Few things precipitate radical change like the arrival of children. That’s what a New York real estate executive and his stay-at-home-dad husband learned when twins came into their lives. “It became apparent that we couldn’t raise two extremely active boys on a small lot,” says the executive of the couple’s circa 1905 East Hampton former vacation home. So the search was on for a new retreat that was quite a bit larger.
The answer seemed to appear in the form of a midcentury clapboard on their favorite street in the same quaint village. But as layers were peeled away, builder Thomas Cooper found severe dry rot and termite damage, making it plain that demolition was in order. Architect James Bartholomew, however, didn’t make that leap as enthusiastically as his clients. “I’m very conservative,” says Bartholomew. “They had to convince me to demolish. But it allowed us to put in 9-foot ceilings, dig a deeper foundation to create a finished basement and get a better house.” Consequently, says Cooper, “I think we were the first people to be allowed to completely demolish a house in the historic district of East Hampton,” a municipality whose preservationist-minded review board is famously restrictive. The clients then brought in S. Russell Groves to handle the interiors because, says the executive, “he has the kind of refined industrial style we wanted.”
“We do like to juxtapose more traditional elements with modern ones,” says Groves. “That was the basic recipe, though we varied the ingredients to a different degree in each room.” Groves adopted an updated “Shaker purity” that complements Bartholomew’s architecture, which features rooms of old-style modest proportions that are simply adorned with cottage-like beadboard, unornamented moldings and unfussy wainscoting.
In some cases, the Shaker sensibility is obvious. The humble utilitarian integrity of the dining room chairs, for instance, makes them feel as if they were crafted by an Amish woodworker. By contrast, the lighting in the dining room, as throughout the house, has a 1930s or ’40s industrial aesthetic. And in a subtle mixing of old and new, large color photographs of flower arrangements are unmistakably contemporary, but their vases and forms look almost old-fashioned (rather than edgy or suggestive).
The living room rug, says the executive, epitomizes the couple’s desire for “understated things,” while simultaneously bridging the 18th and 21st centuries. “It’s a riff on old rag rugs,” observes Groves, “all the same material, but in three different weaves. So it’s traditional but also modern in a restrained way.” These juxtapositions abound: in the family room, a Shaker-like rocker next to a coffee table tricked out with industrial screws and rivets; in the master bedroom, a classic New England four-poster bed with sackcloth linens alongside a tailored modern wingback chair and a quietly glamorous bronze faux-bamboo floor lamp.
The sense of age also appears in the owners’ many collections, which include old lanterns and industrial molds. But a neutral palette through- out creates a contemporary setting for them, while, at the same time, making rooms feel larger. The color scheme also ensures a continuous harmony, says Groves. As the executive says, “Virtually any fabric in any room would match the fabrics in any other room.”
Outside, landscape designer Jack deLashmet drew on old-fashioned estate plantings of the area to situate Bartholomew’s “new old-looking” cedar shingle home within the context of the community. Hydrangeas and boxwoods predominate, but allowance is made for the occasional charm of a mock orange shrub. In the process, Groves, heretofore an ardent modernist, came to appreciate a new sort of blend. “It’s kind of new territory for us,” he concedes. “But it’s nice to flex your creative talent and do things differently.”