Bates Masi + Architects Crafts East Hampton Compound For Couple and Company
For many years, the New York–based couple had enjoyed weekending in a traditional Shingle-style residence in the Hamptons. But their kids had grown and flown the coop, leaving the empty nesters feeling encumbered by the big, echoey place. So the pair hired Bates Masi + Architects to design a new house on a cove in East Hampton. Instead, the firm designed four.
Well, not four houses exactly, but rather a quartet of cedar-clad buildings around an open courtyard, creating a compound that perfectly suits the couple’s life. All four structures, which total 6,500 square feet and sleep up to 12 people, are put to use when their children and grandchildren visit in summer and over holidays. When it’s just the two of them, the couple can close off buildings and live more intimately. Principal Paul Masi came up with the concept after squiring his clients around houses he and fellow Interior Design Hall of Fame member (and firm founder) Harry Bates had built in the area, and taking note of their reactions. The architect describes the compound as a residence “that expands or contracts, depending on who is using it and what season it is.”
Three of the four structures are visible from the gravel drive: The one on the right contains two bedroom suites and a home office; the largest one, on the left, houses common spaces on the lower level with guest quarters above; and in between them stands the pitched-roof garage. The clustering of buildings—and their simple shapes—recalls the area’s agricultural past, when barns and outbuildings multiplied as local farms prospered. This evocation of the pre-McMansion Hamptons vernacular was intentional. “The clients wanted a modern house,” Masi explains. “But they also desired an architectural vocabulary that captured the context of the place and, at the same time, had its own unique voice.”
That singularity becomes increasingly apparent as you move around the buildings. The two-story structures that flank the garage, it turns out, have double-pitched roofs. The fourth building, a dining pavilion that echoes the garage in size and shape, sits atop a marble plinth with wide steps that call to mind a mini amphitheater. Whereas the building’s public-facing sides are mostly closed or veiled by privacy-fostering slats, the opposite sides have large cutout openings, the better to take in the splendid view of the sloping lawn, lap pool, and glittering cove.
Architectural motifs from the exterior—pitched roofs, solid volumes with carved-out sections—reappear inside. At one end of the living room, for instance, a spatial divider that rises all the way to the ceiling incorporates a fireplace and, above it, a display niche. In the kitchen, the play of solids and voids is expressed in the island counter—designed to look like a massive hunk of quartz carved to accommodate stools—and in the wall of painted-wood cabinetry, with its recess for the stove.
Surface materials and impeccable detailing add texture and finesse to the rooms. In many of them, the ceiling and floors are clad in the same oak planking. “We do that quite a bit on projects where we’re capturing a view,” Masi explains. “When the ceiling and ground plane are coordinated, they bracket your vista. The two surfaces aren’t competing with each other”—or with what’s on show outside the window. In the master bath, which incorporates an outdoor shower, the exterior cedar siding extends indoors, serving as wall paneling. “There aren’t many materials here, and they are pretty common ones,” Masi notes. “But there are subtle variations depending on where they’re deployed.” In the living room, the same slats that filter light through the northern gable are used to face the bookshelves below, except painted white, providing surface interest and architectural continuity at the same time.
Erica Millar Design, which had worked with the owners on their Manhattan apartment, picked up where Bates Masi left off. The eponymous principal and her staff helped the clients decide what pieces of furniture to retain from their previous residence and what new additions to shop for. A mid-century chaise designed by Arne Vodder adds the mellow warmth of wood and leather to a hallway off the courtyard; a pair of teak lounge chairs does the same for the living room. “There’s a whole level of texture and coloration on top of the architecture,” says Millar, who also designed custom furniture for the home.
By all accounts, the house on the cove proved to be an enjoyable and successful collaboration on everyone’s part. Nowadays when Masi is embarking on a project and planning a tour of his firm’s work to suss out the taste and desires of new clients, he often calls the couple and asks if he can stop by. Once when Masi visited, he found guests sprawled on the marble steps, “looking out toward the cove, as if they were at the theater.” As any impresario will tell you, a true spectacle draws a packed house.
Project Team: Daniel Widlowski; Jack Booton: Bates Masi + Architects. Mary O’Neill: Erica Millar Design. J. Mendoza Gardens: Landscape Designer. Steven Maresca: Structural Engineer. John Hummel and Associates: General Contractor.