The inside scoop on East End real estate
Now in his 80s and still going strong, architect Harry Bates of Bates Masi + Architects continues to raise the bar on innovative East End architecture.
Modern Miracles Sag Harbor–based architect Harry Bates got his start in the 1960s, building houses like this one on Fire Island.
Now in his 80s and still going strong, ARCHITECT Harry BATES of Bates Masi + Architects has designed urban and suburban residences, schools, offices, hotels, restaurants, retail venues, and furniture over the last six decades. With a glint in his eye and signature Southern drawl—he jokingly calls it his “regional speech impediment”—he reflects on the modernist movement in the Hamptons as his firm continues to raise the bar on innovative East End architecture.
What were the first beach houses you designed?
I was working in New York at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill [SOM], and I thought I’d do a little house for myself on Fire Island. I’d never been. I went out, bought a piece of property, and built a house. From that came other houses, and after a while I quit and opened my own office in New York in 1965. My first Hamptons houses were off of Springy Banks Road; I did those in 1963 and they’re still there today. I had an office in New York with two partners until 1980. I said to them one day, “Sit down, I have something to tell you: I think it’s time we moved.
Modern Miracles More recent projects include this house in East Hampton.
Is there a signature style to a Harry Bates house?
They’re all different. It’s not just a white box. If we do a shingle-style house, we reinterpret the shingle. Hopefully it’s just good design that people recognize. My criterion for that is you don’t notice anything—you go in and it feels right. It’s not just the kitchen counter, it’s the whole thing. Years ago, a client said to me after his house was completed, “Now it’s my house.” And I said, “It has always been your house.”
What are your sources of inspiration?
Clients, of course, and the piece of property. And the fact that we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We use a lot of glass in our houses and feel that they don’t need much decoration because it’s about the view outside.
Where did you study architecture?
I started out in medical school and then changed to the then-new architecture school at North Carolina State. We had visiting lecturers including Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies and Bucky Fuller and Lewis Mumford. For a young mind to take that in is not easy, but I had a great start there. I also had very good training at SOM, where I worked with Gordon Bunshaft.
How did you meet and partner with Paul Masi?
Paul and I met about 15 years ago. He had worked for Richard Meier and was in graduate school at Harvard. He was raised in Montauk and was out here for the summer, and as he and his father were building a fire one day, they were rolling up newspapers and he just happened to see an ad for a job in my firm. He came back after he graduated, and it was the best thing that ever happened. Paul’s enormously talented and a lot of fun.
How do you prefer to work with clients?
The more we collaborate, the better we like it. Clients come in all apologetic with lots of photographs, and we say, “No, we want to know what you like. What colors do you like? Where do you want the towel bar?” After meeting we give them a spreadsheet of what they’ve told us and start adjusting from there. We make ten to 15 models, sometimes more, and then do a final model.
Totally On Fire In the early years of his practice, Bates made his mark with houses like this one on Fire Island (left). He built his first Hamptons houses near Springy Banks Road in 1963.
How has the world of architecture changed in the Hamptons over the years?
When I started in the ’60s, the modern movement was strong, although not many architects lived here. Some of the work still exists, but most of it doesn’t. All of a sudden this postmodern movement, whatever that meant, bubbled up, with all the mansions. I understood how it appealed to people, if they lived in a house that looked like it had been here a hundred years.
Now there’s been a shift back to modern. Clients like the fact that we respect the local history and that modern houses don’t look out of place. Green technology has become very big. We do a lot of geothermal and planted roofs, which are pretty to look at and provide good insulation. We work with landscape architects who are into low-impact gardens. Who wants to go out and water the hydrangeas all the time?
What about the recent trend toward building smaller houses?
Most people don’t want big houses now. We typically do 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, sometimes 7,000. We’ve never done one that’s 20,000. I don’t know what people do with houses that size, other than use the phone to make reservations.
I live in a little house, 1,600 square feet, and even so I often think I could live in just a concrete box with a drain in it, so I could just hose everything down. There’s no such thing as a maintenance-free home, but we try to design with materials that weather nicely, requiring no painting or staining. We just did a house in the Northwest Woods that’s all copper. It’s only going to get better with time, and you don’t have to do anything to maintain it.
Clearly A Winner Featuring walls of glass, this “see-through” house on Fire Island embraces its natural environment. “It’s about the view outside,” Bates says.
Of all the houses you’ve designed, do you have a favorite? Or is that like asking which child is your favorite?
When they ask an actor what his favorite role of his career has been, he always says, “the next one.” I’ve been doing it for 60 years and I couldn’t even begin to count all the houses I’ve done—and I’ve completely forgotten about some of them! All are unique in their own way, and I’m always learning. I look forward to every day—that’s why I’m still here. People are wondering not only if I’ve retired but if I’m still alive. I love to work. I don’t like long weekends. I get antsy.
What’s the future for architecture in the Hamptons?
Change is inevitable. Occasionally you’ll read stories about the Hamptons being over. It’ll never be over. People always want to be by the ocean.
BUILT FOR POSTERITY
“I don’t build in order to have clients,” said Howard Roark, the iconoclast architect of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. “I have clients in order to build.” Roark would have likely done quite well in the Hamptons, “the land of experimental architecture and those who can fund it,” according to Michael Schultz of Corcoran. “I love grabbing on to listings that have an architectural history to them. Architecture has provenance just the way art does.”
Indeed, on the East End architectural theory can range from basic form follows function to architecture as inhabited sculpture—and homes in the Hamptons represent the gamut, with some residents collecting houses as avidly as art aficionados collect works by famous artists. Consider these hot commodities by A-list architects on the market today.
Pedigreed Places Corcoran’s Michael Schultz (631-899-0254) has the listing on a $4.995 million Charles Forberg–designed home
Schultz currently represents a five-bedroom, three-bath home in Sagaponack on 1.38 acres south of the highway, featuring extensive gardens, a heated Gunite pool, and art studio, listed at $4.995 million. The house was designed by architect Charles Forberg, who also designed East Hampton’s LongHouse Reserve, on which he collaborated with founder Jack Lenor Larsen. Walter Gropius, the patriarch of the Bauhaus school, was Forberg’s father-in-law, and before he started his architectural firm, Forberg designed the famous PanAm logo, plus interiors for the company’s planes and even the flight attendants’ uniforms.
According to Schultz, the Forberg home was built in 1994 and is “a barnlike structure with a large roof and big wooden beams. The design is sensitive to the overall landscape. A whole wall of glass looks out over the Japanese garden and extensive flower gardens. He purposely sited the house on one side of the property, rather than in the middle, to make the grounds looks larger than the 1.38 acres. People like traditional homes with a barnlike construction, but typically want more modern interiors in terms of open space, and this house was ahead of its time. The bathrooms and kitchen were quite modern for the mid-’90s, streamlined in a Japanese way.” Forberg, who passed away earlier this year, created a design perfectly suited to the present owners, devoted modernists who collect contemporary art, sculpture, and furniture.
Pedigreed Places Robert A. M. Stern designed this 1986 home in Water Mill, now listed for $29 million with Harald Grant of Sotheby’s (631-283-0600).
ROBERT A. M. STERN
For the discerning buyer, a home designed by a noted architect literally has built-in added value. “It’s like buying art,” says Harald Grant of Sotheby’s International Realty. “It can be a $100,000 work by a noted artist, but if you want a Remington or a Russell, it’s going to cost you $3 to $4 million.” Grant currently represents a Robert A. M. Stern–designed house on Mecox Bay in Water Mill for $29 million. The 4.6-acre west-facing property features a dock, tennis court, and pool and a 6,100-square-foot home with seven bedrooms, five full and two half baths, and a guesthouse. Built using a modern interpretation of the shingle-style vernacular, it showcases Stern’s trademark signature of “windows and doors and hallways all in proportion, with nothing too big or too small,” adds Grant, who points out that the house was built in 1986 at a relatively modest size, compared with “the mega-square-footage homes from a couple of years ago that are 10,000 to 15,000 square feet—and now everyone is taking a step back to 6,000 to 8,000 square feet. I’m sure if someone hired Robert A. M. Stern to do a house like this one today, it would cost much more per square foot, and this home looks great 27 years later. If you build a house correctly and use the right architect, your product will be long lasting.” Stern, a self-described modern traditionalist, designs projects worldwide, is the dean of Yale University’s School of Architecture, and is most famous for his building at 15 Central Park West in Manhattan, where an apartment recently sold for $88 million.
Contemporary Romance A 1986 oceanfront home by Norman Jaffe (top) is on the market for $28.5 million with John McHugh of Sotheby’s (631-283-0600).
After the death of an esteemed architect, the houses he designed can become collector’s items. John McHugh of Sotheby’s International Realty represents an oceanfront home in Southampton built in 1986 by the late Norman Jaffe, with an addition and renovation done by local architect Preston Phillips. The 2.5-acre property includes a pool, tennis court, and an 8,500-square-foot house with six bedrooms and six-and-a-half baths and is listed for $28.5 million.
“Recently I’ve been getting a lot of calls from people interested in Jaffe houses,” McHugh reports. “They want something modern but more in the contemporary realm—1980s modern, not 2013 modern. It’s similar to the huge market for contemporary modern art. People feel they won’t see art like this again, and that sentiment translates to architecture too. Buyers are also attracted to houses with vast wall space, high ceilings, and lots of room to accommodate their growing art collections.”
These are all Jaffe signatures, along with beautifully incorporated stone and wood and other natural materials. This particular Jaffe house has fared well despite its position overlooking the sometimes treacherous Atlantic. “The house was designed with stucco exteriors, is in amazing condition, and has survived the test of time on the ocean,” adds McHugh, who also points out that with recent restrictions on oceanfront building, even more buyers are attracted to existing homes that can never be duplicated.
Houses by architect William Bottomley, who designed the famous River House in New York City, are still very much in demand today. Educated at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Bottomley is known for his elegant interpretations of classic architecture. A 1915 Bottomley-designed European-style villa on Further Lane is currently listed for $21.5 million with Julie Wolfe and Ed Petrie of Sotheby’s International Realty. The six-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath home sits on four acres with an orchard, lily pond, gardens, tennis court, pool and pool house, and private ocean access. Bottomley’s trademark accents include a regal curving staircase in the foyer, grand mantels on the seven fireplaces, and ornate ceilings. In 2009 architect Robert Young redesigned parts of the house, notably the kitchen and baths, to incorporate modern updates while respecting the home’s great bones. “This house is incredibly charming and has tons of character,” says Wolfe, “and the redesigned portions have added a contemporary edge to the old-world charm. It’s not your standard cookie-cutter spec house.”
Contemporary Romance Maziar Behrooz’s 2010 Arc house is listed for just under $5 million with Jennifer D’Auria of Halstead (631-324-6100). photo by Tim williams
The Arc house in East Hampton, designed by Maziar Behrooz and featured in last summer’s architecture issue of HC&G, is listed with Jennifer D’Auria of Halstead Property for $4.995 million. The modern masterpiece is centered around a Steelmaster arch, which spans 20 by 60 feet and reaches 16 feet at its highest point. “Sophisticated buyers are well aware of the really good architects who are doing work in the Hamptons,” says D’Auria. “They know they are getting something special with a house like this.”
The present owners built the house in 2010 and spared no expense, installing Bulgarian limestone and black walnut floors, a Neff kitchen, and windows from Unilux and Fin, which keep the interiors completely silent and insulated. Located on 2.62 acres with 6,700 square feet of living space, the home is also LEED certified. “There’s a planted roof on top of the garage,” says D’Auria, “and rainwater falls down the arc into pools around the house, which lead to the irrigation system. The windows in the arc can be opened and closed via an electrical monitoring system.”
D’Auria and her husband, James, who is also an architect, just sold a house on Town Lane that he designed and are building a new house on Buell Lane. “We’re putting in geothermal and energy-efficient elements in accord with today’s standards,” she says, noting that “there are so many things we didn’t know about years ago that are so cutting edge today.”
Double Diamond in the Rough
While some classic examples of modern architecture in the Hamptons have vanished, others are being actively preserved. Andrew Geller’s 1959 Double Diamond house, on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach, is being restored by the original owner’s son, Jonathan Pearlroth. Often called the “square brassiere,” the 600-square-foot beach house was designed so that wind gusting from the Atlantic would blow under and over the steeply sloped walls. Recently moved back 40 feet, it will be incorporated into a newly designed 3,500-square-foot home. Pearlroth has enlisted Cook + Fox Architects, Condon Engineering, and general contractors Reinhardt O’Brien for the project in addition to consulting with Geller’s grandson, Jake Gorst, who made a documentary about his grandfather. “He had a hand in shaping mid-20th-century American residential architecture as smart, affordable, and animated,” Gorst says.