Tour a Cool 1970s Home with an Addition

Harry Bates's 1972 house for megastar decorator Jay Spectre set the tone for '70s-era chic.
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The studio/ garage, designed by Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects. Photograph by David Mitchell.

Jay Spectre was an interior design superstar during the 1970s and ’80s, frequently counted among the creative greats lost too soon to AIDS. He was also known to bend a narrative for his reputation’s sake. Speaking to Architectural Digest in 1975 about his weekend home in the woods north of Water Mill, for example, he claimed that “ground was broken within a week of finding the land.” In a monograph published a year before his death in 1992, he described the residence—occupied today by gallerist Fred Dorfman and lawyer Susan Spagna and originally designed by early Hamptons modernist architect Harry Bates—as “one of the first indoor-outdoor houses” out East, “a spaceship in the woods compared to its shingled neighbors.”

The reality of the Spectre house diverges slightly from myth. “Expedited drawings would have taken closer to four weeks,” comments Bates’s longtime partner, Paul Masi, of Bates Masi + Architects. (Bates is retired and now lives mostly in Florida.) “Harry said that he’d run with a good story if that’s what anybody wanted to hear.”

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Mia Feuer’s Styrofoam-and-steel sculpture Collapse looms large in the living room, which features custom sofas by original homeowner Jay Spectre and Sol LeWitt cocktail tables lined with the artist’s own paintings. The terra-cotta horses are by Shari McWilliams. Photograph by David Mitchell.

Bates had been practicing architecture for two decades when Spectre commissioned the project in 1972. To meet Spectre’s exacting schedule, the architect devised a soaring wood-and-glass volume that drew upon design conceits from his earlier successes on the South Fork and Fire Island. “The house, rather than intruding on the forest, seems an organic and natural part of it,” AD exclaimed in its cover story. The assertion still holds true for Spagna, who says, “My family was from Brooklyn, and all I ever wanted was to live in Manhattan. It wasn’t until Fred and I rented and later bought this house that I realized the importance of nature to feelings of centeredness and well-being. The house turned my head around.” Dorfman adds, “When our son, Blake, was a toddler, we could play tag around the house because there were no hallways. More generally speaking, I think we became comfortable as a family here.”

Spagna and Dorfman’s updates and additions to the property are a testament to their reverence for both Bates’s handling of space and Spectre’s unflagging attention to execution. In 2003, Bates Masi + Architects designed a one-story pavilion adjacent to the original building, about which Masi says, “The different scale and volume was a way of separating the old from the new, and to not distract from the original architecture.” A decade later, Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects completed a freestanding studio and garage, which has a low, sweeping quality and a complementary material palette that differentiate the building from the heart of the compound while simultaneously becoming integral to the whole.

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The studio/ garage, designed by Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects, includes a B&B Italia Ultrasuede sectional sofa, a welded steel coffee table by Stephen Schermeyer, a William Anthony drawing, a Mia Feuer sculpture, and Alex Katz’s 2014 silkscreen-on-aluminum Double Ada. Photograph by David Mitchell.

The Spectre house, Spagna reflects, is a case study in the possibilities behind conserving resources. “Using a talented architect,” she says, “allows you to not demolish and rebuild from scratch. Planned obsolescence and a teardown mentality are harmful to the Earth. You should be able to make an original structure better by upgrading it.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Super Cool.