By Michelle Trauring
When pitching homeowners three decades ago, the East Hampton Historical Society had nothing to hide. They were expecting 50 pairs of feet to bustle around each home on the annual House & Garden Tour — a reasonable, respectable number for the non-profit’s most important fundraiser — and, surely, it wouldn’t be an inconvenience to let them peek inside.
But persuasive techniques need to change when that number increases sevenfold.
“We had 350 people last year. I often whisper that number very quickly,” reported Joseph Aversano, the event chairman, with a laugh. “We keep getting stronger and stronger, and this is our 33rd year. There is no end in sight. It’s terribly gracious for people to open up their houses to us — and houses on the East End have become our new cash crop. We’re not raising ducks anymore.”
Ranging from classic shingle-style to clean contemporary lines, the cross-section of this year’s five houses — which will be on view Saturday, November 25, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. — clearly represent the East Hampton gamut, Mr. Aversano said, starting with a handsome traditional featuring multi-pane windows and two grand turrets, while just down the road is interior designer Joe Nahem’s brute modern on the ocean, filled with an extensive art collection and mid-century furnishings.
“You have to be careful not to make everything so historical,” Aversano said. “There are people who would rather spend the whole day at Mulford Farm or historical houses, but for the most part, people want to get ideas. They’re voyeuristic. If it’s been done by a great builder, a great interior designer, a great architect, they do come away with ideas — and that’s part of the game.”
Tour-goers can play it in spades at a French-and English-inspired cottage nestled on a quiet street in East Hampton. Stucco, stone and timber elements can be seen in early 20th-century homes around the village, and Sag Harbor-based architect William Beeton drew on that inspiration for the newer build.
“The client showed me a lot of images of stone and stucco cottages they were attracted to, but more in a French style,” he recalled. “I thought, there are stucco houses in East Hampton and if we could pull it more to a 1920s and ’30s style that was more appropriate to East Hampton, we would have something here. We hit it right away.”
The cream stucco harmonizes with the blue-grey stonework, steel windows and bronze elements, Beeton said, adding a certain warmth to the cozy, six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath home.
“It really feels like a family home, because it is. It was built very specifically for a specific family in mind. They very specifically tailored it to them and their lifestyle and their being together, and I think that came through,” he said. “Even though it’s small, it feels generous because there was a generous spirit to it. Everyone involved was on a team.”
Michael Derrig, owner of Landscape Details, worked a program of boxwoods, hydrangeas, sweetbay magnolia, a perennial garden and hedges around Beeton’s architecture, creating outdoor spaces that function as seating and living areas.
“Part of Bill’s aesthetic is to make a house look like it’s been there for a long time and not make it look overwhelming or like a McMansion,” Derrig said. “My vision for the landscaping was to complement Bill’s architecture, and complement the historic surroundings on that street and in the village.
“The people we built it for are some of the nicest people I have ever worked for,” he continued. “I mean, seriously, they are unbelievable. To me, that was probably the best thing about the project. I worked in construction for 25 years. I have 150 landscape clients. I know what it’s like to have a good one.”
As does Aversano, he said — or a willing host, that is, especially when it comes to the tour’s final two, 100-year-old homes: the iconic, three-story Kilkare, originally constructed by ship builders within the rarely seen Georgica Association, and the Woodhouse Playhouse.
“It’s really just an honor to have the Woodhouse Playhouse on the tour,” Aversano said. “The Woodhouse family was very philanthropic in East Hampton. They’re the ones that built Guild Hall and the library. The house was a gift to their daughter for her 16th birthday present, and it really was her playhouse. The main living room is 75 feet long and very medieval-looking inside.
“Hardly anyone knows it’s here. It’s secluded down a driveway behind lots of bushes, and it really is a touch of history,” he continued. “The second owners bought it directly from the Woodhouse estate in 1956, and they do their best to maintain it. He was so gracious when I asked him to be on the tour. You don’t get that every day of the week.”
The East Hampton Historical Society will kick off its 33rd annual House & Garden Tour with an opening night cocktail party on Friday, November 24, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton. Tickets are $200, which include the self-guided tour, featuring five area houses, on Saturday, November 25, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Advance tour tickets are $65, or $75 day of. For more information, please call (631) 324-6850 or visit easthamptonhistory.org.