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Will A Charles Gwathmey Be Razed?

Monday, July 2, 2018

Historical significance doesn’t sell Hamptons homes—size does. “Clients come to me and ask, ‘What’s the biggest thing I can build,’ ” says a prominent Hamptons owner’s representative and developer, who requests to remain anonymous. “Those homes are almost always modern [in design].”

In the Hamptons, where cash is kindling, it manifests as a lust for openness—no matter how out of proportion. Noses always to the ground, developers are responding with minimalist McMansion spec homes that maximize ceiling height and square footage. Currently, a $53 million, 10,000-square-foot box is rising on Meadow Lane in Southampton. In Bridgehampton, on Sagg Pond, a 14,000-square-foot house shaped like a TV speaker is listed at $45 million. In Water Mill, a new 11,000-square-foot undulating “indoor/outdoor living concept“ wants $32 million.

But in their wake, homes of significant architectural value sometimes fall. The latest victim could soon be 130 Bluff Road in Amagansett, a 1,934-square-foot, five-bedroom, three-bathroom house by the late architect Charles Gwathmey. Last year, it hit the market, and it’s currently asking $4.5 million.

Gwathmey, of course, was one of the most celebrated home designers on the East End before his death in 2009. One of the famed “New York Five,” he designed dozens of sculptural homes in the Hamptons, all “site and programmatically specific,” says Bette-Ann Gwathmey, who still calls one house her late husband’s most important work on Long Island.

That site is the Robert Gwathmey residence and studio, which Gwathmey composed of gray cedar and primitive shapes for his parents in 1965 with a budget of $35,000.

It was recognized as a classic of mid-century modernism almost immediately, and drew architects from all over the world to Amagansett. Gwathmey went on to design residences for Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Jerry Seinfeld and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

130 Bluff Road, which Gwathmey designed for a friend in 1970, sits just across a hedgerow from that early masterpiece. “It’s a lovely house,” says Bette-Anne. “Someone would be very lucky to have it. I would hope they wouldn’t knock it down. I hope someone will appreciate it.”

Perhaps uncharacteristically, the brokers hope so too.

“Somebody might tear this down because the land is worth more than $3 million anyway. There is no protection. If someone wanted to develop a traditional house on the site they could,” says James Keogh of Douglas Elliman, who is marketing the property with brokers Justin Agnello and Hara Kang. “But we would like to see it kept, especially since it complements the neighboring property.”

The design of the house itself—essentially a small lookout tower, attached to an oversize tennis court by a long wall, set back far from the ocean—presents an obstacle, as do the rather dated interiors, with wall-to-wall carpeting being among the house’s sins.

“The guest rooms have a summer camp feeling. They are simple. The master bedroom is larger and nicer and the bathrooms were updated with marble tile,” Keogh says. “But the exposure to the south, the light and the tennis court view make the upstairs here feel different from any other house I’ve been in.”

Keogh and his colleagues say that they are marketing the property directly to Gwathmey collectors, but that thus far they haven’t seen any interest.

“We have reached out to people who own Gwathmeys and people who have put things into Gwathmey’s trust—people like Spielberg. But it’s always tough to get those people’s attention,” he says. “They may come to us. But it is really hard to find people interested in preserving this kind of home.”

Keogh says the new, younger crowd in Amagansett has little interest in preservation and are rarely familiar with Gwathmey’s name. The clients who do ask for architecturally significant homes tend to favor new construction by Bates Masi + Architects or Selldorf.

These buyers prefer linear, open homes far different from the ones Gwathmey designed. “They want ‘more’ minimalism,” he says. “This isn’t a modern house that everyone would love.”

But that certainly isn’t a death knell for the architect’s legacy in the Hamptons.

As recently as 2014, a seven-bedroom house by Gwathmey at 733 Daniels Lane in Sagaponack sold for a whopping $20 million. At the time, it was enough of a premium to turn heads.

“I guarantee you Gwathmey’s name lent cachet to that house,” said Gary DePersia of Corcoran. “It stands out to me because, while it had deeded ocean access, it was five lots back from the ocean. It wasn’t even a huge house.”

Despite an East End market dominated by monster flat-roofed spec houses, the Sagaponack deal was at least some evidence that in the Hamptons, the cult of Gwathmey lives on—whether or not 130 Bluff Road is razed.


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