If writers have a voice, painters a vision, and fashion designers a recognizable style, it stands to reason that builders also have their own signature look. In this area there are builders whose work you can identify a mile away — if you could catch a glimpse over the hedges, that is, or have the good fortune to be invited inside.
Externally, the going style for most builders is the gambrel, defined by its four-sided roofline, an indigenous style that dates back to the manses of the turn-of-the-20th-century summer colonists. One builder who has veered away from the gambrel is Wainscott’s Michael Davis, who is known for gabled roofs that evoke English country cottages or his adaptations of the traditional American farmhouse, albeit on a supersized Hamptons scale.
Al Giaquinto of Plum Builders on Pantigo Road, East Hampton, has done away with a residential profile altogether, instead building what he calls “modern barns.”
But where builders’ individual styles are most obvious is inside their creations. Mr. Davis is keen to point out that, having built more than 75 houses — one spec and eight or nine custom per year — he has never duplicated one.
“He builds each for the site,” said Diane Saatchi of Saunders, who represents his properties. “He doesn’t take the same house and clunk it onto different lots. He’ll design to maximize the way the light works.” You know when you walk into a Michael Davis house, she said. “The rooms light up.”
He also has a muted neutral palette that doesn’t default to white. “I describe them as Giorgio Armani colors,” Ms. Saatchi said. And he’s not afraid to go against the norm. While most builders use polished nickel door hardware, for Mr. Davis’s latest house he used burnished brass. “It’s the first time I’ve seen that in years,” Ms. Saatchi said. “He’s always ahead of the crowd.”
Mr. Giaquinto, who moved barns here from New England in the 1980s and rebuilt them according to the style of that decade, is now building huge barnlike spaces with gabled ceilings and trusses. “This is the oldest envelope in this area,” he said. The main room is so cavernous he likens it to an urban loft. Large wall expanses are built with art displays in mind.
Kitchens are oversized, an outgrowth of Mr. Giaquinto’s Italian heritage. His average kitchen spans 20 by 20 feet, with islands running 4 feet wide and from 14 to 18 feet long. “It gives the opportunity to have four or five people working together comfortably,” he said. Instead of hiding the wine cellar away in the basement, he puts it in the living room, which also functions as the dining room.
The “modern” in the concept derives from his generous use of glass windows that slide into walls, creating large openings to 1,200-foot terraces. “We have as much glass as a modern house and twice as much as a traditional.”
There are at least two builders who transcend building to also decorate their houses. Of the three houses James Michael Howard has built locally so far, two went into bidding wars. “He plans the total concept, from wall coverings and window treatments . . . decking it out as if it’s for one of his high-end clients,” said Gary DePersia of Corcoran. Mr. Howard is also an interior designer. For the house he is now erecting in Water Mill, he has ordered a dozen rugs to be made in Turkey and is planning each detail, from the bedding to the glassware.
“This is a house you’d think someone lived there, but it’s a spec house,” Mr. DePersia said. Another way you can tell Mr. Howard’s houses: rooms with vaulted ceilings.
Dan Scotti, a former lawyer who “always had a deep passion for building,” also goes a step beyond staging his houses to decorate them with art and furnishings he’s picked up on his travels. While Mr. Howard includes everything in the sale price — down to the spoons — Mr. Scotti does not leave his furnishings behind. Not to worry, Molly Sims, an actress and model, bought one of his houses and liked his design touches so much she asked him to decorate it for her.
While Mr. Scotti likes to make exteriors with symmetrical gables and simple rooflines “that look like they’ve been there since the turn of the century,” his interior layouts are sleek and contemporary. His trademark touches include tongue-and-groove millwork ceilings painted in a high-gloss supersaturated color.
“I like the imperfection of using individual boards,” he said, adding that they give a feeling of history. He prefers a dark ceiling “because it adds drama and makes the room feel cozy.”
Admittedly “obsessed with vintage industrial lighting,” Mr. Scotti incorporates such fixtures, and not recessed lights, into hallways and kitchens. In a house for sale on Further Lane in East Hampton, he installed a vintage ’50s starburst chandelier that set him back $50,000. That piece will go to the buyers.
Jeffrey Colle, who has just finished a house on David’s Lane in Water Mill, is known for installing antique wide-plank flooring, often from Europe. His millwork is all custom and often executed on site. He prides himself on “Old World craftsmanship” that can be seen in details such as hand-doweled floors, handmade cabinetry, and French-chalked quarter-sawn oak paneling. Another trademark is his extensive use of pocket doors that when closed delineate rooms, but when open accentuate a free-flowing floor plan where rooms open into each other.
Last, but certainly not least, are the houses of Joe Farrell, the most prolific builder on the South Fork. “You can walk in and know immediately it’s a Farrell house,” said Ms. Saatchi. “There are a couple of layouts that are popular, and he repeats them.” His houses are “variations on central hall colonials” with sweeping side stairways and ego-boosting two-and-a-half-story foyers. Most come with a theater, elevator, and high-ceiling basement.
“People respond to them,” said Ms. Saatchi. “You can’t argue with success.”