By Michelle Trauring
There is just something about old homes, Lee Pomeroy says.
They date back to a time when people built for themselves, the 84-year-old architect explains, his words slow and deliberate.
They have a history, one that creaks under old floorboards and whispers through the beams.
And they are part of a community.
This is how he feels about his home on Hempstead Street in Sag Harbor — one of five opening their doors on Friday, July 7, for the annual Friends of the John Jermain Library house tour, the sole fundraiser for the library’s programming budget, according to president Toby Spitz.
“We raise between $25,000 and $35,000 each year from this event alone, which is single-handedly responsible for supporting our programming,” she said. “Without the contributions from the Friends, there would be no programming. People now depend on the library for all kinds of programs. It’s gotten much more sophisticated, and they need this money. It’s not just a nice day to see houses.”
That said, the annual event — which falls in line with a house tour tradition seen across the East End — indulges a certain desire to go where it’s typically not allowed. To peek inside a classic 1850s village home, or satiate the curiosity of what lies within a modern build by architect Peter Cook.
Both are included on this year’s lineup, Spitz said. Every summer, the tour includes one historic home, one large modern home, and three wildcards of the same ilk, she said.
“Every house is unique and they all reflect the character of Sag Harbor, which is a blend of the old and the new, and the quirky,” Spitz said. “This is an opportunity to get inside houses that you only see from the façade.”
At first glance, Pomeroy’s home almost exactly as it would have been in the 1880s, he says. What originally struck both him and his wife, Sarah, was the land—both the triangular lot the home sits on, and the nine lots it was once a part of, he explains.
Second was the house itself.
“Frankly, we were more interested in the original house than the addition. It had been compromised somewhat along the way,” he says. “It was a very classic Sag Harbor house, a Queen Anne-style federal house, and the original part of it still remains that way. It feels comfortable in this community, and it’s a very familiar, traditional house here. I liked that.”
Inside is a different story, he says.
“I deal with very modern architecture, so I don’t want to say history is my sole life,” he says. “My buildings like to recall elements of history. I’ve worked on 10 major landmarks in New York City, from the Plaza Hotel to Trinity Church to Grand Central Station, so I like old houses and we celebrate them when we can. But I’m a modern architect and I’m interested in ideas, so I’ve done very modern buildings in China, India and New York, as well. I like balance between the old and new.”
Essentially, that is what the Pomeroys have done with their home.
The yearlong restoration created a clear division between the outside and inside of the home, the architect explained. He added more bedrooms and bathrooms to the second floor, and transformed the ground level into a series of modern spaces, including a new kitchen, master suite, living room and library.
“Because my wife is a classical scholar, she’s published a lot of books about women, so our library has a lot of her books in it,” he said. “We like women’s art, so we have various art by women here, like Nancy Spero. Since I designed the Lincoln Center subway station with this artist, she gave us art for our house here.”
Hints at the couple’s travels and life passions can be seen throughout the house: an 1860 vintage piano from the Chickering Company, a harpsichord, and a large model airplane hanging above the staircase, for example. Outside, the land is divided into three parts, like a triangle, Pomeroy explains.
The first reflects the history of the property — the side from which the original portion of the house is visible — and is used recreationally. The second aligns with the addition, and features a pool, accompanying pool house and veranda. The third rests between the two, home to an organic garden where the couple sources most of their vegetables.
“This building has given us a chance to be a part of this community, which is a change from Water Mill, where we were living before,” Pomeroy says. “It’s very different and we like being a part of the Sag Harbor culture here.”
Sag Harbor culture is as diverse as the homes themselves, Spitz said, from legacy families to African-Americans to new immigrants. But just like the houses, no matter their background, the locals are of the same ilk, too.
That’s the draw of Sag Harbor, she said.
“The people here are warm, friendly, compassionate, down to earth and really here for each other,” she said. “One of the reasons I live in Sag Harbor is because it’s a very tight community. I think this area, including the library, has really made an effort to bring everyone together.”
The Friends of the John Jermain Library will host its annual house tour on Friday, July 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at five homes in Sag Harbor. Advance tickets are $50, or $55 day-of, and are available at The Wharf Shop and the library. All proceeds will benefit the library’s programming. For more information, call (631) 725-0049, or visit johnjermain.org.