Step Inside a Striking East Hampton Residence
Oza Sabbeth Architects devises a novel plan for the rebuild of an East End contemporary.
Some architectural projects are immediate, bombastic, and arrive like a wave, slamming you over the head with a single idea. And others reveal themselves during a more improvisatory process, ultimately succeeding because of a complex combination of verve, creativity, inspiration, and competence. Both approaches have their merits, although the East Hampton home featured here decidedly fits in the latter category.
“I started going about my spiel,” architect Nilay Oza recalls of the initial meeting, “and the clients said, ‘We’ll stop you there.’” The homeowners, a retired couple with grown children, had an unusual request: They wanted to exchange a sum of money for a design to be delivered in a month’s time. If they liked it, they’d proceed with Oza’s full-on, revision-friendly, intuitive-yet-practical approach. If not, no harm done. Oza and designer Peter Sabbeth, co-founders of the Bridgehampton-based firm Oza Sabbeth Architects and its sister company, Modern Green Home, which built the house, were up to the task.
The two presented an initial sketch that involved chopping off the existing front façade and reimagining it as a series of fins made of wood slats, their apertures allowing light in while maintaining privacy in the interior. This bold move won them the job. Working in collaboration with landscape architect Geoffrey Nimmer, who had recommended them to the clients, Oza and Sabbeth started thinking more deeply through the most pressing challenge: Everyone who visited the house, a ramshackle modernist pile built in the 1970s, had absolutely no idea how to get in. Nimmer suggested installing a curving boardwalk that would guide visitors through a lushly revegetated landscape and ultimately deposit them at the front door. “I really wanted to soften the whole front structure,” Nimmer explains. From there, the team further refined the façade, the home’s interiors, and the surrounding landscape through ongoing conversations and experiments. “It was a matter of us feeding off each other, like in a rock band,” Sabbeth says. The firm eventually decided to raise the height of the living room, expand the kitchen, and add more guest rooms, and before they knew it, one simple idea had evolved into an entire renovation. What was once a nonsensical pile of cubes transformed into a graceful contemporary abode marked by an interior airiness and an exterior clarity— a “radical reimagination,” as the designers term their approach to reusing existing structures wherever possible, as opposed to simply tearing them down.
By reconstructing the front of the structure, the designers were able to add 11 linear feet to the interior footprint, garnering them significant additional square footage. Inside, the clients’ extraordinary art collection, which includes work by luminaries such as Nick Cave, positively shimmers alongside a design scheme devised by their longtime decorator, Sam Ewing, who was able to repurpose much of the clients’ existing furniture from an earlier go-round in the same environs. From both indoors and out, the house now appears to perch against an eternal woodland, despite its location in a relatively populated exurban neighborhood. And the back elevation, oriented around a pool, features massive new panes of glass separated by thin bars of cedar siding, further amplifying the house’s connection to the outdoors. All this and more, and without a hint of bombast.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: United Front.