On a private lane, tucked behind the current mayhem of East Hampton Main Street,
a stately Greek Revival house evokes times gone by.
Originally at the corner of Main Street and Dayton Lane, the house was built in 1840 for Charles W. Osborne. After buying it a century and a half later, Hollis and Jim Forbes, with an active toddler in tow, stood on the lawn of the site to which it had been moved in 1940, pondering the innumerable upgrades they thought would make the it more livable.
It had been a small, two-story house, and two one-story wings had been added in the 20th century, flanking it. A garage also had been put up on one side. The Forbeses were particularly enamored of the wide plank floors (there were seven different kinds). Interior casings, doors, and windows were still in place. Considering the historic details, along with the scale and simplicity of the original house, the Forbeses were convinced to undertake the daunting endeavor of restoration. Their goal was to take the house into the 21st century with its architectural integrity intact.
As a local architect, I was thrilled that my practice was chosen to take on the project. The architectural challenge was to balance the historical elements with the more relaxed way we live today.
Even though renovations had been done over the lifetime of the house, the oldest portion was totally untouched. We focused on overhauling the kitchen, with the help of my husband’s firm, Smith River Kitchens. The wide galley kitchen retained its historical shape and style, while the addition of a double crown and soffit at the ceiling accentuates the space and makes the room seem taller. Using beadboard (or wainscoting) as a backsplash, the vintage feel was intact.
We also reconfigured the bathrooms, using traditional tiles, and designed new millwork for the whole house. The contractor, Larry Zimmerman of Laran Construction, addressed every issue, one by one, as it came along.
The wings that flank the original house are stepped back to give it visual weight. We thought it important to capitalize on the house’s simplicity, and used matching windows with six-over-six or three-over-three panes.
During the renovation, we discovered old front porch columns in the basement. Looking at historic pictures, and tapping the expertise of Robert Hefner, the East Hampton Village historic preservation consultant, we discovered that a porch had been across the entire front of the house. We adapted our plans to include a small version with the same details. The screened-in porch along the entire back of the house, which had been put up by former owners, remained intact, as did the French doors that open to the garden at the back of the south wing.
The small bedrooms on the second story of the original house, each with its own fireplace, were kept as we found them. The major renovation was adding second stories to each of the wings in order to provide up-to-date children’s rooms and a comfortable master suite.
Six years later, with the couple now the parents of two daughters, my firm was called on again. We had previously repositioned the doors of the garage so that they were not visible from the street. This time we designed a second story to accommodate a playroom. We also bumped out its back wall for a mudroom and bath.
Weaving the additions into the architecture of the house so that at first glance it was hard to tell the old from the new was the most challenging, and the most gratifying, aspect of the work. The end result was a happy combination of old and new.
The 19th century Osborne house is now fully updated. As the Forbeses envisioned, it reflects a modern lifestyle while nodding to, and respecting, the quiet, rural past of dirt roads and farming families.U