Harry Bates, Modernist Architect and Interior Design Hall of Famer, Dies at 95

From the dunes of Fire Island to bucolic drives through the Hamptons, architect Harry Bates, who passed away this week at the age of 95, left an indelible mark on Long Island. Known for his modernist houses made from local materials, Bates started out in the field by designing summer escapes for New York advertising executives in the 1960s and ’70s. He later joined forces with design partner, Paul Masi—45 years his junior—and together they continued to shape the area’s architecture with their warm minimalist style.

“He was a rock star architect for midcentury summer getaways that are still dotted around the Hamptons,” shares Interior Design editor in chief Cindy Allen. Recalling her experience filming a documentary with Bates following his 2013 induction into the magazine’s Hall of Fame, Allen adds: “It was surreal to be walking through these modern treasures with the master himself, captivated by all his delightful stories of the many ad execs he designed for (think Madmen!).”

Headshot of Harry Bates wearing a shirt and tie.
Harry Bates. Photography courtesy of Bates Masi + Architects.

Though Bates passed away in Fernandina Beach, Florida, where he most recently lived, he built his life and career in the northeast. The first home he designed, made from rough cut Redwood “fresh off the tree,” as he once told Allen, solidified his approach to utilizing materials that reflected the native landscape, blending in while standing out.

But his career in architecture came about rather serendipitously. Born in 1927 in Lake City, Florida, Bates, whose father was a doctor, attended medical school only to realize that it wasn’t the right fit. A family friend suggested he become an architect, sealing his fate. After receiving a Bachelor of Architecture from North Carolina State University College of Design, he went on to work with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and then opened a private practice in New York City, which he relocated to Southampton in 1980.

Take a look at Interior Design‘s Hall of Fame documentary featuring Harry Bates below.

In the mid-90s, Bates embarked on new era in his career when he met the thoughtful and ambitious 25-year-old architect, Paul Masi. Masi, who spent his childhood summers in Montauk, joined the firm Bates founded in 1998, now known as Bates Masi + Architects. In their 20-plus year partnership, Bates and Masi shaped some of Long Island’s most scenic locales, transforming sites such as a peach farm in East Hampton and a historic Methodist church in Sag Harbor into private homes. More recently, the duo relocated the firm’s office from Sag Harbor to a light-filled, sustainable structure they designed in East Hampton, shortening the commute time for Bates who lived in the area.

A multi-year winner of Interior Design‘s Best of Year awards as well as more than 200 other design accolades, the firm’s projects include homes, large and small, as well as schools, offices, hotels, restaurants, and retail designs, not to mention furniture. The expansive body of work reflects Bates’ more than 50-year career and showcases his commitment to simple yet elegant modernist design.

“Ego was never a part of Harry’s work, yet he was passionate and rigorous about his designs,” recalls Masi. “This balance allowed him to transcend decades of design movements.”

As much as Bates will be remembered for his architecture, friends and colleagues also recall his gentle nature, modest personality, and love of Long Island, which he deemed “one of the most beautiful places on earth.” “Harry was a gentleman who was sensitive with both people and environments,” shares Masi. “Whether with a client or friend, he was selfless and giving. Harry excelled at collaborating with clients and colleagues, which allowed him to stand out as a truly exceptional designer.”

The passion Bates had for his work, and the people and communities he designed for, emanated from every detail. As Masi remembers, Bates often said: “If we are not having fun then why are we doing this?”

“Filming Harry for our Hall of Fame documentary was an incredible memory I will always cherish,” Allen adds. “We even toured an extra special house, to me personally, because my hubby and I almost bought a Harry Bates original! Ahhhhh, the one that got away, but I have the everlasting memory of knowing Harry himself!”

Bates is survived by two nieces and predeceased by his sister, Fairfax Bates Ralston, who died in 2008, as well as his partner, Jack Coar, an interior designer.

A beach house by Bates Masi + Architects with an meditative pool and a treelined landscape
Bates Masi + Architects won a 2021 Interior Design Best of Year Award for the beach house category. Photography courtesy of Bates Masi + Architects.
A residence in Fire Island made from fresh cut wood in the form of a tree house.
Tree House, built in 1967 on Fire Island by Bates. At the time, his firm was called Bates Architecture. Photography courtesy of Bates Masi + Architects.
Madsen, an airy home completed in 1969 on Fire Island by Harry Bates.
Madsen, an airy home completed in 1969 on Fire Island by Bates. Photography courtesy of Bates Masi + Architects.
Paul Masi and Harry Bates standing in a field of wheat.
Paul Masi and Harry Bates. Photography courtesy of Bates Masi + Architects.

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