Describing Charles D'Alessio's beach home in Fort Salonga is challenging. The architect, who built the structure with a nautical theme, curving fiberglass and masonry sides, along with a wall of glass facing the Long Island Sound, says he likes to think of it as a giant suspended wave. Local kids simply refer to it "The Star Wars House."
Whatever you call it, it certainly gets attention.
Passersby knock on his door to ask about it. A swimmer walked out of the water once to ask for a tour. One day the operator of a powered parachute hovered just above the home for a closer look.
"I didn't build this expecting anonymity," D'Alessio says.
It all started back in 1999 when he bought and demolished a waterfront bungalow that had been damaged in an electrical fire. During the 4 1/2-year process to get building permits, D'Alessio sketched out plans for a structure that would fit onto the 40-foot-wide lot in the small Makamah Beach community. He says he wanted it to be organic, not boxy or rectilinear.
A friend saw his plans and came up with the name D'Alessio eventually adopted: "Wavehaus."
"You know how wet sand ebbs and flows and makes those curvy, erosion-like patterns?" D'Alessio asks. "That was my form guide."
Although unique in style, the home is far from impractical.
Two years ago, soon after its completion, it won an Archi award from the American Institute of Architects Long Island Chapter in both the Residential and Sustainability categories.
Still, categorizing it is a different matter.
"It defies definition in terms of style," says Ralph Ottaiano, an architect with a Manhattan project management firm who also teaches sustainable design at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. "But I think it's truly what a beach house ought to look like -- almost as if it came right out of the sea."
D'Alessio, who has his own architecture firm in Huntington, either supervised or did most of the work himself. All three of the home's decks offer views that stretch to Connecticut, including the top deck, which has a fireplace and an outdoor shower. To the side of the first-floor deck, he added a slide for his 6-year-old son, Bryce, that leads directly onto the beach. Often, the architect starts his morning sipping tea on the top deck. When he turns his head, he can look through an oval opening in the west wall that frames an osprey nest.
One favorite feature is the stairway, a series of treads that curve skyward to the third-floor mezzanine, making it look like the interior of a giant nautilus. The design was calculated to capture prevailing winds, with the stair treads distributing air like the blades of a fan.
The home's seashell-like strength was demonstrated during superstorm Sandy three years ago.
Four residences along the beach community were severely damaged by the tidal surge. But, aside from a flooded garage, the Wavehaus remained unscathed, D'Alessio says.
Figuring out how to survive weather like this was one of the 50-year-old architect's primary concerns. One thing he says he noticed looking at photos of storm-ravaged homes was that often the only item left standing is the chimney. With that in mind, he created a reinforced chimney 12 feet long and 6 feet wide that towers 60 feet high. This he capped with steel girders and a wagon-wheel array of massive wooden beams that fan out to tie the house together.
"He took his dream and ran with it," says Edward Paul Butt, a New Hyde Park architect who worked with D'Alessio early in his career and visited the home during the decade and a half the owner took to build it.
"It's not arbitrary," Butt adds. "Every piece of it was thought out. Sometimes architects design things just because they look nice, but this is a well-functioning home."
Its green features include a slanted roof that shades the decks during the hot part of the day while providing maximum sun exposure for the solar panels. Translucent fiberglass walls, along with skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows, keep the interior awash in light. A geothermal heat pump provides cooling in summer and warming in winter. The home stays comfortable on its own in the summer, but during the cold months, D'Alessio adds heat with an electric boiler powered by the solar panels.
Practical and whimsical touches can be found throughout -- everything from silverware made out of automotive salvage from Thailand to a mailbox the owner welded together out of metal from washer and dryer drums.
Sea glass has been fused into some of the windows to create colorful patterns as well as privacy. The showers are circles formed from laminated glass. Patterns on the stucco walls glimmer with flakes of mica. Triangles made of pale onyx cover a kitchen wall and a portion of the master bedroom.
Obviously, a home like this isn't welcomed by everyone.
"I love it," says Karen Gilligan, a neighbor. "But you're not going to get that opinion from everyone here. This is a beach community, and it doesn't fit the mold."
D'Alessio says he has no idea how much his creation would bring on the real estate market, but he is not interested in selling, anyway. At the moment, what he says excites him is the impending arrival of a 22-foot-long serpentine-shaped sofa he designed to serve as the centerpiece of the living room. It's been a two-year wait, but so what?
"How many opportunities in life do you get to do something truly original?" he says.