In the Hamptons, the Architectural Equivalent of an Old Sports Car

Restoring an old house can be a lot like restoring a vintage car: Plans that sound straightforward at the outset are often anything but, and one change inevitably leads to other, unanticipated changes.

Matthew Ammirati, the owner of the vintage-automobile-focused Bridgehampton Motoring Club — someone who finds few things more satisfying than restoring down-at-the-heels Porsches to pristine, like-new condition — discovered that for himself when he and his wife, Nicole Ammirati, bought a 3,100-square-foot house in Water Mill, N.Y., designed in 1980 by the revered Hamptons architect Norman Jaffe.

The couple were downsizing from a much bigger weekend house in Bridgehampton that was supposed to be an escape from their place in Brooklyn. “It was a large home with multiple bedrooms and multiple heating and cooling systems, and I just turned into the caretaker,” said Mr. Ammirati, 42, the founder of Ammirati, an advertising agency acquired by IBM; the chief marketing officer and a managing director of the real estate investment firm Meyer Bergman; and the board president of Montauk Brewing Company. “We figured out that essentially running a hotel was not our style of living.”

In 2016, as they began their search for a new home in the Hamptons where they and their children, Frankie, now 12, and Matteo, now 11, would be more comfortable, they set some parameters: They wanted a house with privacy, south of Montauk Highway, that was under 3,500 square feet.

They were unimpressed by most of what they saw until they came across the four-bedroom, three-bathroom Jaffe home. They outbid another buyer and bought it for about $3.7 million that November.

The house was in its original, tired condition and needed some repairs and updates, including a new kitchen and bathrooms. Looking for help, the Ammiratis engaged a few local builders and architects, and were surprised when some of them recommended tearing the house down to build a new one.

The suggestion did not go over well. In the Jaffe house, Mr. Ammirati saw the architectural equivalent of a classic sports car.

Hoping to find an architect who shared their enthusiasm for restoration, the Ammiratis called on Roger Ferris, a fellow vintage-car enthusiast and a member of the Bridgehampton Motoring Club. It was a good match. “He seemed just as passionate about the house as we were,” said Ms. Ammirati, 42, a creative director at the agency Arthouse.

“I thought it was a perfect example of Jaffe’s take on space and form,” Mr. Ferris said. “It’s iconic as a sculptural form, and then the rooms inside are warm and inviting.”

After studying the original drawings for the house, Mr. Ferris planned to leave the original layout and design largely as is, but refresh many of the original materials and update the interior with contemporary finishes in a few key areas.

It sounded simple enough. But restoring the original interior cedar paneling, which had water stains, turned out to require 3,000 hours of sanding. “We pulled it all down, we numbered it and then we put it back up,” Mr. Ammirati said.

When the wiring and ceiling lights needed to be replaced, the Ammiratis retained the size and locations of the original fixtures. They installed new Arcadia windows to replace old ones from the same manufacturer, in the same style. Outside, they replaced the cedar siding and cedar-shake roof to make the house look like it did 40 years earlier.

“In the end, we rebuilt the house back to what it was,” Mr. Ammirati said.

Mr. Ferris’s contemporary updates included a polished-concrete floor in the sunken living room where there was damaged flagstone; the installation of sections of lightly colored plaster walls, to play up the geometry of the house; bathrooms lined in Corian; and a Bulthaup kitchen.

But the biggest changes were two new structures outside. One is a pool house with a changing room, kitchenette and porch that serves as a multipurpose guest suite, yoga studio and children’s zone beside the original pool. The other is a surprisingly compact 10-car garage with hefty hydraulic steel doors and an elevator to ferry Mr. Ammirati’s prized Porsches underground.

Mr. Ferris clad both low-slung, boxy structures in black-stained cedar, hoping to make them visually quiet. “We backed off anything that was evidencing itself as an architectural gesture,” Mr. Ferris said, “or that would perhaps detract from the main house.”

By the time it was all finished near the end of 2019, the Ammiratis had spent more than $2.5 million. Just a few months later, when the pandemic struck, they decided to make the house their primary home for at least a year.

“We decided to try a school year out here,” Mr. Ammirati said.

Now he gets to spend even more time with his beloved cars. “The garage has actually turned into my office,” he said, as there is no home office in the house.

Even the most painstaking renovations, it seems, can’t anticipate every eventuality: “There was zero plan for that.”

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