By Marianna Levine
After exactly 16 months to the day of extensive renovations, the Hampton Library is once again open to the public at its original Main Street location. And it appears that the library has swiftly and successfully managed to blend the cozy and familiar with the strikingly new.
The library’s executive director, Susan LaVista comments as she gives a tour of the new space “(the architect Lee Harris Pomeroy) did a nice job of blending the new with the old. The workmanship is quite beautiful. Although we are still awaiting some final finishing touches.”
She points out the added public access to the second story loft, and the stairs to the children’s library and media room in the walk out basement. The main floor’s space has been opened up to reveal the natural wood beams of a cathedral ceiling. The outdoors has been brought in through the placement of a glass wall facing the library’s back yard, making an old Norway Maple the centerpiece of the library.
“It was understood that under all circumstances we had to preserve and protect the tree. We consulted an arborist throughout the whole process. We put a fence around it and no one was allowed to enter. We knew the tree was over 100 years old as it was a survivor of a shipwreck near Bridgehampton.”
LaVista points out some of the details from one of two floating, glass enclosed reading balconies overlooking the main floor’s reading room, “All these fixtures are unusual. The architect’s attention to detail was remarkable. He personally specified all the fixtures including our lamp shades that I think came from Italy.”
These details, including the large lacey, white glass hanging lamps she is alluding to, give the library’s interior a mid-century modern Scandinavian feel. And this continues to be true on the lower level, where the children’s library, a gallery space, and a large media/project room are housed.
Although the children’s area has been moved to what was once the basement, it has been opened up to a sloping backyard and is light and bright due to the natural light coming from the back wall of windows. The architect also designed a large yellow wooden circular structure, almost like a round ship, incorporating benches with the intention of creating an intimate and cozy space for the library’s popular story time.
“We have this problem now that children are crying because they don’t want to leave the library,” said LaVista.
LaVista notes that there is even a large, modern elevator to accommodate strollers, to take parents and babies down to the lower level, or families can come around through the glass doors that lead to a backyard terrace and the garden. LaVista hopes, in good weather, the terrace will be used for story time and projects as well.
Other new features include 12 new computers including one for the visually impaired, a teen room on the main floor, a literacy class room, a main floor library dedicated to Bridgehampton history, and a state of the art media room which, when opened up to the children’s library, can accommodate up to 130 people.
Although the main intention of the renovation was to increase the library’s space, LaVista explains, “we have more than doubled our seating capacity”, the idea was also to retain “cozy reading spaces and to make everything feel like you’re in a comfortable room.”
Yet, despite all these changes several things have remained the same. The building’s historic façade looks remarkably the same, although painted in a slightly warmer tone to blend in with the new natural wood exterior in the back. LaVista explains that is was always the intention of the board to keep the front of the building intact.
They also decided to keep the front check out area in the same location, although larger and modernized. The original fireplace facing the counter is still there, but has been opened up in the back and turned into a working gas fireplace.
“On the weekends people have been jockeying for seats by this gas fire,” LaVista remarks.
With neighboring Sag Harbor just starting its renovation process, LaVista offers some encouragement and advice, “Although it has been an incredible amount of work, it has been just an amazing experience to do this renovation. It was well worth the wait. And we had a good team of people working on this.”
She is grateful that “the community was patient and really behind us all the way.”
La Vista, whose office is next to the front entrance, ends by saying, “You know I love hearing people’s responses as they come into the building. Two people have burst into tears after looking around. They’re so happy to be back in this space and are so pleased with the expansion.”