Brown Harris Stevens/Houses at Sagaponac: Reviving Field of Progressive Homes


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by Emily J Weitz

When architectural legend Richard Meier and real estate mogul Harry Brown came up with the idea of Houses at Sagaponac a decade ago, it was their answer to a landscape being swallowed up by McMansions. Meier and his architectural peers, pioneers of modern design, had been building here on the East End since the 60s. Then in the 90s, the cedar shingle home invaded.

The plan was to design 32 houses on one vast tract of land north of Route 27 in Sagaponack, each of which would be a proud testament to modern architecture. Meyer selected the architects who, in his view, were the best in the world. Thirty-two designs were received, and nine homes were built. Eight sold. Then, Brown passed away and the bottom dropped out from beneath the housing market.

Now, the Houses at Sagaponac project has had to revamp its mission. The project was sold to builders Reinhardt and O’Brien out of Bridgehampton, who found the financial backers. And while previously the project was not exclusively associated with any one broker, now Brown Harris Stevens is managing the sales end.

“For Brown Harris Stevens, this is great because we get a lot of exposure,” says Amelia Doggwiller, a real estate agent working on the project. “We didn’t just get one house, we got the whole package together.”

When Brown Harris Stevens came into the picture, there were 24 lots and one completed house still on the market. Now, Doggwiller says, “we have thirteen lots to go, plus one completed home.”

The change in strategy for the Houses at Sagaponac has affected the way the houses are marketed as well as how they are built.

“We decided to switch to letting the buyer work with the plans and work with the architect,” says Nilay Oza, the architect managing the project. “Previously, I was acting like the buyer, expressing interest and bankrolling the project. Now a buyer can choose from an array of designs.”

As a result, buyers have a lot more say in what they want their home to look like.

“The designs are not fully done,” explains Oza. “After someone decides to build the house, then they work with the architect to complete them.”

Another major change in the project is that, in addition to the 32 original plans, the Houses at Sagaponac is accepting submissions on a rolling basis from architects at every point in their careers. After they presented this new development at the Architectural Digest show in New York City two weeks ago, “we were inundated with architects,” says Oza.

“We had 16 new entries right after the show, and we chose 12,” he said.

With all these new plans, buyers might be able to choose from five designs per property, which Brown Harris Stevens markets through renderings.

“Ten years ago this would not have been possible,” says Oza. “Rendering technology has changed tremendously. Renderings can really transmit the feeling of a house. So it’s easier to conceive of a process where a broker takes a rendering to a buyer and it looks real.”

In terms of the way these houses are being built today, “a lot has changed in the world of modern architecture,” says Oza. “Ten years ago, the idea was that bigger is better and everything should be done in spades.”

He acknowledges there might have been talk of sustainability in design; but then, said Oza, “a 10,000 square foot ‘sustainable’ house would be built. The profession, like the car industry, is now seriously questioning this approach. Buildings are getting smaller and they’re using sustainable materials.”

But it’s not just about sustainable any more either. Oza points out that there’s also a local component that has gained ground even in the last two years.

“Two years ago you could let something like reclaimed wood from across the country slide. Now we think of things in terms of ‘cradle to grave’. You need to take into account where it came from, how far it has traveled, etc,” he said. As a result, the project has taken on a more local outlook and strengthened the local community of builders and suppliers as well.

Even though the Houses at Sagaponac has received designs from architects from all over the world and at all stages in their careers, “the designs share interesting commonalities,” says Oza. They all try to capture the delicate balance between “privacy and a sense of openness.”

Each house is on a little over an acre of land, and the houses are relatively large (about 3,000 square feet). So the architects had to get creative in maintaining the modernists’ sense of openness without inhibiting a sense of privacy.

Ed Reale, Senior Managing Director for the Hamptons at Brown Harris Stevens, calls the project  “a hall of fame of modern architects. It’s a unique concept. There are maybe a few others in the world. To have such world-renowned architects, including international, all in one place is quite the unique development. And bringing in younger, newer designs is bringing it more up to date as well.”

In a market that is still questionable at best, Brown Harris Stevens is moving the Houses at Sagaponac project pretty quickly. Doggwiller attributes this success to the value buyers will find.

“Before you couldn’t get in for less than $4.5 million,” she says. “Now with these new architects, you can get in for just over $2.2 million. It’s a great value at this moment.”