Before the renovation of "Ocean Dream." COURTESY WILLIAM SCLIGHT
In the early 1960s, George Kraus first found himself in the Hamptons as a 20-something Dartmouth grad on the butt end of a years-long case of unrequited love.
In 1959, his college roommate, Dick, announced that he had a date with a girl named Patty. Mr. Kraus immediately remembered her as the kid sister of a high school friend from Rockville Centre, and proceeded to, “maturely,” he sarcastically noted, make disparaging remarks about Patty’s appearance.
“My roommate, Dick, said, ‘George, the ugly duckling has grown up to be a swan,’” Mr. Kraus recalled at his circa-1882 oceanfront home in Southampton last week. “And I said, ‘No, you have to show me that. I gotta see that for myself.’”
They all arranged to meet at a bar, and what happened next is a true story, Mr. Kraus said.
Patty walked in, greeted Mr. Kraus with a little squeeze and a noncommittal “Oh, hi,” before adding, “You’re just a big teddy bear, like Dick said.”
Mr. Kraus backed up, locked eyes with Patty and said, “The search is over. I’m going to marry you.”
But she was not swept off her feet, Mr. Kraus said.
“She basically told me to get in line, and I did,” the 74-year-old laughed. “I pursued her; that’s why I ended up coming out here when she’d summer in the Hamptons because I was totally smitten with this girl. Sometimes I was a welcome guest, sometimes I wasn’t so welcome. But I finally ...”
“Wore me down,” his wife of nearly five decades, Patty Kraus, interrupted.
“I wore her down,” her husband said.
“That was 48 years ago.”
“It took me four years.”
“You can’t blame me, though. I was 17 years old. I mean, hello? Besides, Dick was awfully cute,” Ms. Kraus, now 70, said, and sighed, “Can you believe I married this goofball? It will be 49 years in December.”
“It’s been 49 wonderful years. It really has been. I’ve been lucky. Really lucky.”
And in more areas than one. The entrepreneur behind a wildly successful check-guarantee business (58,000 merchants once utilized his service), Mr. Kraus retired at age 50. The couple then took to the high seas for 10 years—frequently docking in Sag Harbor while summering on their 70-foot yacht, and wintering on the Gulf of Mexico at their home in Naples, Florida.
Mr. Kraus, an avid boater, wanted to upgrade to a 120-footer, but Ms. Kraus was concerned they’d “become gypsies,” her husband said. She wanted to plant her summer roots, and Mr. Kraus’ only condition was that they be on the water.
Shortly after Labor Day 1997, Anne Ford—daughter of automobile mogul Henry Ford—put her aluminum-sided Fairlea Drive home on the market. The Krauses were the first couple to see it.
“I came over here and I looked at this house and I said, ‘This is ugly,’” Ms. Kraus recalled. “I go, ‘Well, we’re going to South Africa for three weeks, and my husband and I will talk about it.’ George, being a visionary,” she said with a humorous edge, “is behind me going, ‘Oh no, we’re buying this house.’ I said, ‘Good negotiation, George.’ Literally, I was in the house maybe 20 minutes.”
“But I fell in love with the property,” Mr. Kraus said.
“I thought he was nuts,” his wife said.
On January 1, 1998, the couple closed on the 10,000-square-foot home, named “Ocean Dream,” for $5.5 million—the last bargain on the East End, Ms. Kraus said. She had a five-year plan for the house, but her husband shot her down.
“I said, ‘We don’t have very many five year plans left. So, why don’t we get started?’” he recalled.
What began as a $600,000 project turned into a much bigger renovation, the couple reported. But it was “all worth it,” Ms. Kraus said. They hired Water Mill-based architect William Sclight for the job.
“It’s not every day you get your dream project,” Mr. Sclight said during a tour of the house last week. “It was like we got to bring this house back to life.”
They began by revamping the house’s entry—or lack thereof. The home didn’t have a singular stairway connecting all three stories, so Mr. Sclight inserted one in the foyer, creating a sense of how the home moves vertically.
“And every room is designed to go outside,” Ms. Kraus said, and then joked, “because you want to throw them out.”
“We’re here on the ocean, we’ve got wonderful views,” Mr. Sclight added. “It harkens back to that summer cottage idea, where you could go out and enjoy the weather, you could open the room to the outside, you don’t have to have air conditioning, you feel like you are in nature.”
Horizontally, the house splits down the middle. The center hall ends in a glass door leading to the outdoors. To the left are the kitchen, butler’s pantry, a casual eating area, laundry room and guest bedrooms. To the right are the living, dining, sun and media rooms. The fitness room is on the lower level, decorated with two photos of Mr. Kraus’s face superimposed onto Charles Atlas’s body. They were gifts for his 70th birthday, Ms. Kraus said with a chuckle.
The second floor opens up to the master suite. Each guest room is a different color—green, yellow, blue, red, and the list continues.
“I made George a pink bedroom,” Ms. Kraus said. “He wasn’t exactly thrilled. I said, ‘Women sleep in blue rooms, you can sleep in a pink room.’”
Ms. Kraus has a personal space off the master bathroom, whereas Mr. Kraus’s office is down the hall. He winked at his wife as she passed by, heading for the third floor.
The playroom, which was designed with her five grandchildren in mind, was formerly a flat roof before the renovation. It’s now enclosed and equipped with a stage and wet bar for entertaining, Ms. Kraus said.
“Now, I’m told by my 13-, 14-year-old, ‘Uh uh,’” she laughed. “They’re turning it into a teen disco. So I’m working on, over the winter, a new design. George says, ‘Just when I thought I was finished.’”
For now, that will be the last of it. The major renovations to the house’s exterior—including the addition of several gables to give the house continuity and personality, two wrap-around porches, and a second-story roof deck furnished with a hot tub overlooking a five-hole putting green and views of the Atlantic Ocean—were completed 12 years ago. Ms. Ford’s famous rose garden was moved behind the backyard’s pool and the couple installed a grass tennis court in its place.
Standing next to the dining area outside her master suite on the second-story roof deck, Ms. Kraus closed her eyes for a moment, letting the breeze rustle through her bobbed hair. The ocean roared in the background.
“This is where I sit, knock on wood and say, ‘I’m so blessed. I’m so blessed,’” Ms. Kraus said. “And somebody asked, ‘What’s your favorite room?’ And I say, ‘Right here.’ Every morning, I can look awful, I can go back to that ugly duckling and nobody’s here but George. We just have our coffee and read our paper.”
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