hamptons mansion
The Georgica estate of Jack and LuAnn Grubman, where the East Hampton House & Garden Tour kicks off.

Because of the East Hampton Historical Society, we are fortunate to see how local residents lived in the 18th century at the Mulford Farm, or in the early 19th century at the Osborne-Jackson House. At Clinton Academy we can see one of the first chartered schools in New York State, constructed in 1784. And at the Marine Museum in Amagansett, we learn of East Hampton’s maritime heritage. The Town House, on Main Street, is the earliest surviving one-room schoolhouse on Long Island, and the tiny Hook Schoolhouse nearby is a late-18th-century Georgian treat.

Yes, that’s a lot of real estate to manage—and in a place with extraordinarily expensive real estate, safeguarding this physical and cultural legacy while resisting development pressure is not always easy. Whereas most small-town historical societies have a single site with furnishings, the East Hampton Historical Society maintains a complex of museums and national historic sites, and a collection of thousands of objects from the area’s past. A large reason for its success is the network of cooperation between the society and local government, as well as other organizations. “Given East Hampton Village’s long-standing commitment to its heritage and history,” says Paul Rickenbach, mayor of East Hampton Village, “the East Hampton Historical Society has been a dedicated and critical partner in every endeavor we have embarked upon.”

For one day each year, the historical society looks not to the past, but the present in an effort to continue its preservation efforts. The annual house tour, now in its 29th year and taking place on November 29 and 30, offers Hamptonites a view into a variety of area homes, from traditional to modern. “Dust off your walking shoes,” says Joseph Aversano, the board member who selects the dwellings. “It’s time to stroll through private houses, contemplate a Japanese garden, admire a connoisseur’s art collection, or enjoy a mid-century dwelling perched high over the ocean.”

East End historian Michael Braverman
East End historian Michael Braverman.

While each of the homes are as different as they are magnificent, there is one unifying theme: They are all exciting to view and open doors not only into the rooms themselves, but also into the social ecology and current lifestyle of the Hamptons. For example, the Bluff Road Historic District in Amagansett is known (and envied) for a group of turn-of-the-20th-century shingle houses that look across a wide expanse of dunes to the Atlantic. The tour offers a rare opportunity to see inside one of these homes, restored by owner/designer Ruth Ann McSpadden to all its period glory, and decorated in a manner perfectly attuned to the architecture—including wicker furniture lovingly cared for by one family and handed down over the generations.

Moving east to Napeague, and jumping ahead in time, is an offbeat beachfront house on a spectacular site. The uninviting interlocking octagons of the original house presented a formidable challenge to the West Coast interior designer and the homeowner, David Netto. His resourceful solutions to the architectural problems show an inventive mind at work; they are entirely original, elegantly conceived, and handsomely executed.

Anne Boleyn—the second wife of Henry VIII—was not only tragically beheaded in 1536, but the wooden beams from one of her houses somehow made their way across the Atlantic and several centuries later are incorporated into a house in Georgica. A beautiful home with surrounding farmland and views over Georgica Pond, it is well worth viewing even without its Tudor pedigree, —but the legend makes it even more intriguing.

clinton academy
Clinton Academy, one of the first chartered schools in New York State, was constructed in 1784.

A small cottage beyond repair on a desirable site in Georgica was replaced with a traditional-style home with all the current amenities. It’s a familiar story and, in this instance, has a highly successful conclusion, thanks to the ingenuity of local architect Bruce A.T. Siska, who designed a lovely family home that welcomes with a two-story hall and serpentine staircase, and that manages to be what we all want: luxurious, environmentally friendly, and easy to maintain.

Rigorous detailing distinguishes an East Hampton Village compound consisting of a main house, guesthouse, media barn, and greenhouse, happily sharing a landscape of individual but related gardens. The main house, with suggestions of Frank Lloyd Wright, looks out on lawns and terraces, while the smaller buildings share a wooded shade garden. It’s a highly creative approach to both architecture and landscaping, and a refreshing antidote to cookie-cutter design.

The East Hampton House & Garden Tour kicks off with a cocktail party at an estate that is an exemplar of the original early-20th-century shingle-style houses of the “summer colony,” a style that has inspired much of our current architecture. Situated high on a dune in the heart of Georgica, the home, which belongs to LuAnn and Jack Grubman, has been sensitively and sympathetically expanded in successive generations to become a finely detailed, perfectly proportioned, and superbly furnished classic East Hampton residence. Exactly where you’d want to be to celebrate the start of the 2013 house tour.

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