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The Story Behind the Architecture

Posted on 21 November 2012

The living room of Strada’s 1894 farmhouse.

By Annette Hinkle

Whether the motivation is a love of architecture, a search for design inspiration or simply curiosity about a local landmark, house tours offer the best opportunity for the masses to explore “what lies within.”

Those looking to do just that (and work off a little turkey along the way), might want to check out the 2012 East Hampton House & Garden Tour this Saturday. The event is a benefit for the East Hampton Historical Society and on view will be five houses in East Hampton Town (“three in the middle and one on each end — in Wainscott and Amagansett,” notes event chair, Joseph Aversano).

Though by its very definition, historical societies are about preserving that which has come before, when it comes to house tours, for Aversano that doesn’t mean something must be old to be relevant.

“We have a wonderful mix of houses this year,” says Aversano noting that besides the architectural interest and history of the homes themselves, the tour is a great way for people to get interior design ideas for their own homes.

Though there are some very old homes on this tour — including a “half house” that is 233 years old — Aversano notes in recent years, the tour has been trending toward a younger crowd interested in more contemporary architecture. Two years ago, Aversano included a Richard Meier home from the late 1960s on the tour, and two busloads of people showed up just for that house. That’s when the bells started going off, he notes, which is why he was sure to include a modern home in Wainscott this year designed by architect Maziar Behrooz.

“It has bold colors, sharp angles and a red resin epoxy floor — like chocolate ganache,” says Aversano. “When I approached him and said I’m calling about the East Hampton Historical Society’s house tour, he said, ‘I am afraid you have the wrong number.’”

But Aversano knew what he wanted.

“We’re not Colonial Williamsburg,” says Aversano who notes that while he loves homes that are unique, architecturally interesting and designed with flair, there’s another factor he finds irresistible.

“When there’s a story behind it, I love that even more,” he says.

For East End architect and historic preservationist Robert Strada, discovering the story behind an old house is every bit as important as preserving the original architectural details within it.

Strada has saved and renovated his share of old houses — including a couple in Sag Harbor. On view for this tour will be the 1894 Amagansett home in which Strada and his wife Michelle currently reside.

The Fresh Pond Road home, which the couple bought in 1979, actually began its life several miles south of its current location — on property adjacent to the Amagansett Lifesaving station (currently the subject of a meticulous renovation itself).

As Strada explains it, the home was built by Capt. Sam Loper who ran the lifesaving station. Ironically the only mention Strada came across in local publications about the home’s construction was a blurb that appeared in a Sag Harbor paper in December 1894 describing how Capt. Loper was building “a commodious cottage on the beach at Indian Wells near the lifesaving station.”

Whether the writer was being facetious or not in describing Capt. Loper’s shingle style home, Strada couldn’t say. But when the Coast Guard took over the lifesaving station in 1902, they told Capt. Loper his home would have to go.

“So he takes the house to his father’s property on Fresh Pond Road in 1902 and adds a farmhouse addition,” says Strada, who notes that when he and his wife purchased the home, “It was in bad shape. It had a floor furnace, but no real heat – it was not to any kind of code.”

Today, the home has been renovated and expanded far beyond Loper’s vision. It’s been raised to accommodate a full basement and a symmetrical wing has been added to Loper’s farmhouse addition.

“Originally there were seven foot high ceilings upstairs which we’ve kept,” says Strada. “We’ve maintained it, even in the addition, for the authenticity and intimacy of it. The footprint of the original building and the details are still there, including the original staircase from 1894 – which are the back stairs now.”

The exterior, however, has been changed from shingles to clapboard — a nod to Strada’s love of Sag Harbor architecture.

“Around the time we started designing the renovation for this, Michelle and I had just finished renovating 11 High Street,” he explains. “If you look at 30 Fresh Pond Road in Amagansett, it’s how I would have designed it in 1984. Not with shingles, but clapboard siding — like a beautiful Greek revival building.”

Strada notes had Loper built the home on the site originally, he wouldn’t have altered it the way in which he did. But since it was moved there, he says, “I compiled all I loved from 11 High Street and integrated it into the design of the building.”

“it isn’t so much a textbook study, it’s far more filled with emotion than architectural detail,” he adds. “When I walk on those stairs and look at those floors, I see 11 High Street.”

“And when I’m upstairs almost touching the ceilings, I think of Sam Loper.”

When he was approached by the historical society’s director Richard Barons about the house tour, Strada remembers telling him that his was not a historical house, but rather “my interpretation of a historical house — the rest is your imagination.”

“He said, ‘Well you know’ — and this appeals to the preservationist in me — ‘some people don’t know what to do with a historic house,’” recalls Strada. “‘This is an example.’ And he’s right.”

“There’s always a wonderful history, and out here, the history of the whole East End is so narrowly defined, you just have to dig a little to make these amazing discoveries,” adds Strada. “This place evolved in a very unique way and we’re blessed to almost inherit it for the moment. To be stewards of the place.”

The East Hampton Historical Society House & Garden Tour is 1 to 4:30 p.m. this Saturday, November 24. Tickets are $65 in advance ($75 on tour day). Call 324-6850 to reserve.

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