The Mast-Head: Rooflines Tell a Story

Developers and people looking to build and flip are replacing the old ranches and four-squares in batches

Going into Memorial Day weekend, I had an intention to write down all of the amusing things I overheard while out and about, and make a column out of the best of them. Either I wasn’t paying attention or simply went to the wrong places, as by the end of the day on Monday, I had very little material. Well, no, that’s not quite right; I had exactly one quote.

It was therefore a good thing that I happened to take a walk in the Amagansett lanes on Friday evening. These narrow, straight streets run roughly south from Amagansett Main Street. They were where my friends and I did our Halloween trick-or-treating when our ages were still in single digits.

At the time modest ranch houses and four-squares built in the early postwar period dominated. Every place had plenty of lawn, with breathing room between it and its neighbors. Not anymore. With money to be made maxing out every available inch of a house lot, developers and people looking to build and flip are replacing the old ranches and four-squares in batches.

Standing in front of a house under construction on Miankoma Lane, I saw something I had not noticed before, which marks the new style: its side rooflines. Unlike those on earlier houses, today’s roofs appear to point directly at the property lines. That is, if you imagined a line parallel to the plane of the roof, it would hit the ground right where the privet is planted. This is no accident.

In East Hampton, building plans must conform to a so-called pyramid law and not exceed it. This is a line on paper that extends upward at an angle from the property’s margins. Builders seeking the most floor area have the houses extend side to side as far as possible, leaving headroom for decent-height ceilings and pitched roofs. 

The effect is a surprising conformity in the scale and shape of the new houses. I do not care for it, but then again, I am not directly in the business, although pretty much everyone who makes a living on the South Fork’s boat is floated in one way or another by building, real estate, and the related trades.

I walked on, thinking about that one thing I overheard, which I mentioned at the outset, a derisive “They have phones in Monaco!” from a man on a cellphone. He no doubt had come from one of those big new houses.