A Circa-1974 Sagaponack Home Gets Reimagined for Fourth-Generation Locals
Eight years ago, after pursuing careers in Baltimore and New York City, my husband, Dr. Elliot Weiss, and I decided to become full-time residents of the Hamptons. For me, it was a return to my roots and something of a family tradition. My mother’s family, the Gibsons, began summering in Sagaponack in the 1880s, and my father’s family made the move from New York City to Bridgehampton after World War II. For Elliot, it was a chance to build a new medical practice and to experience the joy of year-round Hamptons living. For both of us, it was the beginning of a journey that so many people dream of: to be able to live, work, and raise a family on the East End. We moved into my childhood home in Sagaponack, which my parents built in 1974.
Inspired by architect Norman Jaffe, the saltbox-style modern was designed by his apprentice, Mark C. Matthews, on a site with sweeping ocean views and farm fields on three sides. Angled on the lot to capture passive solar energy, the house featured warm cherrywood accents, walls clad in cedar, flagstone flooring, and huge skylights. Wood ceiling beams on the first floor were sourced from the original Marconi wireless telegraph station in Rocky Point, which dates from 1902. It was an idyllic childhood for my sister, Erin, and me, spent mostly outdoors among a close community of friends and relatives. We would ride our bikes through the Foster farm to Sagaponack’s little red schoolhouse, picking up friends along the way and stopping for candy at the Sagg store on the way home.
Retaining the spirit of the original house, and all the memories that came with it, was important to Elliot and me. We loved how the original design evoked a specific time and place, and many aspects of the structure were near and dear to us—the skylights, the wood beams, and the stone fireplace and floating bench, to name a few. The challenge was to keep the soul of the house more or less intact, while modernizing and reconfiguring it for the needs of our growing family. To pull off this grand plan, the stakes were high. Our initial meetings with three very talented local architects all resulted in their recommendations to tear down the house. Feeling somewhat discouraged, we were happy to come across a stylish, modern, yet casual barn-style Hamptons home designed by architect Russell Riccardi. After our first meeting with him, we knew that he understood why we didn’t want to tear down the house. He, too, loved its bones and saw its potential. Together, we collaborated to optimize the space, add contemporary amenities, and create a new home that looks and feels as if it were always there.
As with many older houses, the first floor had several small rooms that were walled off and separated from one another. Knowing that the kitchen is always the gathering point, we created a large open room with bar seating, a cascading countertop, and a floating dining nook for casual dinners. The adjacent enlarged den now provides ample seating and optimizes the views of the farm fields through floor-to-ceiling windows. The original stone fireplace and floating bench, meanwhile, remain untouched. Additionally, Russell opened up the den’s walls to provide access and bring light into the previously underused sunken living room. The original 20-foot-tall skylights have been preserved, while a modern concrete fireplace and TV were installed for family movie nights. This being an all-season house, we also added a two-car garage, which created space on the upper floor for a children’s play area and bunk room.
Another pressing goal was to blend indoor and outdoor living areas. Russell achieved this by creating a “dining barn,” now our favorite room in the house, complete with a gas fireplace, pocket doors, and a 16-foot-long dining table that accommodates large informal parties and family gatherings on holidays. On warm nights, sliding doors can be opened to connect the dining barn to the outdoor lounge space, allowing the sounds of the ocean to flow through the house.
We spent a good deal of time designing the floating deck, making it the perfect height to sit on, and replicated the original deck’s planting boxes to create a strategic green focal point from the den, kitchen, and dining barn. The outdoor furniture, naturally, is from Thayer’s Hardware & Patio, our family business, and we’ve hung festive lanterns from the trees above. Landscape designer Geoffrey Nimmer devised a plan for low-maintenance, deer-resistant plantings, including beach-plum bushes that now provide abundant fruit for my mother’s beach-plum jelly. The apple orchard, meanwhile, has been re-created from my childhood memories: The original trees, a gift from the Halsey family, were lost over the years to storms. Rebuilding our home was a labor of love, but our family’s history continues to live on, and will do so for many generations to come.
A version of this article appeared in the August 15 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Family Affair.