Rare, $ 10 Million Modernist Marvel Hits Market in East Hampton

(Bloomberg) – A lot of houses in the Hamptons are modern-inspired. But one of the rare homes of architectural importance designed by an actual modernist is hitting the market for 9.75 million.

The house was built by Hamilton Smith, a partner in Marcel Breuer’s architecture office, as a retreat for himself. The building has had just three owners since it was constructed in the early 1970s. “No one had ever lived there full-time,” says the home’s current owner, the landscape architect Edwina von Gal, who bought the house for what Zillow says was $ 1.7 million in early 2004. “But I intended to make it my full- time home. ”

The house is in Springs, an area in East Hampton north of the Montauk Highway facing the bay. When she bought it, “I had a perfectly lovely house in Sagaponack,” von Gal explains, “and had no plans to move.” But a friend asked her to swing by to see it, and upon entering, “I thought wow, this house is amazing,” she says. “There’s a large tract of land between the house and the water, and I was just transfixed, it’s like living in your own national park.”

The house is on a 2.7 acre parcel; What sealed the deal, von Gal says, was that she was also able to purchase the adjacent, 1.95 acre property with a two-bedroom cottage. “I just said ‘OK, I’m going to do it,'” she says. “I put my office in the cottage, and lived in the other, and it’s been a real treat.”

Two decades later, von Gal has decided that she wants to retire and move to the Hudson Valley. So she’s listed the entire 4.6 acre compound with Jenny Landey and Zack Dayton of Sotheby’s International Realty. “The same voice that told me to come here is telling me to go,” she says. “I’ve always listened to that voice, and it’s served me very well.”

The History

When von Gal purchased the house, she learned that Smith, the architect, was alive and available. “I called him up and invited him over for lunch when the weather was nicer,” she says.

Smith brought the original plans for the house, along with some invaluable stories about its construction. “He was one of those really classic early modernists,” says Gal. “Bow tie, crew-cut, the whole look. A real gentleman. ” Returning to the house, she discovered, was bittersweet for Smith. “From what I could gather it was his retirement fund,” says Gal, meaning he was forced to sell it to maintain his standard of living in old age. “He built it for himself, pretty much by himself,” she continues.

Smith told her about the cypress cladding on the house’s interior and exterior, which he discovered one day piled underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. “He tracked the owner down and bought it,” says von Gal. “You can’t buy that kind of wood now, and it’s still in perfect condition.”

Smith also mentioned that halfway through construction the town of East Hampton realized it had made a mistake, allowing him to build a few feet into the wetlands. By that point though, the house was almost built so he applied for a hardship exemption, von Gal says, and the town allowed him to keep the house where it was. “It was really early in the age of wetland setback restrictions,” she explains.

The Houses

Smith’s house is raised on stilts, which means that even when the area floods, the main structure is untouched. The 1,600-square-foot home has two bedrooms, and one and a half baths. The bedrooms occupy about a third of the space; The rest is a huge, open-plan office, living room, dining room, and kitchen with windows looking out onto acres of marsh. The primary bedroom has a small deck to itself, and an additional, 19-foot-wide deck attached to the living room juts out onto the march.

Almost everything in the place is original to its construction. “I think one of the problems with modernist houses is that they have no way to age gracefully, and this one does,” says von Gal. “It absorbs a lot, and it’s really livable.” The huge, built-in couch is still clad in its original fabric, the kitchen still has its green counters. The fireplace works beautifully, and the deck, von Gal says, is still a showpiece for her many summer parties.

The only changes are invisible. Von Gal winterized the house, installing radiant heat to augment the home’s baseboard heating. “I could do that from outside,” she says, “the house is already on stilts, so you just go under. And that made a huge difference. “

The second house, meanwhile, is a more modest, traditional style. It covers just over 1,700 square feet, and has three bedrooms, a studio, office, and open-plan living room and kitchen, along with two full bathrooms. Von Gal uses the house as her office, but it’s also the place where her daughter and friends stay when they visit.

The Land

The property is broken into two sections. The land between the house and the water, von Gal explains, “I’m not really supposed to touch.” That hasn’t stopped her from doing a few minor interventions — she built a boardwalk people can take from the house to the water. At the water’s edge, she has a paddleboard rack and a dock, which leads to her oyster farm. “Oysters are best in the fall,” advises Gal.

On the other side of the house, von Gal has turned the grounds into what she describes as her laboratory.

“What I do here is never done,” she says. “It’s all experiments, to see how things work before I try them out on clients.” This year, she says, she’s exploring ferns and carexes, a grasslike plant. “Last year I grew a whole flower bed from seed,” von Gal continues. “But it’s very ephemeral.” There’s also a moss garden and a large vegetable garden, which she says she tends to intermittently. “Some years I’m more interested in vegetables, some years I’m too busy,” she says.

Now the house and the grounds will be someone else’s domain.

“I know this is probably dopey, but I don’t have to worry about it,” she says of the home’s future. “Someone is going to love this house.”

She isn’t naive, she continues — she knows that the usual thing to do in the Hamptons is to buy a property and promptly demolish it— “but if you took it down I don’t think you could build again,” she says . “The house is so special, it’s hard to imagine someone would completely remove it. It wouldn’t make sense. It’s magical. “

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