House tours are a rich cache of ideas for the newly ensconced homeowner, the makeover specialist, the helpful hint gatherer or the design aficionado. All of these types were present, along with a surprising number of builders, architects and designers, during the most recent East Hampton Historical Society House Tour. Along many other noteworthy tours, including the venerable St. Ann’s Community House Tour, Sag Harbor tour and the Parrish garden tour, this house tour reiterates the public’s insatiable yearning for design immersion, even more so than show houses where fantasy frequently trumps reality.
For the builders, there were details to relish. An open spiral wooden stair to the top of the wind-pump tower was a charming example of utilitarian carpentry. The leaded bottle glass window in the Charles H. Adams house, along with rare curved glass double hungs, an impressive open wraparound staircase with a fluted Juliet balcony, elaborate spindle-work and lusciously restored quarter-sawn golden oak paneling were enough to inspire any contractor to greatness. Even the exterior shingles on the Adams House were chamfered.
And Maziar Behrooz’s black walnut steps suspended by steel cables and a wing wall of poured concrete crowned by a glass and bonze railing was breathtaking even for the most jaded builder.
The incisive precise thought that suffused the design of Arc House was an inspiration to any architect. The sweep of the hangar-like corrugated roof juxtaposed against a linear façade of earth-toned rock was a lesson in line and texture. The window framing of a bathroom with an askew sculptural tub viewing a sylvan scene of our pastoral evergreen forests was transforming. A sliding walnut door that fit puzzle-like and flush into a plaster wall had a delicate genius to it.
For the landscape designer, there were several gardens that illustrated tremendous organization with simplicity, hedging, privacy and low maintenance the key factor—for instance, stove steps laid in descending grass slopes, angular hedged horticultural “rooms” and well-pruned trees.
But Wood House Garden has become a national treasure—a gift to the East End bequeathed by designers Randy Kemper and Tony Ingrao, who liberally share their spectacular creation with the rest of us. Inspired by Italian, English and French gardens, this lush landscape is liberally doused with spectacular statuary as muscular and integrated as its ancient beech trees. Awesome, intriguing, mystifying and sometimes surprisingly ominous (especially, I would imagine, on a wind-swept moon dappled night), this sumptuous garden entreats both the novice and the expert.
Even my friends who are horticultural snobs were humbled and fascinated by this garden. Evergreens of great age and sculptural beauty abound—layered one atop another. Lengthy hedges of weeping blue atlas cedar guide you along a path, and a sunken garden buttressed by beautiful brick walls enfolds you. Surprisingly lengthy vistas tantalize your vision, despite the relatively small piece of property.
These designers often open their gardens for charitable events. Make a well deserved pilgrimage there when the opportunity is afforded. You will not be disappointed.
For the stylist in all of us, there was plenty to see on this tour.
Stephanie DiTullio had worked her magic on the Kane house, fashioning an attractive winter kale and evergreen spray to welcome you along with a charmingly set dining table beneath a fabulous vintage Mazzega chandelier. Small moments abounded, such as the placement of a richly ornamental antique box of decanters softened by a spray of yellow lilies.
The talented Tom Samet taught the art of “tablescaping” in his witty collages: a bull’s-eye mirror, a lighthouse lamp, a starfish sculpture backed by nautical red curtains. Or a Victorian mantel, upon which sat a chambered nautilus, a wispy branch of diaphanous corral backed by a marvelously moody modern painting. There was also a provincial French wall clock squeezed between voluptuous curtains.
And, of course, the decorator in all of us is taught many tricks. Bold wallpaper truly warms the surfaces of sometimes sterile rooms—rooms that once papered can afford to harbor less stuff and still relay a sense of completeness.
Quiet theatrical gestures, such as a rather dead corner of a room enlivened by a tropical palm dipped into an anemone-encrusted planter, surprised and delighted.
Happily on this tour, children’s rooms merited the same amount of attention as the adult spaces, garnering significant praise. Bold colors, patterns and deliciously inventive touches, such as vintage chandeliers and toys, moved to the foreground.