Morpurgo House Plans Begin To Take Shape

Plans for upgrades to the Morpurgo house on Union Street.
Plans for upgrades to the Morpurgo house on Union Street.

By Christine Sampson

Plans for the restoration and renovation of the Morpurgo house at 6 Union Street in Sag Harbor’s historic district are beginning to take shape.

Anthony Vermandois, a Sag Harbor-based architect representing property owner Mitch Winston, appeared before the village’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review on January 26 with a preliminary plans for the historic, and somewhat infamous, structure.

Proposals presented last week included a discussion of lifting the house to restore and stabilize the foundation and get more vertical height in the basement – which the plans call the “ground floor.” There, the plans show two bedrooms, a game room, a media room, a laundry room, bathroom and mechanical room.

“What we want to do is, in the basement, save those two big, stone walls facing Union Street and facing the library, but then do some underpinning underneath them to get some deeper height in the basement,” Mr. Vermandois said. “We feel like we can probably keep the timber framing walls intact. …We’ll probably leave the sheathing on as well – it will actually help us hold the structure together.”

ARB member Christopher Leonard questioned whether lifting the house and reinforcing the foundation would be necessary, but Mr. Vermandois replied, “That would have to occur even if we weren’t doing anything in the basement. The north wall and east wall of the 18th century house are intact, but the rest of the house is not.”

Mr. Leonard requested documentation proving this. “When you take this house and lift it, you’re going to dig down. … This structure is going to be dramatically changed,” he said.

Drawings presented by Mr. Vermandois show a handful of proposed exterior changes.

These “will impact how we will proceed with our Zoning Board of Appeals variances,” Mr. Vermandois said. “We are trying to minimize the variances we need for this, but at some point we are going to need something from them.”

The plans show the removal of a first-floor addition, containing only a bathroom, built early in the 20th century. The rear of the building will need to be rebuilt entirely, Mr. Vermandois said.

“Every time I go to the house, that back northeast corner has sunk a few inches lower. It’s going rapidly,” he said, noting that the 1870s brackets will be salvaged where they can and duplicated where they cannot.

Mr. Vermandois said he was surprised the front porch didn’t fall down under the weight of the mid-January snowfall.

“Having said that, there are some elements of that, the column posts and the brackets, that are salvageable, so the front porch will be rebuilt structurally, but we will salvage what we can for reapplication,” he said.

A proposed change to includes changing the porch from a wrap-around style on the west side of the house to be a partial porch that would end at the first column, leave the two center “bays” on the side entrance out, and then pick up again after the side entrance.

What drew the ARB’s ire was a proposed port cochere to address the problem of where to park cars on the property. It would require a ZBA variance.

“Possibly the hardest thing to work on was the parking… Living on Union Street myself, I know what an issue it is,” Mr. Vermandois said.

ARB consultant Zach Studenroth said, “You can call it a port cochere, but it’s a really large, covered car port. … I get where you’re coming from aesthetically, but it looks new and not scaled right for the house. … Now you’ve created this kind of wide, covered driveway, basically, and I think it loses the natural look you find elsewhere.”

The board also said the proposed roof decks needed further tweaking and wanted more of an answer over whether the house’s siding could be recovered.

“We could potentially blast ahead with a formal presentation for the house itself with the caveat that the parking is unresolved,” ARB chairman Anthony Brandt concluded. “I think we’d like to get this resolved sooner rather than later, because every day is another day of deterioration.”