By Annette Hinkle
The East Hampton Historical Society’s annual house and garden tour has become a popular post-Thanksgiving tradition in recent years, perhaps because it offers hosts a chance to get their guests out from underfoot and into the homes of others.
And what amazing homes they are, thanks to the keen eye of the event’s chair, Joseph Aversano, who each year strives to mix it up by offering a combination of old world elegance and modern creativity.
And the 2013 tour this Saturday will be no exception. The five homes selected represent a range of styles with Aversano calling the experience a “Ramble Along the Coast” because the homes are all near the ocean, stretching from Georgica in the west to Napeague in the east.
Interestingly enough, the location the homes reflect an architectural history which Aversano notes can still be seen today.
“One of the magical things about the East End is nothing happens out here for 50 or 60 years,” he says. “In the 1880s and 1990s you had the Lily Pond Lane cottages, then there was WWI, the Depression and then WWII — a 50 year period where nothing happens.”
That’s particularly evident in Napeague, which in the old days belonged to the fisherman. A place where sea, sand and sky meet, the low lying isthmus with bay on one side, ocean on the other was historically dotted by fishing shacks. But in the 1960s, the area began attracted summer people who were drawn by its wild dunes, sandy landscape and proximity to the sea and built simple A-frames and other types of modern homes.
“It was the new breed of professionals — doctors lawyers and school teachers,” says Aversano. “That whole leisure class. You had Montauk’s Leisurama homes from Macys and these houses weren’t a fortune then.”
“In Napeague what’s happening now is interesting in the sense you have the A-frames from the ‘70s, which are trending, but there’s a whole new category of modern architecture being built. It’s a vacation getaway.”
And that’s what attracted designer David Netto and his wife Liz to the area. Their hexagon-shaped ocean-front home on Shore Road was built in the 1980s and sits on stilts to weather stormy tides. Inside, the home has the feel of a circus tent. A support beam in the middle of the main living area supports the ceiling which angles up from all six sides to meet at the center.
Netto came across the home while looking for something relatively affordable on the ocean. He wasn’t concerned with architecture and was more intrigued by what Napeague had to offer in terms of water, sky and changing light.
Six years after buying the home, Netto felt it was in need of an overhaul and with his partners from Meyer Davis Studio, he gutted the house and renovated from top to bottom.
With bright and airy whitewashed wood finishes, the home, including a new two story addition, feels like a series of tents now rather than just one. Three wedge shaped bedrooms define the first floor while the upper floor of the six addition houses a master suite with the feel of a lighthouse. It’s an open concept with massive windows and expansive views, as well as a luxurious freestanding tub and a shower with partial glass walls that look into the room and out to the sea beyond.
“Part of what I wanted to do when we renovated was see if I could make a house which required almost no furniture — a bit like a boat,” says Netto who describes the home as a shingle version of Bermuda Colonial style-meets Slim Aarons. “Those weird but strong hexagon shapes were such a disadvantage, I thought it would be interesting to try and work only with those shapes, not against them.”
As a result, nearly everything in the house is built-in.
“The sofa in the family room mirrors the angles of the room, and the spaces are as unfurnished as can be — given that I’m not really a minimalist,” says Netto. “It’s also a house designed to keep your mind on the beauty outside, more than within.”
Further west along the coast in Amagansett sits the Bluff Road home of Jack and Ruth Ann McSpadden, another home built for beach living, but with a decidedly different feel from the modernism of Napeague.
The home, built in 1905, is one of a group of classic antique shingle-style houses on Bluff Road which are part of a National Historic District. It sits on a hill and has expansive porches and verandas designed to take in the ocean view.
“I think this was pure country home experience,” says Aversano. “This was not the home of a whaling captain. It’s close to the ocean and near the old Amagansett Beach Association — this was pure get away.”
And it still is. Ruth Ann McSpadden is an interior designer, and her touch can be seen in the classic furnishings and fabric choices throughout the home. A set of wicker furniture from the 1920s was moved to the home from one of the mansions in Amagansett’s Devon Colony (founded in the late 19th century by executives from Procter and Gamble) and now sits in a bright room on the east end of the house surrounded by windows.
It’s all a far cry from what the home looked like when the McSpadden purchased it when it was run down, had no heat and in dire need of restoration. In addition to shoring up the infrastructure, period moldings were reproduced and wavy glass installed, giving the seven bedroom home the feel of the original mansion.
Though historic and traditional, this home is not simply an homage to the past. It has also been expanded to accommodate the demands of modern living as well.
“This is what it comes down to today,” says Aversano pointing to the addition at the rear of the home which is clearly meant for entertaining. “The room off the kitchen is designed for dining, living and gaming altogether. Everyone ends up living in here.”
“This is an old house that is so well preserved and just so filled with light, yet all updated for today’s living,” he adds. “It has a light pallet with great views of the sea. She [Ruth Ann] has a nice touch. It’s English country meets Amagansett.”
There’s also a big of historic intrigue. The story goes that in the early 1940s, a German maid was staying in a bedroom on the third floor. There are those who believe she was responsible for guiding the four Nazi saboteurs who were dropped on Indian Wells Beach by a German submarine to the Amagansett train station.
The 2013 East Hampton House & Garden Tour benefits the East Hampton Historical Society and begins with an opening night cocktail party on Friday, November 29, 2013 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Georgica home of Jack and LuAnn Grubman. Tickets are $200 and include the house tour on Saturday, November 30 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Tickets for the tour are $65 in advance ($75 on tour day) at the historical society’s office (101 Main Street), at www.easthamptonhistory.org or by calling 324-6850. They will also be sold at the Clinton Academy, 151 Main Street, East Hampton on Friday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.