Trend-Setting Home in East Hampton
by mike olson
Take a moment and try to picture the quintessential East Hampton summer home. Chances are that what you envision is a shingle-style house with a gambrel roof covering a cozy, recessed front porch. That iconic aesthetic had to start somewhere, and to find the beginnings of the architectural movement that helped define the look of the East End’s most exclusive village, you need not look further than the historic home at 24 Ocean Avenue.
It was in 1888 that Dr. George E. Munroe, the founder of the Maidstone Club, decided to build a residence halfway between Main Street and Main Beach on what was the principal spine of the original summer colony. To do it he turned to Isaac Henry Green Jr., an architect fluent in a new style that would soon take off with the seaside set—shingle homes that eschewed the gaudiness of Queen Anne construction in favor of designs that, in a nod to the recent Centennial Exhibition, borrowed from simpler Colonial architecture. Things in East Hampton would never be the same.
“To a great extent, Green introduced the style that other architects emulated in East Hampton,” explains Robert Hefner, the village’s director of historic services. Soon, everyone from George Eldridge to Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe (designer of Grey Gardens) had adopted the shingle style. “The Munroe house is certainly an inspiration for later homes in that area,” says Hefner. “It’s a terrific house. The scale and the intimacy of it are just amazing.”
That intimacy is still on display as the 4,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home hits the market. Though some nearby homes have been remodeled beyond recognition, 24 Ocean Avenue still boasts the period details that have made it a landmark for more than a century. “It has original details and finishes throughout the house,” explains listing agent, The Corcoran Group’s senior vice president Michael Schultz. “That includes an oversized Dutch door and a beautiful all-glass sunroom off the eastern end with period mullioned windows where you can still see the hand-blown glass.”
The classic charm extends to the den, living room, and kitchen, as well as the bedrooms, four of which have en suite bathrooms—a rarity in a house of this age—with reproductions of pedestal sinks. (The master bath is an exception, however, with a modern sink and shower with tile.)
Outside, the property features three outbuildings—two original to the 19th-century construction that serve as a garage and fully-equipped gym, and a third that functions as a music studio for the current owner, a composer who studied under Leonard Bernstein. The latter is only 10 years old with an open layout and enormous windows, but its gambrel roof was carefully designed to work in context with the main house.
Somehow, there is still space for the two greatest East End perks: a heated gunite pool (located just off the outdoor barbecue area with a shaded porch) and a tennis court. Nestled in the back of the property, it is bordered by a vine-covered fence to ensure privacy and features a viewing stand under a shaded pergola so friends can admire your backhand.
If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because this oversized 2.6-acre property is actually two separate lots that have been merged together. “It is very unusual to have a lot this big that’s close to Main Beach and to town,” says Schultz, who swears by its convenient location by recounting the story of one summer visitor who would bring his daughter to the ocean via a unique mode of transportation: a little red wagon.
Being that it’s a historic home, 24 Ocean Avenue doesn’t overcompensate with shiny technologies or boast the open floor plans currently in vogue on the luxury market. “It doesn’t really appeal to that type of buyer,” says Schultz. “It isn’t to that scale, but that’s the charm of an old house.” Of course, that also means a smaller price tag, as the $9.999 million asking price is a fraction of the nearby (but not as convenient) home on Lee Avenue that recently sold for more than $25 million.
The house’s effect on local architecture notwithstanding, 24 Ocean Avenue has proven to be a pioneer in subtler ways, setting a quiet example that has been followed throughout the pristine Ocean Avenue Historic District. “The goal is to maintain these historic houses, and the owners know what they have,” Hefner explains. “They really appreciate the character of the whole street because they are all a part of it.”
And while Hefner is way too enamored with East Hampton to play favorites, the Munroe house does hold a special place in his heart. “It’s a gem,” he gushes. “It really does stand out. This is an extraordinary house.” Michael Schultz, The Corcoran Group, 51 Main St., East Hampton, 899-0254; corcoran.com