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Round House: Reimagined, Revamped, Revealed

Mon, 07/01/2024 - 13:50
Among the sights at Round House are, from left, a real Amagansett lifeguard stand, which Judy Bergsma gave to her husband as a birthday present, a three-tiered cast-iron fountain on the venue's Plaza, and a bottle-rack sculpture fashioned by Ennius Bergsma that was inspired by Marcel Duchamp.
Ennius Bergsma photos

Before there was LongHouse Reserve, there was Round House. 

Jack Lenor Larsen, the internationally famous textile designer and creator of LongHouse, purchased 12 acres on Hand's Creek Road in 1962 and finished the construction of Round House four years later. Its three circular buildings were inspired in part by kraals, circular houses with conical roofs that Larsen saw on a trip to South Africa, and he designed its gardens as well.

In 1989, when Ennius and Judy Bergsma saw Sotheby's For Sale sign on the road out front, they were surprised. "You never see a Sotheby's sign on this side of the highway," he told a recent visitor. "There was no gate at the time, it was the middle of the week, so we drove into this place and looked around. We thought it was a remarkably unusual place."

It was also "a little in decay." When they came back a few days later, there was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the living room. It was raining, and a workman in the garden had decided to fix it inside the house. In the sunroom, they found an in-ground, cracked hot tub.

Despite its state of neglect, which the couple later attributed to Larsen's laser focus at the time on developing LongHouse -- and because they were expecting their first child and needed a larger house -- they bought it not long after. (Also because "it was a wonderful kind of thing.")

For more than 30 years, Ennius and Judy Bersgma have built on and expanded Jack Lenor Larsen's vision for Round House. Durell Godfrey photo

Round House is a fitting and gorgeous evolution of the brilliant foundation that Larsen had established. It can be experienced by reading "Round House & Its Gardens: A Walking Tour," a book of stunning photographs and fascinating text created by Mr. Bergsma, designed by Sarah O'Connor, and just published by Archway Publishing.

The book is an illustrated guided tour, beginning at the gate leading into the long driveway and proceeding from there, with maps, text, and images, to lead the reader on a path to the house and from there around the property, pointing out notable sights and filling in details along the way.

Mr. Bergsma has been photographing the house and land for the past 20 years. "I ended up with a reasonably organized file of 3,500 photographs," he said. "Now when you decide to make a book, and you get a photographer and his team, they can spend four days. And then you have to hope the weather is right. But they do not have an inventory of 3,500 edited photographs. The question was, how do we use that? How do you create a book out of that?"

The solution arrived in response to a pet peeve. "The one thing that really irritated me about architectural writings is that you would have the photographer, who spends all of his time getting the right shot, and then you have these pictures about the house, and you’re trying to figure out if this is the same room, but from another angle? What does this room really look like? I was always getting frustrated. I decided that there must be other people who are frustrated by this."

For an earlier open house, he had created a map of the grounds to help people find their way through the garden. The map in the book serves the same function. "The map is the organizing principle. You start here, and you go here, and that is the yellow chapter. And then you have the purple chapter, and the rose-colored chapter. And that basically walks you through the garden."

While the same map introduces each of the five chapters, the area covered by each changes according to color. In the first chapter, for example, a yellow line leads from the entry gate, down the long drive, past the monkey puzzle tree (named for its spiky branches, which discourage ascent), past the cedars and copper beech, and eventually to the house --  which is really three houses, the main house, the guest house, and the silk house. 

As for the gardens, said Mr. Bergsma, the landscape architect Ed Hollander made an inventory of what was there and planted some trees, but the vision is the homeowners'. "I was never a good customer for landscaping companies," he said, "because they don't want you to be involved. They just want to do the work and have you show up on Friday. That was not us. We are both kind of doers, and it really has been great fun."

He cited the plaza, just outside the main house's garden door. "Jack did the plaza, but he then made a mistake. He had these 24 London plane trees growing, and I thought that didn't look right." Those trees could have grown as high as 100 feet. Instead, Mr. Bergsma decided to pollard them, keeping them to about 20 feet.

The plaza itself, he said, "is kind of inspired by the Bois de Boulogne in the 1880s, particularly in the summer, when we put lights in the trees and you sit among them. It is as if you are in Paris."

The swimming pool is also off the main house. "Jack originally had two concentric circles here. He had a six-foot-wide rim between the pool itself and the wall that encircled it, so there was only enough space for a relatively small dipping pool." Mr. Bergsma reconfigured the pool without moving the outer walls, so that part of it now accommodates "some serious swimming, while the other part is a lounging area."

He also designed the pool walls, which were originally gray, in a pattern based on wall paintings found in round house walls in Mali, painting the first small sections himself and hiring an artist to finish the job. "After the first two, I knew I couldn't do 25 of them."    

Before Round House, gardening played only a small role in Mr. Bergsma's life. He grew up in the Netherlands, and was "always futzing around in the garden" of the family's country house, "but I was not fanatic about it." He went on to law school in Holland and then to Harvard Business School before joining the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in New York.

Nothing in either of the couple's lives foreshadowed the extent of their creative stewardship of Round House, although Ms. Bergsma, a film producer who has made industrial films for the fashion industry, was familiar with Jack Larsen's work.

The initial print run of "Round House" is focused on local distribution. Copies can be bought at BookHampton, Sag Harbor Books, the Bayberry in Amagansett, and Marders in Bridgehampton will carry it as well. The suggested retail price is $55.

On Aug. 15, a publication party will be held jointly by LongHouse Reserve and Round House, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event will include an introduction by the author, the sale and signing of books, a walk through the Round House gardens, and refreshments. Ticket reservations are available through LongHouse.

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