East End real estate experts discuss the perks (and challenges) of owning seaside secondary homes with local authority Michael Braverman.
Talking East End real estate, from left: Al Giaquinto, Dan Thorp, Martha Gundersen, Michael Brandes, Donato Maselli, Laura Sanatore, and Michael Schultz.
Michael Braverman: People refer to the Hamptons as either the country or the beach, and I’ve always been intrigued about how they choose their definition.
Michael Schultz: It’s a very subjective question, and a lot depends on where you live. If you live close to the beach and the dunes, it’s very beach-like. If you’re living in the northwest woods, you might have a whole different perspective. It also may have a lot to do with where your primary residence is, assuming that the Hamptons is a second home. If you live in the suburbs of New Jersey, Westchester, or Connecticut, coming here might be the beach because you live in what they call the country. If you’re a New York City dweller, which I am, I always feel that I am coming to the country.
Al Giaquinto: Many of my clients refer to their houses as country homes. Some of them do call it a beach house even if it’s not on the shore, because their orientation is that when they come to the East End, they’re going to go to the beach.
MB: Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” How does that apply to the way you see things here in your work?
Dan Thorpe: As landscape architects, we often work within the context of our area. It’s very simple out here, and simple is tough to do and make believable. To create something that looks like it has always been here, so that it fits the context of the country and the beach, is difficult, but in that challenge we find a lot of success.
A kitchen from Hampton Design Interiors exemplifies the trend toward simplicity.
AG: Our product, called Modern Barn, is simple in its design and simple in its execution, however, very difficult to achieve. We find that our clientele asks for places to relax, rejuvenate, recreate, and bring family together away from their hectic life in their primary residence. We focus on those particular areas to give them the space, features, and amenities that support those activities.
Laura Sanatore: One of the challenges we face is having a kitchen or bathroom be simplistic, beautiful, and functional. Sometimes, in design, the function gets lost. One of the things that we try to achieve is the airiness of the beach—it looks beautiful, it’s simple, clean, sophisticated, timeless— but then it also works for the people involved.
Michael Brandes: I see simplicity as a design direction. I see it, obviously, in modern houses that are now ever more popular, but I see it even in some of the newer traditional houses where they’re taking away some of the heavy molding that was being used 10 years ago. They’re using much less in the way of finishes.
Donato Maselli: I’d like to pan out a little and focus more on what’s been going on in the last couple of decades—preserved land being gobbled up. Everybody has to have a tennis court, and everybody has to have the gourmet kitchen and the home theater, and I feel like it’s never used. It needs to return to what this place used to be about. As professionals, many of us inherently want to do that, and it’s very difficult to convince a paying client that the real idea of being out at the beach is the beach, the landscape, and the inherent beauty of the Hamptons.
AG: Part of why it’s happening is there are a lot of spec houses being built, so homes are not made for the individual. If they were, you wouldn’t have the repetitive nature; there would be a lot more individuality with the architecture. What I’m starting to see is that it’s all the same and, as an architect, it does bother me. Our mission is to create something for the individual—about their taste, their view of how they should be living—not something that’s forced upon them.
DT: I understand your concern with excess and things getting bigger, but what drives our scope of work is the skill of our work. Our clients are used to a certain level of comfort, and their idea of coming out to the Hamptons is, yes, going to the beach, but also being at home with family and not having to drive around town and get stuck in the crazy traffic that reminds them of the city.
A Flying Point residence with landscape architecture by LaGuardia Design
MS: I don’t think any of us are touching on the new economic reality of land prices in the Hamptons—that is the big difference why people are building to the max. When you’re paying $4 million for an acre of land in Sagaponack South, you’re not going to build to the max.
LS: There are two different types of architects out here: the kind who do spec houses and the architects who look at the client. I agree that people are spending a lot of money on land, and they should get what they want—this is a lifestyle. The architects who are looking at the client are building something that’s not in excess. With that said, there are other people out here who build too much, and they build simply for the sake of building.
MB: Buyers versus renters—what does the real estate market look like this year?
MS: There was a time back in 2009, 2010, 2011, even 2012, where if you didn’t sell your house, you could always rent it, but now a lot of those houses are sold and people are using them. Just on the basis of supply and demand, rental prices are going up. Location matters less sometimes when you’re renting, and a lot depends on the budget, but I’ve seen people who think they want to be south of the highway, but when they’re renting, they’re just as happy to be north of the highway in a house that’s nicely done inside with new furniture and a clean, crisp design.
Martha Gundersen: I agree on the economy being better and people being more willing to spend money on a high-end rental, but I see many people who have purchased houses putting them on the market for rent. Also, people are investing money into their houses and improving them, whereas maybe two years ago, they said, “No, I’m not spending money on a new stove.” If you’re going to rent your house, minimalize—take your personal things out. Last year’s rental market was a mixed bag—the good houses went quickly at a good price, but a lot of the people who had purchased houses and hoped to rent them without putting much improvement into them were stuck with high-priced rentals that they couldn’t rent.
A Timber Trail home listed by Brown Harris Stevens.
MB: What architecture is indicative of the beach versus the country?
Michael Brandes: Many of our clients come to us with the shingle style, which obviously was developed back in the early 1900s by McKim, Mead & White, architects who built these homes specifically for the elite of the aristocrats of New York City. People still want the 100-year-old house on the outside, but would love to have the modern interiors and space planning. The way we live today, that’s the majority of our work.
MS: It involves what people are looking for and particular tastes. There are certain neighborhoods that lend themselves to a more traditional, shingle-style house, and there are others that might lend themselves to a more modern house. It’s clearly a growing trend right now toward modern houses and maybe Al’s Modern Barn style. A lot really depends on the buyer and the neighborhood.
AG: Clients are conservative. When it comes to the exterior of their building, they tend to lean toward the tried-and-true. That home, out here, is the shingle style. Many of our clients are second, third generation coming out here, and they want a home that reminds them of what they grew up in, so history plays a major role in how the architecture evolves out here.
DT: One trend we’re seeing in landscape architecture is people building more swimming pools on the landward side of the house as opposed to the ocean side. The ocean’s very unforgiving, and it’s very uncomfortable fully exposed to the elements.
LS: The younger clientele is looking for something cleaner. Personally, we’ve worked on more modern homes, and the traditional homes that we’ve worked on have been very traditional in their exterior and completely modern on the inside.
MB: A new buyer without an unlimited budget—where would you advise them to look, and what kind of house should they buy or build?
MG: If you have a limited budget, there are many opportunities if you go further from a village or the beach. You’re never too far from the beach or a village here, but there’s a lot of opportunity in properties “north of the highway.” And don’t be afraid to research what you can do architecturally on a property, because sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You get your best value if you work with a very experienced broker who knows the area and where the values are.
LS: I tell my clients to look at the bones of the house—does it have the potential to be something great? A lot of these houses out here do. Everything can be added upon; everything can be gutted and renovated. With the right renovation decisions, you can have a beautiful home.