In 2001 Richard Meier and the developer CoCo Brown set about to create a new kind of suburb on Long Island that blended the region’s tradition of excellent modern houses with affordability, geared to attract the upwardly mobile buyers flooding into the nearby Hamptons. Meier handpicked the architects, a mix of mid-career architects and marquee names of his generation, to design the spec houses that quickly devolved into high-luxury properties. Houses at Sagaponac, as the development was called, garnered worldwide attention, but only about a third of the 34 lots attracted serious interest and only eight of the original designs were built. The most recently built house of the original set, by Keenen/Riley, won a design award, but it has yet to attract a buyer.
The development may be getting new life with a new series of designs that better reflects the times. A decade later, Brown has passed away, and his estate sold the development to a new company called Sagaponac Dream Homes, connected to a builder, RoBoCo, which hopes to retain the project’s modernist spirit while offering more buildable, and affordable, options to the market. The average price of the new designs and lots is $1,050 per square foot, as compared to an approximate average of $1,200 per square foot for the Brown/Meier commissioned designs.
Working with real estate agents Brown Harris Stevens, the developers began the art of repackaging in earnest by showing the lots and the new possible designs at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in mid-March. “We’re foregrounding the marketing,” said Nilay Oza, a partner with Sagaponac Dream Homes. This time developers won’t be building on spec, either. Buyers will pony up for lot and design together. The developers have solicited designs from both the young and up-and-coming and the young and well-regarded, including ARO, Delle Valle Bernheimer, Resolution 4 Architecture, Leven Betts, David Biagi, Hanrahan Meyers, Thread Collective, Morris Sato Studio, Flying Elephant, Plaid, XTen Architecture, Cook + Fox, BVA, Tarantino Architects, and Zung Design. “We want to offer opportunities to younger architects at a point where it could make a difference in their career,” Oza said. Based on how the current batch performs this summer season, the developers are also considering an open competition for yet more designs, possibly as soon as September.
But that’s not all: the developers also plan to offer a 1954 Usonian house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Currently owned by the husband and wife team behind Tarantino Architects, the fully restored Bachman Wilson House in its current location in suburban New Jersey has been beset with potentially hazardous run-off due to surrounding development and needs to be moved. The buyer will have to pay to relocate the house.
There’s more: preliminary talks are also underway between the developers and Jake Gorst, the grandson of Andrew Geller, about relocating a potentially threatened Geller House to the development. The whimsical Elizabeth Reese House features triangular punched windows with projecting flaps, and a rough-hewn interior with exposed beams. Currently up for sale, the tiny beachfront house would likely be torn down by a new buyer. It, too, could be moved. And there are still more empty lots for which the developers might offer up unbuilt Geller designs. “We like the idea of juxtaposing contemporary design with modernism of 50 years ago,” Oza said.
While design is very much still a driving force behind the Houses at Sagaponac, the new approach shows how much the world has changed since 2002. Most of the original unbuilt designs will likely survive as paper architecture, but Oza won’t rule out the possibility that some of those much-published houses could someday get built. “If someone wants to pay to build them they are welcome to,” he said.