Gracious and Historic Eight-Bedroom House Embraces the Generations

Durell Godfrey

    When Mary Jane and Charles Brock, who had spent 25 years as the owners of a comfortable East Hampton Village house at the corner of Buell Lane, went looking for something where they and their two adult children could spread out and do their own thing, they didn’t envision another Main Street residence.

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    But friends directed their attention to the 1799 Gen. Jeremiah Miller house, an expansive gambrel-roofed house surrounded by brickwork, boxwood hedges, a verandah, croquet court, and putting green, and it “spoke to me,” Ms. Brock said. “The South-ern-ness of the house and its history — you feel that.” Ms. Brock has Southern roots.
“It’s a great entertaining house,” she said, while ushering a visitor through its richly appointed rooms on a rainy summer day.
    When the Brocks bought the 12,500-square-foot, eight-bedroom, seven-bath house in 2005, it had been renovated and restored by different owners over the years, but its historical integrity had been maintained.
    Ms. Brock said the house was in remarkably solid shape. General Miller had been the village postmaster and the front parlor was his office, so it wasn’t a surprise that the style had been “very Americana.” Now, after top to bottom redecorating, she describes the house as “gracious and elegant, but relaxed.”
    Its wide-plank pine floors are a counterpoint to detailed finishes, tile work, and the carved or stone mantels on the house’s nine working fireplaces. On the main floor, one fireplace has a seaweed-and-shells theme; another a pineapple motif.
    “There’s a harmony. The house is an extraordinarily rich architectural environment,” Ms. Brock said, as she pointed out pewter hardware throughout the house, a pocket door, and Venetian glass finials on the newel posts of an exquisite, three-story, floating stairway, which dates to the 1880s.
    A fireplace in the center hall is a welcoming feature, Ms. Brock said, for visitors during events such as the East Hampton Historical Society’s Thanksgiving house tour or benefits for the Big Apple Circus, of which she is a vice chairwoman and director. Parties for Guild Hall and the Hamptons International Film Festival have also been held at the house.
     In 1885, when the Edward De Rose family of New York bought the house as a summer residence, they had it moved 150 feet back from Main Street. Now, a flower border and a row of pear trees flank the boxwood hedge obscuring the sidewalk and the trunks of tall street-side trees. The De Roses remodeled the house, but, an article in The East Hampton Star noted at the time, preserved its character.
    The historic front door had opened right from Main Street into two separate parlors. They are now combined as a game and media room, which is filled with whimsy. A pool table inherited from former owners, pillows with a monkey print, and a jungle mural on wood “sort of sets the tone for vibrant color” in the room, Ms. Brock said.
There is art throughout the house, including many works by local artists. “This is a big home, and we enjoyed finding pieces we loved,” Ms. Brock said. They include several photos and paintings of the Deep South, a work by the Springs artist Ralph Carpentier, and a three-dimensional wall sculpture of bicycle racers, which was purchased in Paris. “It’s just so exuberant,” Ms. Brock said.
    A formal room contains an antique piano from Austria, which can be set to play by itself. Nearby, overlooking a section of the patio that Ms. Brock, in Southern style, calls a verandah, is an open dining area where numerous tables are set up when the Brocks host a lunch party. Outside, two acres of grounds that include a hidden shade garden are tended by the Galen Williams landscaping crew.
    A conservatory, off the family’s less formal dining room and kitchen, has a light blue motif, with seersucker fabrics. The kitchen, Ms. Brock said, “is a country kitchen, but it’s an elegant country kitchen.”
    The second and third floors of the house contain separate suites for each member of the family. One master bedroom has “more of a study effect,” she said, with ironwork bookshelves made by Mark Poplowski, an artisan who works for the family as a handyman. He also made the bases of two tables in the formal dining room and designed a fireplace tool that indicates whether a damper is open or closed.
    Another master bedroom has a blue marble fireplace, and a bath with paint the color of the sky and tiles designed with flowers and leaves. An exercise room and sauna adjoin it.
    The Brock offspring have custom-decorated their own rooms. Their daughter, Susanna Brock, Ms. Brock said, has made hers “über feminine. It is to me the sweet spot in the house. It’s just calm.” A little study has trundle beds covered in grayish blues and taupes, and a painting by Casey Anderson of a field of flowers. A nearby sitting room has couches and a table under a triangle window with diamond-shaped panes, and a guest room has a giraffe theme, from a water color to a pillow to a couple of wood sculptures to a sign that says “Giraffe Crossing.”  Ms. Brock explained that a giraffe had been the opening act of a circus she and her daughter once went to in Geneva.
    Walker Brock and his wife, who has a master’s degree in historic preservation, are restoring houses in Charleston. The recently married couple have peppered their suite with antique objects and art: propellers, a ladder, a window frame — items Ms. Brock called “weathered, soft, early Americana.”
    Another guest bedroom has light wood paneling, rattan furniture, and grass-textured wallpaper. Reflecting a view of the pool from the windows in Walker’s bedroom are four paintings of water done by another Springs artist, Randall Rosenthal, in 1983 and purchased at a Guild Hall Clothesline art sale.  
    Ms. Brock’s Big Apple Circus affiliation is manifested in lively touches throughout the house, including a painting in the kitchen of an apple by James Del Grosso and a sculpture of a circus acrobat in the conservatory.
“I want the house to be warm and welcoming,” Ms. Brock said with characteristic modesty. It’s an achievement that cannot be denied.