Designing for the Hamptons

Posted on 29 July 2011

Preston T. Phillips Exterior

by Courtney M. Holbrook

Life on the East End has its aesthetic benefits. Sag Harbor has verdant fields and sandy beaches, high-priced shops and straight-from-the-water food. People who live or visit the East End can expect certain things: men will wear white pants, there will be a gallery opening on Saturday — and most houses will have dark shingles.

That dark, overlapping wood often defines houses on the East End of Long Island. But for a few world-renowned designers and architects, the shingled look is not the sole stylistic aspect of the East End, but in fact, one small part in the larger dimensions of Hamptons’ style.

“People come to the East End to simplify their lives,” said Harry Bates, the architect from Bates Masi + Architects. “Sure, there’s the old shingled idea. But really, what people here want is to be as maintenance free as possible.”

That idea of simplification drives life and architecture on the East End. Simplification, however, does not mean design laziness. According to Preston T. Phillips, each client means a unique home.

“As an architect, I’m not looking for the cookie cutter home,” Phillips said. “And neither are the clients. My job is to interpret what they need but might not understand; and make the best home that’s flowing, open and seamless.”

Phillips knows what’s best. An internationally respected architect of the firm Preston T. Phillips, his house will be on display at the St. Ann’s 43rd Annual House Tour in Bridgehampton on Thursday, August 4 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. A design symposium precedes the tour.

“It’s an honor to be asked,” Phillips said. “It’s one of those houses people have heard about, but they haven’t necessarily been able to see. Now, they can.”

The tour will feature Phillips’ home, the “Ludlow Grange” house, built in 1920, and a Sagaponack farmhouse. All three showcase the wide variety of Hamptons’ design aesthetic, from modern to De Stijl to Victorian. Proceeds from the event will go toward providing scholarships to Bridgehampton High School students and other community outreach programs, including Hampton Healthcare, The Retreat, East End Farmworkers and LIACC.

From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., St. Ann’s will host a design symposium, where intrigued viewers can discuss and ask questions of some of the leading designers and architects working in the Hamptons today. These include Phillips and Bates, both architects, Kerry Delrose, an interior designer of Delrose Design Group, and Craig James Socia, a landscape architect.

“I think for all of us, though I can only really speak for myself, we’ve developed this understanding of style in the Hamptons,” Delrose said. “People in the Hamptons want to be really chic, but they don’t want to live in a Faberge egg.”

Steering away from the Faberge egg visual means designing a place where “there’s a little potato to it,” according to Delrose. In other words, perfection is not always necessary. Sophistication is required, but not on the level of New York City’s Gilded Age aesthetic.

“This is a place where people live in the summer, they vacation — they have kids and families, they wear T-Shirts and jeans,” Delrose said. “But they still want to be cool, live in a cool place. So, relaxed chic just keeps coming through the home.”

That relaxed chic idea does not simply apply to the average beach house. There are no sandy hallways or mildewed front entryways in the homes of these architects and designers. Instead, Delrose insists it gives the Hamptons’ design experience a more personal feel.

“What’s different between the Hamptons [design experience] and the Manhattan [experience] is how we interact with our clients,” Delrose said. “We approach them a lot; they get to know us.”

Despite Delrose’s base in Manhattan, he estimates that about 50 percent of his clients live in the Hamptons. It’s a popular real estate destination; one that architects and designers are eager to snatch up.

“I moved my office to the East End some 40 years ago,” Bates said. “My clients come to the Hamptons to get away from the city, to stop being slaves to high maintenance. So, they have an interest in good design, and so do we.”

Phillips also insists working on the East End allows for a greater sense of creativity. For his own house on display in the tour, Phillips wanted to create something dramatic and colorful; a “surprise” at the end of a “wooded driveway.”

The space available for land and the special privacy allotted to Hamptons’ residents made Phillips’ dream house possible. He designed it in the De Stijl style, a Dutch artistic movement from the early 20th century.

“It was my favorite movement in architecture school,” Phillips said. “It was really quite groundbreaking when we built it in the Hamptons in 1988.”

It’s not difficult to see how De Stijl would have seemed like a foreign architectural concoction in the ‘80s. Characterized by primary colors and smooth shapes, the De Stijl movement advocated the purity of straight lines and deep colors. Phillips took this motif when he created a house designed that “paired geometry with primary colors.” Through the De Stijl movement, the house became an artistic composition, where design ruled the Hamptons.

“These straight lines and shapes, they have an effect on people who see the house,” Phillips said. “The interior and the exterior of the home are designed to move seamlessly from one to another, and people always notice that. They think it’s seamless.”

One aspect viewers seem to notice most in Phillips’ house is the “sky” room. Made entirely of glass, the room sets the stage for Phillips’ dramatic architectural intentions. The staircase extends outward from a Wharhol piece over the fireplace, and then sweeps back into the second floor. Everything is connected.

The glass, or “sky,” room transforms at night. Then, the interior of the room becomes a mirror, reflecting the exterior into the interior. The outdoors forms part of the architecture of the interior home.

“[The house] is definitely dramatic,” Phillips said. “But it’s also flowing and relaxing. In a way, it’s still a house that belongs in the Hamptons.”

Phillips emphasized the importance of color to most clients in the East End. Color is an “important and personal” decision, and one especially important in the Hamptons. Here, color can determine whether your home is beach-friendly or Colonial rigid.

Delrose insists the spread of sophisticated design coincides with the burst in shopping and stores in the Hamptons.

“About five years ago, we saw this burst of new cool things in the Hamptons,” Delrose said. “There came this abundance of cool places to shop; now interior design has followed suit. You’ve got your own little design cache here.”

Whether it’s relaxation or creative freedom, the average Hamptons’ home designer is looking for something special. Delrose, Bates and Phillips hope to give it to them.

“You don’t go in your home with a suit and tie,” Delrose said. “But you still want sophistication. That’s the essence of homes in the Hamptons — they’re gorgeous, but you can still live in your swimsuit.”

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