In a grove of cedars in the woods of Springs, Marcia Previti and Peter Gumpel have taken architecture into an unexpected, although appropriate, realm: the outdoors.
The couple, who are architects, have lived in a “raised ranch, split-level, postmodern bungalow” (in their words) for 22 years. In the course of those two-plus decades, they have taken the art and science of constructing buildings and, one could say, turned it inside out, creating a series of outdoor “rooms” filled with surprise.
“We’re doers,” Ms. Previti said as she showed a recent visitor around. “We like to work and create. We like the outdoors, so we were always outside tending to the grove. It’s a nice space, now what are we going to do with it? We make a room out of it, for a purpose. It developed one to the next.”
Ms. Previti and Mr. Gumpel had separate architectural practices in New York. She concentrated on corporate interiors and residences but gave it up about five years ago, although she continues to work under her husband’s umbrella, PMG Architects.
The couple first came to East Hampton in 1981 as co-owners of a boat docked at the marina at Duck Creek off Three Hile Harbor. Five years later, they went in on a house at Lion Head in Springs with another couple, renovated it, and began alternating their summer weekends between land and sea. After their son was born, however, they decided it was time to build their own house.
“Being architects, we decided jointly that we didn’t want to do a traditional East End garden with lawns and selective planting,” Mr. Gumpel said. “The natural instinct was to take advantage of the environment that we had by doing clearings, spotting rooms — outdoor rooms — that had different character to them.”
` The overall garden, which has been on the Garden Conservancy’s “open days” tours and is opened occasionally for benefit performances, now has some nine distinct spaces, not to mention a wisteria arbor and a greenhouse, and each has a given name. The grounds and plantings occurred with no articulated master plan. “It’s not as if there’s a target, and we’re 90 percent there. It’s an evolving, iterative process,” Mr. Gumpel said.
The couple’s son was 2 when they moved into the house, Ms. Previti said, “so we wanted a piece of lawn. . . . We limited it to that, put up posts, and called it the Games Lawn.” But it was a birthday party for Ms. Previti shortly after they took up residence that was the real genesis of the garden.
“I said, ‘If you have to bring something, bring me a plant.’ People did. Twenty-two years later, I know a little more about plants, and can put things in a place where they should be, and know I’m going to get a bloom cycle through the season.” Today the grounds are filled with flowers: foxgloves, daylillies, peonies, irises, nepeta, gooseneck and purple loosetrife, lespedeza, crepe myrtle, and many, many more.
The Sun Garden came next. “I got the stones, some dirt, started raking these forms, and ended up with an area in the middle. I knew that some feature should be here. We went to Agway, and they had this fountain. That became a real feature,” Ms. Previti said.
Rhodo Walk, an S-shaped path amid the cedars and rhododendrons on one side of the house, leads to a Treehouse, high above the ground, which is even appropriate as an adult retreat.
What was literally glaring in its absence, Ms. Previti said, was shade. The first rooms had “hot, searing sun all the time.
There was no escape from it. Peter cleared an area, and we realized that would be a nice shady nook. We developed that room, and it became the Shade Garden.”
Vacations to Caribbean resorts inspired a Ping-Pong Pavilion, a tent-covered space with table tennis, seating, and lights for nighttime play. “When we have parties, friends come out here and play. It’s a lot of fun,” Ms. Previti said. Throughout the property, sculpture reflects and complements the surroundings. Red dragons are in the trees at Pop’s Garden.
A traditional space on the property is a garage with a studio above it, accessed by a circular staircase. The wisteria arbor is at one side. “The house is very small, and we’re a creative family, always doing projects, so we needed a project room,” Ms. Previti said. Another seating area, beneath a pergola, is adjacent, at the far end of the swimming pool.
Although active as an architect — Mr. Gumpel was responsible for everything within the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago and has designed houses on the South Fork for Ian Schrager, among others, for example — he also does watercolors. Portraits and paintings of seascapes, landscapes, and some of the couple’s travel destinations, particularly India and Nepal, cover the studio walls; others are in the house.
Finally, deer fencing was moved to free up space for a Fire-Pit Room. Inspired by visits to the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, Ms. Previti asked herself why they shouldn’t have one. Lighting makes it a cozy nighttime environment, and it is perfect in autumn, she said.
They also have walking paths through an adjacent wooded area. “It was really dense, and we couldn’t use it. . . . It took several years to clear and connect the deer paths,” Ms. Previti said. Now you can just about circumnavigate the property, resting perhaps in the hammock that crosses one of the paths or stopping at the pergola.
“It’s the idea . . . of creating a journey, of flowing from space to space,” Ms. Previti said.