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Colonial to Contemporary: Hamptons Architecture

Originally Posted: June 11, 2007

Andrea Aurichio

The architectural evolution of the Hamptons has taken us from utilitarian Capes built by the First Settlers in the 1640's to the classic shingle style homes that defined vacation architecture in the 1890's, to the dramatic contemporary houses that appeared in the 20th century, and established the Hamptons as the white-hot center of modern architecture.

The Capes were built by working people. The shingle style homes were built by the wealthy. The first contemporary homes were commissioned by the upper middle class who also sought to vacation at the seashore and could now afford to do so.

The introduction of this urban upper middle class to the architectural mix of the region redefined the look of the Hamptons once again. Of course, the rich would soon appropriate the ultra-modern beach house as a preferred form of vacation home design. But in its early days it was the provenance of the middle class second homeowner. The houses that emerged during this era became just as important to the area's architectural history as the prevailing shingle style home.

The Hamptons went from a working community to a resort community in the blink of an eye. The "summer people" and their architects and builders changed the face of the region in a very short time while local people looked on in awe.

These people wanted to build houses that made a statement and also provided them with a place to relax but more often than not they had to do this on a budget. They were creative and in the process changed the landscape once again jarring both the locals and the summer colonists.

Early American houses had small windows and thick doors. Many of them are still standing, a testimonial to our heritage and the workmanship of their builders. It is an enduring legacy. These utilitarian houses stand in a point-counterpoint kind of relationship with modern homes as if they are having a debate with the sleek contemporary houses that have joined them to rest on the shores of some of the most beautiful ocean beaches and farm fields in the world.

These sleek twentieth century homes were minimal in design. Spare and elegant, they often look like a cross between an old barn and a space station. They did not have to be painted often. These houses ushered in the era of the easy care beach house, a concept that pervades the Hamptons today.

The modern homes were smaller in scale, and far less expensive to build than the first shingle style summer homes. Unlike the spacious, casually elegant shingle style homes, the modern house did not have large public gathering rooms, elaborate guest suites and staff accommodations. The modern house had a great room, a single room designed to serve multi-functions, cooking, dining and relaxing. Small bedrooms were built around this core component room of the house.

Early contemporaries were built on budgets using durable, cost efficient materials designed to weather the elements without intense maintenance. They were designed with open floor plans and large windows to exploit the views of the fields and the ocean.

This style took full advantage of the views and were the first houses to really bring the outdoors in and the indoors out. You could sit and look at the view all day and feel at one with the earth.

They were houses designed by people who wanted to make a statement. They succeeded and they created houses that captured the essence of the Hamptons. Contemporary designs are just as much a part of our architectural heritage as the defining Capes and shingle style homes of previous eras. They dot the landscape and seem to belong exactly where they have been placed somehow blending into the landscape rather than fighting with it.

Today, all of these houses exist side by side in the on going evolution of our towns. Who knows what will appear next and change our landscape yet again in this Century?

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