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Modern Concepts Informed a Springs Renovation

Repurposed materials mixed old and new
Mark SegalPhotos by Durell Godfrey

    When Glenn Leitch saw the house at 450 Old Stone Highway in Springs, he was smitten. “It was in pretty bad shape then, and most people would have torn it down,” Mr. Leitch, an architect, said. “I loved the lines of it. It reminded me of Jackson Pollock’s house.”

      A tour of the house with Mr. Leitch and Lynn Stefanelli, his wife, made clear what matters to them: open spaces, sustainability, and mixing old and new. “The whole concept behind this renovation was to create a rustic modern farmhouse,” Mr. Leitch said. “Often when people renovate, it looks too clean.”

    The house dates from 1883, and the ground floor originally consisted of three rooms with low ceilings. Although the exterior was not changed, the interior was completely gutted. “You could see right through the lath to the outside,” Mr. Leitch recalled. “In fact, I worried that during the rough winter of 2010 the entire structure might lift off in a storm.”

    Because some of the first floor’s walls were taken out, Mr. Leitch installed a steel beam to support the second floor. To do so, the house was cut in half from front to back. A new foundation was laid, and the stones from the old one were used as a wall on the front lawn.

    “The whole idea was sustainability. Everything I took out of the house, I put back in somewhere,” Mr. Leitch said. “We repurposed the original studs from the house as door frames. You can see the plaster and lath marks on the wood.” The painted floor is the original wooden subfloor of the house, which had been covered in some areas by linoleum, in others by carpeting. The original shelves from the kitchen have been recycled as wainscoting in the master bedroom, while old bead board from the kitchen is now facing on a wall of the guest bedroom.

     Another source of materials was a nearby 18th-century house, where Mr. Leitch and Ms. Stefanelli stayed for 10 months during construction. “The owner had all this stuff in her yard from her own renovation, and she was happy for me to take things off her hands.” The heavy wooden post in the living room, which supports the steel beam, came from her house, as did a sliding barn door in the guest room and closet doors in the master bedroom.

    Aside from natural wood, there are only two colors in the house — bone white and gray. “No other colors are allowed,” he said, half-joking. The new kitchen is sleek. There are no handles on the cabinets, which are faced with white lacquer, as are the dishwasher and refrigerator, so the only visible appliances are the electric induction stovetop and microwave.

    The staircase to the second floor is original. “Today’s code wouldn’t allow such a steep rise,” Mr. Leitch pointed out. “But I like the way it looks, and a new staircase would have taken up more space.” Mr. Leitch opened up the space above the stairs by removing a landing. “I think I’m the only person in the Hamptons who has actually taken space out of a house. I removed 150 square feet. Having the stair open to the windows upstairs creates an atrium.”

    A photographic mural of a birch forest covers the wall adjacent to the stairs. “Most people put art or pictures of their kids alongside the staircase, but you’re just walking by, you don’t really look at them. This image, which came from National Geographic, takes you up.” In a corner of the living room, a fire burns in a pod-like enclosure that looks more like a piece of sculpture than a bio-ethanol fireplace. “It basically burns alcohol,” Mr. Leitch explained. “You don’t need a flue. A liter of fuel will burn four or five hours, and it’s clean and sustainable. Plus, a conventional fireplace can take up a lot of space.”

    In fact, the house is chock-full of space-saving ideas. In the bathrooms, toilet tanks are recessed behind the walls, making the spaces seem less crowded. Mr. Leitch opened up the ceilings in the kitchen and office to admit more light and create a sense of spaciousness. All the doors, including three pairs of French doors, open outside from, rather than into, the rooms. “When the French doors are open during the summer, you feel as if you’re outside,” he said. Instead of conventional screen doors, which would have presented a challenge, retractable, folding screens disappear into the walls when not in use.

    The attention to details is striking. A rectangular portion of the ceiling in the master bedroom is exposed to reveal wooden beams. “But, again, surrounding the old beams with the hung ceiling mixes the old and the modern, and allows the mechanicals to be run in the enclosed portion.” 

    The entire master bath is waterproof, with an open shower and a pitched floor leading to a drain. The sink and soaking tub are strikingly modern, yet the sink’s design is reminiscent of a farmhouse sink, while the oval, freestanding tub echoes a claw-footed tub.

    The house is full of art and intriguing objects, including paintings by local artists intermingled with such objects as a Berber tent pole from Morocco, a boat paddle from Panama, and woodblocks from Bali, where the couple honeymooned. The furniture, which has been kept to a minimum, ranges from old or distressed to mid-century modern to contemporary. In the office, for example, a white fiberglass chair offsets an old trunk.

    Mr. Leitch is a partner in Highland Associates, a large firm with offices in New York City and Pennsylvania. While he has done other work on the East End — the Elie Tahari boutique on Main Street in East Hampton, for example — most of his work, both residential and commercial, is in the city. He first came to the East End in his 20s as a renter. “Lynn and I bought a 600-square-foot cottage near Maidstone Park 10 years ago. I turned it into a modern cottage and added a studio. We sold it because I wanted another project.”

    Mr. Leitch praised the work and patience of Tim Sharp, the contractor, and Bill Warn, the carpenter. “It’s hard to figure out a guy like me,” he said, “since some things have to be absolutely precise, while others don’t. They never knew whether I would want something rough or crisp.”

    “Deep down, I’m a modernist,” he said. “In fact, my two favorite buildings on the East End are the house Charles Gwathmey designed for his parents on Bluff Road in Amagansett and the new Parrish Art Museum. If I were to build a house, it would be a modern one.” Perhaps it will be another project.

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