When it comes to making something old new again, South Forkers turn to their own home-grown architect for solutions. Born in Hampton Bays, raised in Water Mill, John David Rose, founder of the eponymous architectural firm in Southampton Village, has made historic preservation of homes and public houses a specialty of the 29-year-old shop. Indeed, some of the East End’s most notable homes owe their continuing legacy to his firm: Shorewood Manor on Shelter Island, Southampton’s Wyndecote and Sunnymede and, now, Halsey House, the historic museum that is a project in progress.
“The Village of Southampton, where we do a lot of our work, has a lot of great architecture, as do a lot of villages on the South Fork, so whenever we get an opportunity for a project, we’re there,” Rose says.
The architect comes from a long line of builders — four generations of Roses in the building or related trades on the North and South forks. Now, the fifth generation is represented with his sons Scott and Chris Rose in the firm — Scott as a staff licensed architect and Chris as an architectural draftsman. Rounding out the family affair are Scott’s wife, Emma, an interior designer he met while in architecture school, and the senior Rose’s wife, Lisa, who oversees business functions.
But Rose is quick to note that the eight-person firm’s success is anchored in a broader team.
“One of the major reasons for our success is I’ve surrounded myself with really talented young people and let them do what they do best,” he says.
After studying art in college, Rose earned his architecture degree from New York Institute of Technology in Glen Cove but, he says, “My ‘classical’ training came from being born and raised in the Hamptons around all the historic buildings, and in the construction world with my father and grandfather working on these old homes. That’s really where I learned about the historic structures and how to do them the right way.” Apprenticeships with some “old-school architects,” he says, added to his expertise and interest.
Scott Rose’s program at Philadelphia University (now named for Thomas Jefferson), focused on modernism and commercial work—he also has a minor in construction management — but he was exposed to historic structures while working summers for his dad. He graduated on a Sunday and started work the next day on Wyndecote, an 1886 summer cottage of approximately 13 bedrooms, built by Robert Henderson Robertson, coincidentally also a Philadelphia-trained architect.
The firm works on new construction as well as historic renovations, but Rose says it’s the old houses that capture their hearts. “The need to preserve them is very strong,” he says.
Preservation and patience
Before taking on a project, the Roses work closely with clients to understand their desire to own a historic building, whether as a family home to pass down to the generations, as a second home or an investment to turn over. That often involves educating them on such an undertaking, which takes time, money and patience — and will almost certainly reveal unexpected conditions requiring more of all three.
Some clients, such as those who purchased Wyndecote, wanted to add on to the original building, but preserve as much of the character as possible — even down to details such as interior cabinetry, doors and newel posts, and rebuilding 90 stained glass windows in their original sashes. The project also included removing 14 layers of lead-based paint throughout the house, returning the wood trim and doors to their original finish. The actual renovation took two years, Scott Rose says, and the architectural review and permitting “easily an additional year” before they could start work.
“It is a lot of work to rebuild and replace but you can go to those extremes if you want,” says Rose. And, in this case, the client, a history buff, did. “They bought the home for its history and they enjoyed the process.” The Roses’ work on the home won them a Peconic Design Award from the American Institute of Architects.
Other clients, such as the owners of Sunnymede, a neighboring cottage of Wyndecote, wanted to preserve the historic exterior, but completely modernize the interior — an undertaking sometimes necessary if the house is in very poor repair, as this one was.
Either way, such work requires finding the teams with the expertise to work with the materials and structure because often what went up has to come down — at least in parts, like rotting timbers and compromised walls. It also requires clients’ patience and a long vision, not to mention deep pockets, not only to commission the renovation but to assure its preservation — again.
“One of the issues of having a historic home is the financial responsibility to maintain it, and that’s not something that everybody is resourced to do,” says Rose.
And, more importantly, a sense of humor helps, he adds, “because things happen … especially in an old home [where] you have no idea what’s holding that house up [and] quite often things are going to take more time and more money, so a flexible client is really critical if you’re dealing with a landmark building.”
Restoring a legendary estate
Whereas Wyndecote had somewhat of a playbook, Shorewood Manor on Shelter Island did not. In fact, quite the opposite. Its reconstruction was almost as complicated as its ownership history. It was once known as the Artemas Ward Estate, so named for the New York City advertising entrepreneur and all-around Renaissance man (Harvard graduate, soldier, exporter, author, farmer, vending machine manufacturer) who purchased the property with some 200 acres in 1892. Ward built several buildings there — the major one being a Queen Anne-style house with an estimated 23 bedrooms, a tower, carriage house, boat house, barn and other outbuildings. The estate had been bequeathed to Harvard College, then purchased by the Garr family, who developed parts of it as a summer resort colony and gave it its current name. It was again bequeathed to a charity, passed through a company owned by former New York governor Hugh Carey, went into private ownership and underwent an extensive restoration in 2008.
By the time Rose was called in, Shorewood was a long-neglected relic, having withstood numerous mutations over time. Now imagine making sense of all those moving parts — which included moving parts of the previous estate — for a home that would be suitable for a modern family, yet still respect its past.
Enter the Roses. For this project, Rose kept the original four-story tower and rebuilt everything else, using a combination of new materials and salvage from some of the other original buildings. He was informed by several things: one of the existing buildings on the property that had shingled arches in the style of traditional cottages, a theme that would prevail in the finished larger building; and the site on the southern end of Wards Point with its 270-degree water views. And wanting to salvage as much of the original estate as possible, Rose rebuilt the guest house from another building that was once part of the property, moved it from down the road and rebuilt on the grounds, doubling its size to 3,550 square feet.
“We do this kind of preservation work all the time, but this particular piece is pretty darn unique and the fact that we were able to use pieces of it to build several other buildings — that’s kind of rare.” Rose said.
The result is a 6,790-square-foot home in typical shingle style with a bit of a modern twist to it, he says, with a new pool and boathouse, echoing the intent of its long-ago owner, Artemas Ward, who was also an avid boatman.
Helping an extant historic house
For the upcoming work on Halsey House, an important saltbox-style house in Southampton Village dating to the 1680s, Rose will work within the guidelines of the local Architectural Review Board and other agencies, as required.
The former home of Thomas Halsey, an emigré from England who arrived in New England before co-founding Southampton, now operates as a museum under the auspices of the Southampton History Museum. It is in need of structural and cosmetic work that includes replacing rotting floor joists, foundation repair and “returning some of the rooms to their former glory and original state,” says Scott Rose. They are still assessing the needs, but his father adds, “It needs quite a bit of love and we’re going to help them out on that point.”
Says John: “One of the lovely things about being successful is that we can take on the projects that we really like. By mixing it up, we never get bored.”