bright colors to add a pop to each room. The brown tones of his interior design I really enjoy though so I would gladly take that interior design element into my beach house just add some more color and it would be perfect. This blog post taps into my dreams and desires, by reminding me of what I do and do not want in my dream house. Also, it gets me to consider what type of environment I would like to live in, whether it is somewhere sandy like California or somewhere green like Iowa. He did succeed in moving you to his vision of an original house. Although beach houses are not my dream house, it did inspire me to remember to have my own unique home. I am more into the victorian or gothic styled homes so it reminds me to take some of those elements into my home.

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  18. Anything that does not fit in with the social norms is always something that I greet with an open mind. As modern society advances, it sometimes feels as if everyone’s’ individuality starts to become more blurred along the masses. This can even be seen in a lot of houses in suburban areas of the United States. This does not occur as much in many countries, with the architecture often varying with place to place. Each one has their own unique twist and characteristic to it, truly making that home have its own sense of individuality. Houses here most of the time are just exact copies of one another, which in the bigger picture is most definitely a fine thing to have, but when it comes to something that is standout, I cannot say it is. I have never thought about designing my own house, so this question has me lost. Bennett has done very interesting house designs, but I think that they are a bit too “modern” for my liking. I want something that does not stand out because of its bright colors, though I would want something that someone can look at and say, “Wow I’ve never seen a house that nice before.” A warm and cozy place that takes into account the beautiful views and uses natural light is all that is really needed for me I think.

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  19. I would definitely let Ward Bennett design my summer beach house because from just now knowing how skilled he is I would consider him to be at the top of the list for letting people design my home. Also, since is a strong follower of Modernism homes that is fantastic because I am also a big fan of the modern style. As for designing my dream home on the beach that is something I have thought of because I love going to the beach all the time, and if I had the chance to let Bennett do it would be even better. I enjoy the fact how we saw in the images above how there is so much natural lighting and I would want that, especially if it is on the beach. Something I really like about Bennett is using organic elements around him because that is just another reason why we should always appreciate the nature that is around us and not take it for granted.

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  20. Off the bat, I’m going to say I would not even want to have my house look just like everyone else’s in my neighborhood and would definitely have my house designed to my preferences and not to fit into the neighborhood. I have to have unique aspects so it’ll feel special and like it’s mine, so I’ll be excited to be there. I think I would have the other houses in mind of course but I’m not goin to automatically have my house look the same. I do appreciate all the windows in Bennett’s design, I think that it maximizes the view of living on a waterfront but I think that maybe I would feel a little exposed with all those windows so I would probably try to incorporate the windows in certain areas and have other areas remain less exposed but perhaps with smaller windows just so they aren’t completely hidden from the views. I do think that having a cubist look to my house is not ideal though, and would love something with better shape, again something not as boring as a square. Yes some modern elements would be nice but I think the majority of my tastes lie elsewhere. I do love nature though so I would perhaps want a solarium type of deal so that way it’s a relaxing space open to nature and is a room with the intention to be specifically open like that to the sun and surrounding land, that way I can have the living room less exposed, so I’ll feel safer if I’m perhaps lounging around in pajamas.

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