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Hamptons Life

Dec 15, 2017 4:14 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Captain's Row House In Sag Harbor Is A Preservation Success Story

245 Main Street, Sag Harbor, after. COURTESY THE CORCORAN GROUP
Dec 28, 2017 11:04 AM

Meticulously restoring a historic home, from the windows and door casings to the fireplace mantels and plaster molding, is often the work of a historical society, which relies on grants and the public’s generosity to preserve the houses that hark back to a village’s earliest days and stand as testaments to a neighborhood’s hard-earned character.

But even a historic residence in private ownership—and even in the hands of someone looking to flip it for a tidy profit—can be a preservation success story.

One such house is 245 Main Street, on Captain’s Row in Sag Harbor. The original structure was built circa 1840s, the peak of the whaling industry in the village, on a strip named for the whaling ship captains who resided there then.

The limited liability company Coming Up Roses purchased the property in 2013 for $1.7 million and set about a full renovation. To do so, the anonymous owner behind the LLC enlisted Jason Poremba’s Southampton Village architectural firm Jason Thomas Architect and Declan Murray Construction Management Inc., based in North Haven.

The proposed renovation was initially brought before the Sag Harbor Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review in June 2014, and the project was not completed until the end of 2016. It was an arduous, yet satisfying, process.

“We went through the architectural review board, and we were very well received, because we weren’t maximizing the property out, like some of the other projects are in town,” Mr. Poremba said.

“The original existing house and its interior is replicated in every way shape and form,” Mr. Murray said.

The existing structure included the original 1840s-or-so section, which is closest to the street, and sections to the rear that Mr. Poremba said were added on in the 1900s. While the main part of the house is three stories tall, the additions were less than two full stories tall. So, using the existing footprint of the additions, he drew plans to remove those additions, and replace them with a new addition that would have a second story with proper ceiling heights for habitable space.

Making an addition a lower elevation is a typical ARB request, he explained, to acknowledge the fact that it is newer than the original house.

Mr. Poremba said that he and Mr. Murray were extremely sensitive to the existing structure, and he believed that the community was very receptive to that.

“Any time Declan and I work together … we take extreme care with these old historic homes, and we usually do very well with local residents’ response and architectural review board feedback,” he said. “I think it goes a long way.”

It wouldn’t normally make sense to put the kind of money that was put into 245 Main Street into a property that was going to be put up for sale, Mr. Poremba said. “You would normally find cheaper alternatives.”

Any interior door casings and trims that could be saved, were saved. And if anything could not be saved, a piece would be sent out to a shop to make a replacement, Mr. Poremba said. “Any molding we couldn’t find locally and replicate, we had it custom made to match exactly.”

Mr. Murray works with a Massachusetts company, Architectural Components, to replicate certain elements of historic homes that cannot be salvaged.

“I took the entire front door and front door facade and had them duplicate it exactly as is, with the exception of the lead glass window that was over the front door,” he said of this project, naming just a couple examples of the work Architectural Components performed. That lead glass window was saved, restored and put back into place.

Other windows were disassembled and shipped to Architectural Components, which crafted regular weight-and-chain pulley replacement windows with exactly the same details, Mr. Murray said.

“The company was absolutely fantastic,” he added. “They did a great job and I loved working with them.”

Mr. Murray said that, though renovations require bringing residences up to modern building codes, he learned about an exception while on this job.

The electrical system was upgraded, and fire-suppression sprinklers were installed because the house, as a three-story building, is now required to have sprinklers, he said. But his client wanted to keep the original stairs, and the staircase was not up to code and the handrails were lower than what is permitted today.

“I went to the New York State building inspector and found out that in any instance of a house that predates the original code, you do not have to bring the staircase up to code,” he said, adding that it was welcome news to his client.

Mr. Murray noted that, originally, the plans did not call for replacing the foundation. He felt strongly that doing so would be a worthwhile move. “When it came time for me to get back the first set of plans, it was actually drawn up to leave the house on its existing foundation and put a crawl space in the back of the addition,” he recalled.

Mr. Poremba said there was an existing 6-foot basement on the front portion of the residence. “The cheapest square footage you can ever get is in the basement,” Mr. Murray noted. “It doesn’t fall under anything that the village says, ‘You can’t have that, because it’s a really old house.’ ... It is out of sight and out of mind, and does not affect the aesthetics of the whole piece of property.”

He said he suggested, “Why don’t we just redo it, and do it properly and lift the house? Because you’re going to spend all this money on the house, and all it takes is for somebody to come in here and bring an engineer and say, ‘Hey, listen, the original foundation is suspect, and we’re going to offer you way less [money] than you’re asking.’”

Replacing the foundation would not only ensure the house is structurally sound, it would give the opportunity to add coveted square footage of finished living space.

Mr. Poremba said that the new foundation is 10 feet deep, which yields about 9 feet of ceiling height once the mechanicals are in. “If a home doesn’t have a basement that is the adequate height to be finished, most people’s opinions is that it is a teardown,” he added.

When the house was lowered again, it was situated at the same elevation it had been, so anyone looking from the street would be none the wiser.

Mr. Murray said no stone was left unturned and meant it quite literally. Stones removed during the renovation we reused and returned to the house. “All the granite used in that project was the original stone of the house, and everything else was reclaimed,” he said proudly. “There is not a single piece of new granite on that property.”

All of the coping on the driveway and around the pool is from the streets of Boston, he said. “We wanted to do something [that], when it was done, it would look like it had been there forever.”

The chimney bricks, due to the condition they were in, could not be reused, according to Mr. Poremba. But the chimneys were rebuilt with matching brick, and the horizontal wrought iron banding around one chimney that was part of the original design was duplicated with galvanized metal.

The facade on the street side was redone with beveled cedar siding, and the coursing matches the new cedar shake on the sides of the structure, Mr. Poremba said. He noted that it is customary and in keeping with history for more expensive beveled siding to be used on the street-facing side of a house.

There was a preexisting accessory structure as well. To complement the brand-new pool that was installed, that structure was converted into a pool house. All around the property, new hedges and other vegetation was installed by Amagansett’s Charlie Whitmore’s Gardens.

Mr. Murray said that saving, or replicating, everything that was good about the house and the facade, was important to his client, to Mr. Poremba and to himself. And it was to prove a point, he said, that, at a time “when everybody was ripping up houses and nobody really gave a shit,” they could do it right.

“This is a perfect example of how to do it properly and within the confines of what the village allows you to do, and with the blessing of the building inspector and the ARB,” Mr. Murray said.

The fines leveled against builders and homeowners who demolish historic properties are inadequate, Mr. Murray said, adding that no variances should be issued for demolitions completed without a permit—homeowners should be forced to rebuild the house the way it was, regardless of the cost.

“I’m absolutely for not letting these bigwigs with their billions of dollars do what they want and get away with murder,” Mr. Murray said.

The 245 Main Street house is listed with Corcoran for $5,995,000—reduced from an earlier ask of $6,325,000—with five bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms. It is approximately 5,100 square feet on 0.34 acre.

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