Relay: In Praise Of Ira

Years ago when he began work on his compound in Sagaponack many were outraged

    I want to thank Mr. Ira Rennert. Really. 

    Years ago when he began work on his compound in Sagaponack many were outraged. How could he take that lovely unbroken vista, Fairfield, and build something on it?

    Rumors swirled as more and more work was done in this huge ex-farm field overlooking the ocean. People tried to get a look at it. They flew over it and crept up from the beach to try see what was going on.

    There were stories: a garage for 100 cars, a footprint the size of Grand Central Station, hundreds of windows, tens of thousands of square feet! It would be a hotel, a hostel, a yeshiva, a corporate retreat, a university. Who needs a house that big, the neighbors wondered.

    People talked and whispered, and the traffic slowed to a crawl on the nearest roads. The work continued and continued.

    The fences went up and the sets of security gates. It was taking years to complete.

    Technology finally caught up with the project and satellites photographing every inch of the coastline enabled the curious to finally see the outlines of the parterres and allées and courtyards and driveways and accessory buildings. It was, in fact, huge, very sedate, very formal, with zillions of trees and acres of sod.

    Passers-by were positive this project would ruin the look of the area. They huffed and they puffed and they sort of hoped they could blow the whole thing down.

    And yet, it turns out the visual impact on the landscape is basically nil.

    The huge expanse of sand colored buildings are nestled snugly into the property and while the volumes are astounding when viewed from the air (or diagonally from a side road) the structures aren’t really any taller than the allées of trees. The Rennerts do not have any ungainly towers, swooping porches, portcullises, porte cochers, assorted mismatched rooflines, or encyclopedic variations on window sizes and shapes that can be found elsewhere locally.

    Folks, the Rennert house is subdued in its hugeness.

    I thank the Rennerts for buying the property and preventing the predatory developers (you know who you are) from making clusters of generic faux Shingle Style trophy houses for the nouveau, nouveau nouveaux.

    Across the street from Rennert-land, the sky is pierced by a combination of gambrel/mansard/pyramidal/hipped and semi-hipped, and simultaneously cross-gabled rooves sprouting more chimneys per structure than trees in the yards.

    Many of these faux-architectural specimens sport very tall stonework turrets at the corners of the shingled starter castles, with eyebrow windows breaking the hundreds of square feet of cedar shingles or terra-cotta tiles or both. MelangeHampton. Neighborhoods of flat ex-farm fields sprout tight groupings of spec houses spaced like suburbia — the Hamptons version of Levittown. Is this preferable? If you build it, they will come, and they have, and they will, as the land fills up with ticky-tacky.

    And then there is the previously scorned Rennert property with its low-slung European-style villa, formal gardens, and amazingly nonaggressive presence. Yes, the Rennert place is huge, but the compound is nowhere near as dense as those clumps of developer houses, or the watchcase factory mini-village in Sag Harbor.

    So thank you, Rennert family, for not letting that little piece of heaven sprout at least 480 English-style brick chimneys on at least 60 shiny new bad reinterpretations of the Shingle Style. Thank you for only having one tennis court and one pool, and not overstressing the land. (Each mini-castle in those developments has a pool and tennis and a septic and multiple dishwashers and triple machine laundry rooms.)

    Thank you for leaving room around your buildings for trees and grass. Thank you for keeping your house low so you don’t block the sunrise.

    Yes, dear reader, it’s big. But the alternative to the Rennert big is lots and lots of big. The farm fields will be growing more and more of those very big, generic houses they call McMansions, filling up the vistas with massive rooflines and hedges.

    The Rennerts have finished their building project, and what they have is better than what we imagined it would be and preferable by far to what it could have been.

    Thank you, Rennerts, and by the way, could I come over and borrow a cup of sugar some time? Maybe you could give me a little tour?

     Durell Godfrey, a contributing photographer for The Star, has photographed dozens, possibly even 100 or more, houses and gardens for the paper and its special sections.