Their House Was a New Year’s Present
“That poor house, why doesn’t somebody buy it and fix it up?” That’s what Jennifer Georges kept thinking as she passed a small, two-story structure on Newtown Lane in East Hampton Village during the waning days of 2014. The only single-family house in the commercial corridor, it had been on the real estate market for years and was deteriorating.
“It needed to be saved,” said Ms. Georges, a member of the landmarks committee of the Ladies Village Improvement Society who has extensive experience restoring historical houses. She and her husband, Rip Georges, an art director and designer, bid on the property, but the bid was rejected. Soon, however, Ms. Georges received word that their bid would be accepted if the closing could take place by Dec. 31 that year. “So I bought it and didn’t tell Rip,” she said. “I let him know on New Year’s Eve. I was like, ‘Happy New Year!’ ”
The couple, who described the house as decrepit, have spent the ensuing years transforming it into what is a romantic, minimalist space that blends her love for antiques with his modern aesthetic. It wasn’t easy.
Interior demolition allowed the couple to start with a blank slate and gave them insight into the house’s history. “Once we took it down to the bare bones, we found that it was a timber- frame house,” said Mr. Georges, who consulted with Robert Hefner, the village’s director of historic services. “Bob said that it was probably built it in the 1830s.”
The house originally consisted only of the center section of the first floor. It apparently belonged to the family for whom Muchmore Lane, which intersects with Newtown Lane, was named, and it was moved to its current location at 83 Newtown Lane at the turn of the 19th century.
When they purchased the house, it had four bedrooms, which they pared to just one, a loft-like second-floor space with the original ceiling beams exposed. It has one bathroom, albeit a luxurious one, on the main floor.
“We’ve done a lot of renovations over the years, and this one was an exercise in restraint,” Mr. Georges said. Instead of having a dining room, they opted for a kitchen counter long enough for eight stools. The counter, or bar, “was a key feature for us,” Mr. Georges said. “I’m slightly cocktail obsessed, as is Jenny, so this is one of the main things that we wanted for entertaining.”
They did, however, add one addition by bumping out a bay window on the southern wall. “When we started, the idea was to create a conservatory because this used to be sort of nursery row,” said Mr. Georges, referring to the fact that the house is steps away from Wittendale’s, the former Vetault’s Flowers. “We wanted to pay homage to that, but we are terrible gardeners.”
They put down new floors of white oak that came from dead growth. “No trees were harmed to make this house,” Mr. Georges said.
Ms. Georges said they were “a little lost” about how to decorate the house until she happened upon a pair of andirons, castoffs from a Further Lane estate, for sale. Metal male figures that look like the offspring of Louis Quatorze and a Chinese courtesan, became a design inspiration. “They changed the direction of how we were putting our house together,” Mr. Georges said. “We still wanted to do a mix of modern and traditional stuff, but because we grew up in California, we’re also obsessed with Pan-Asian design.” Hanging on the sunroom wall near the andirons is artwork by Eric Yahnker titled “Ben Franklin and His Hot Asian Wife.”
Ms. Georges said that her typical day begins with a cup of coffee while sitting in the sunroom, waving to anyone walking by. “We been reluctant to do window coverings — there are people that walk by that we say hello to every morning,” her husband added. The couple said that living in the heart of the village has made them more social.
“East Hampton sometimes gets a bad rap for people having attitude or being standoffish, but we could stay all day out on the lawn and have 20 people stop by and just chat,” said Ms. Georges. And, because the house is surrounded by stores, passers-by sometimes mistake it for a place of commerce. “I’ve walked downstairs and there’ve been people in the house who’ve said, “When are you open?” recalled Mr. Georges. “I say, ‘We live here. Come back for a drink some time.’ ”