Saving Modernism in the Hamptons

Southampton-based interior designer Timothy Goodbold used to be just an ardent fan of the modern, angular homes perched atop the sand dunes near his home. And sometimes, when he spotted an early architectural gem that really excited him, he’d share a photo with his Instagram followers.

But in March 2020, after posting a photo of a house designed by architect Norman Jaffe in 1977, known as Lloyds House, one designer responded with a comment that stunned him: “It was like, ‘Oh, yes, we are,'” said Mr. Goodbold, who thinks Jaffe’s house It was a masterpiece.

Mr. Goodbold said he began looking for a conservation group that was working to prevent similar rip-offs in the future, “belief that there should be, like, 20 non-profit preserves here, like the Norman Jaffe Preserve and Mid-Century Preserve, and I could just add my name and give them a few hundred dollars a year.”

But he soon learned that there was no such group to join. the worst, Many important homes have already disappeared and more have been routinely demolished to make way for sprawling new mansions, as learned from Alastair Gordon, a journalist, author, and curator who has spent most of his career chronicling architecture in the Hamptons, including “Weekend Utopia” in 2001 and “The Romantic Architect: The Life and Work of Norman Jaff, an Architect” in 2005.

As described by Mr. Jaffe’s son, Miles Jaffe: “Norman is so much a part of the story of no-keeping. There is very little left of what he has designed, and what he does is often butchered.”

Mr. Goodbold decided he could not let her fall, and, somewhat reluctantly, assumed the Hamptons’ conservative mantle. By June 2020, Hamptons had started 20 Century Modern, an organization that started as an Instagram account and website dedicated to showcasing modern 20th century architecture in the Hamptons, but has rapidly evolved into a registered non-profit organization undertaking a wide range of activities.

For the past year and a half, Mr. Godbold has given presentations and organized group discussions on modern architecture in the Hamptons. He promoted real estate listings for recent homes on his Instagram account in hopes of finding sympathetic buyers and began organizing dinners for homeowners of Hamptons designed by prominent architects (the first, last September, was for homeowners designed by Andrew Geller.).

In partnership with Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, he’s also organized a recent August 14 home tour, which he hopes will grow into a multi-day event in the coming years.

“My goal is to create something like Palm Springs Modernism Week,” said Mr. Goodbold, which celebrates that city’s design history through a wide range of tours, lectures and other events that attract crowds of tourists each year.

“These homes need marketing and public relations so that people know about them, respect them, like them and want to preserve them,” he said. “Unless people know about them, it won’t happen. They will just disappear.”

Last summer, he had the opportunity to put this theory to the test.

Orest Bliss, owner of an oceanfront home designed by Jaffe Design at 88 Meadow Lane in the village of Southampton, He was seeking permission to demolish the house built in the late 1970s that featured a bold triangular roofline.

Before making a decision, the Village Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation commissioned Mr. Gordon, the journalist, to write a report on the property’s historical significance. When Mr. Goodbold heard what was in full swing, he urged his followers on social media (currently, Hamptons 20th Century Modern does not have an official membership and instead consists of a loose group of interested parties) to write letters to express their annoyance.

Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former New York Times architecture critic, wrote one letter. Mr. Goldberger’s 1986 book, “Hamptons Homes” He was an inspiration to Mr. Goodbold. Sarah Kautz, the conservation director at Long Island Conservation, wrote another letter. So does artist Daniel Archham, who owns a Jaffe-designed home just outside the Hamptons.

“The fact that there are no protections for these places is puzzling to me, considering that Jaffe had a large retrospective of his work at the Parish Museum of Art, which is only a few miles from this house,” Mr. Arsham said in an interview. Mr. Gordon). “If it is celebrated locally in the community and museums, how is it not worth saving it?”

After writing his own message, Mr. Arsham pleaded with his Instagram followers for more. He said, “I posted on my account what was going on and encouraged my followers to write messages.” “I think hundreds of them did.”

In December, the village council voted to reject certification that would have allowed the house to be demolished, and effectively preserved, for the time being.

Ironically, when Mr. Jaff submitted his design for the house in 1978, village officials, alarmed by its avant-garde form, requested that the landscaping around the building be preserved “forever” to conceal it; Now, the same design has been recognized as something worth saving.

Of course, the decision is about one home for one architect. Many other structures were not so lucky, which is why Mr. Goodbold is so interested in the buildings being celebrated by a wide range of other architects who worked in the Hamptons, including Peter Blake, Charles Gwathmey and Robert Siegel, Myron Goldfinger and Julian and Barbara Nesky.

One of the big challenges when it comes to maintaining modern buildings is that many municipalities are not equipped to take into account such modern structures, said Ms. Kautz of Preservation Long Island, because they were newly built, or did not exist, when there was a significant push to complete them. Historic building surveys were conducted after the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. These surveys typically looked at buildings that were at least 50 years old, she added.

“If you surveyed in the ’70s, that would put you in the ’20s, so you wouldn’t even come close to these modernist things,” she said. “We need to look and see what’s out there. We need to catch up.”

But as property values ​​in the Hamptons rise, many modern homes are being demolished before they have a chance to age.

“Great mid-century homes that are relatively modest but in great locations are being snapped up, torn down and turned into McMansions,” said Mr. Goldberger. “It’s all about the land, unfortunately.”

Mr. Goldberger lamented the loss of innovative modern homes, including the home completed by famed French architect Pierre Chareau for artist Robert Motherwell in East Hampton in 1946, and Philip Johnson’s home in Sajapunac, which was completed in 1947.

Yes, early modern homes were often small, built cheaply, and designed as summer retreats, as permitted, but there were still ways to preserve the most unique, even for wealthy buyers who now wanted vast properties.

One option is to keep the original structure as a guest house or studio and to build a larger adjacent to it, as CookFox Architects did recently when he moved and restored Mr. Geller’s 1959 double diamond Burleruth home in Westhampton Beach to make way for a new, larger home on the same property. Or, it could be restored, modernized and expanded in a delicate way, as Roger Ferris + Partners recently did for a family that bought a Jaffe 1980 home in Bridgehampton.

But size isn’t everything, and Mr. Goldberger was disappointed to see even the large, recently built homes crumbling under the excavator’s shovel, including those designed by Mr. Jaff and Mr. Gwathmy.

“There is an amazing tradition of modernity out there that is managed literally and figuratively with money,” Mr. Goldberger said.

With much of 20th century architectural history lost, Mr. Gordon said the Hamptons are at a crossroads. “The question is: Do you want your community to be just a reflection of this great wealth that has been brought upon eastern Long Island in the last twenty years, or do you somehow want to retain a diversity and mix of not only economic, but architectural approaches as well?” he said. “I think a culturally rich community wants diversity.”

Mr. Goodbold hopes more people will agree soon. “Maybe one day there will be no reason for me to jump up and down around these houses because everyone will love them again,” he said. “But until then, I will wave the flag as often as I can.”

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