The Real Deal New York

Starchitect Schmarchitect?

Just because an architect finds success in the city doesn’t mean their Hamptons design will command a premium — in fact, it may be just another teardown
By Edward Harrington | June 11, 2018 01:00PM

19 Northwest Landing Road

In the Hamptons, oceanside compounds with formal gardens, turf tennis courts and sumptuous swimming pools are a given. Creating distinctions among its highbrow mansions can be, therefore, more about design than scale. That’s why top architects — think Stanford White and the Cross brothers — have been tapped to build one-off show homes on the East End since its inception as the gilded playground for moneyed Manhattanites.

But while a home designed by a Pritzker Prize laureate may lend a property prestige, from a dollars-and-cents perspective, top-tier architecture doesn’t necessarily translate to premium prices when it comes time to sell. “It’s always nice to have something to trumpet in your advertising … The cachet of an architect helps,” said Gary DePersia of Corcoran. “But you aren’t seeing premiums for those names, unless the homes are spectacular in themselves.”

A design by a top architectural firm can cost between $250,000 and $500,000, according to DePersia. However, ever since a 1990 court ruling that price-fixing among architects violated antitrust laws, firms have gone completely mum about how and what they charge in order to avoid violating the law. Robert A.M. Stern Architects, for instance, declined to discuss what it charges. Every firm acts individually and charges whatever it pleases for a specific job, those in the field say. The reality is that fees are ambiguous and vary greatly.

But whatever people spend on an architect doesn’t guarantee added value. Homes by “starchitects” can still flounder on the market and sell for far under ask — just like the rest of Hamptons’ ultraluxury stock, which many say is struggling.

“There are a lot of name-brand architects out here who have made mistakes, and those homes take a long time to sell,” DePersia said. “I’d really have to think to find an example of a home by a well-known architect that traded for a premium.”

Another Hamptons broker, who asked to remained anonymous, said that big designer names that work in the city — Stern, for instance — don’t always translate to the Hamptons.

“I don’t think Stern is a name that attracts people in the Hamptons,” the broker said. “His homes weren’t always successful here. I’ve sold Stern houses that were teardowns or had to be completely gutted.”

To judge the staying power of starchitecture on the open market, The Real Deal looked at recent deals and listings for Hamptons homes designed by superlative architects to see what’s really in a name.

19 Ruxton Road, East Hampton
Architect: Robert A.M. Stern
Original asking price: $12.25 million
Sale price: Around $9 million

In New York City, the name Robert A.M. Stern certainly commands a premium. Bolstered by a trademark classical limestone style and the enormous success of his condo tower at 15 Central Park West, Stern has been able to attract buyers willing to pay through the nose for condos in his new skyscrapers at 30 Park Place (where a unit recently sold for $30 million), 520 Park Avenue (which is nearly sold out) and 220 Central Park South (where the penthouse is going for $250 million).

But 19 Ruxton Road in East Hampton didn’t benefit from the hype surrounding the former dean of the Yale School of Architecture. In 2015, the nine-bedroom, 11,800-square-foot house, which sits on 2.3 acres, hit the market asking $12.25 million. It was built by Stern in 1990 and has a wine cellar, gym, media room, heated gunite pool and pool house. The price was dropped in 2016 to $9.99 million and, when it finally found a buyer in March after three years on the market, it was asking just $8.99 million. A source told Curbed that it sold for close to that price. Corcoran’s Susan Breitenbach had the listing.

290 Further Lane, East Hampton
Architect: Francis Fleetwood
Asking price: $69 million
Sale price: Around $40 million

In the 1980s and ’90s, Francis Fleetwood was the architectural “it” name in the Hamptons. His firm designed over 200 homes for celebrities like Nicole Miller, Alec Baldwin, Lauren Bacall, Calvin Klein, Paul McCartney and George Stephanopoulos.

And in 1995, he designed a seven-bedroom, 10,000-square-foot mansion on Further Lane for Goldman Sachs partner James Marcus. When Marcus died, the property — which features four fireplaces, a pool, spa and elevator — hit the market asking a whopping $69 million. The price was slashed some $29 million when it finally found a buyer. Sotheby’s International Realty’s Frank Newbold and Compass’ Ed Petrie had the listing when it sold.

406 Old Montauk Highway

19 Northwest Landing Road, East Hampton
Architect: Charles Gwathmey
Asking price: $2.5 million
Sale price: Around $2 million

Even in the Hamptons, $2 million is quite a lot for a 1,200-square-foot house nowhere near the beach. So despite the half-million-dollar discount, this may be one of a couple of recent instances where architectural pedigree saved the day — at least to some extent.

Charles Gwathmey — known for his renovation of the Guggenheim Museum, the United States Mission to the United Nations and 445 Lafayette Street — designed this small modernist two-bedroom in East Hampton for graphic artist Joe Sedacca in 1968. The listing write-up noted that the house was the “first commissioned work by ‘star architect’ Charles Gwathmey after his seminal Gwathmey Residence and Studio” and called it a “living sculpture.” Dana Trotter of Sotheby’s International Realty was the listing broker.

Meanwhile, Gwathmey’s own Hamptons abode is on the market at 130 Bluff Road in Amagansett asking $4.5 million with Douglas Elliman. The asking price on that property has already dropped some $300,000 since April.

28 Central Avenue, Amagansett
Architect: Alfred Scheffer
Asking price: $3.5 million
Sale price: Around $4 million

Alfred Scheffer was the king of postwar Hamptons architecture, and this home designed by him serves as another case where a seller was perhaps able to wring some value out of name-brand architect despite relatively modest offerings.

Built for the mother of one Francis Fleetwood — who at age 12 offered Scheffer pointers on design, according to Newsday — this 2,500-square-foot, five-bedroom house had been on the market with Brown Harris Stevens for $3.5 million, but it later listed and sold with Nest Seekers for just over $500,000 more than the ask.

It’s worth noting that the inflated sale price could be due to a recent renovation and the fact that the home sits on a rare 0.74-acre lot that includes lush landscaping along with a pool.

406 Old Montauk Highway, Montauk
Architect: David Adjaye
Original asking price: $29.9 million
Current ask: $25 million

David Adjaye is a true international starchitect and the man behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture. But that’s in D.C., and this is the Hamptons.

After art collector Adam Lindemann purchased Eothen, Andy Warhol’s old Montauk estate, for a $50 million, he slapped his own Adjaye-designed Hamptons abode on the market. Perched along the Montauk Bluffs, the 5,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house listed in 2015 for nearly $30 million. A year on, Compass slashed the ask by $5 million, and there it has sat.

This is a case where bold architectural style may be a hindrance. The market for a dark, wood-paneled mash-up of modernist and traditional East End style is, well, small. Real estate commenters say this one may be a teardown.