Bunshaft Villa Nears Its End
Gordon Bunshaft was at the height of his powers in 1963, when he designed an elegant weekend pavilion at the edge of Georgica Pond in East Hampton, a seaside village about 100 miles from New York City. A partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, his work on projects like the Emhart Corporation, in Bloomfield, Connecticut, and the IBM headquarters, in Armonk, New York, defined a technologically progressive image of the American corporation as it relocated to lush suburbs.
The house Bunshaft built for himself and his wife, Nina, reflected ideas he was working out in corporate and institutional projects. Massive concrete walls faced in travertine marble supported 5-foot-wide, precast-concrete double-T beams. A broad glass plane opened to a picturesque vista across the pond, dune, and crashing ocean waves in the distance. It was also, as record noted in 1966, an ideal setting for the couple’s art collection. "What was remarkable, absolutely amazing, was the ensemble," remarked Bunshaft biographer Carol Herselle Krinsky in an interview. Bedrooms at either end opened to outdoor rooms for sculpture. "Against bushy bushes, he placed a plump Miro. On the other side of the house, a little group of thin birch trees rose behind a thin Giacometti."
Gordon died in 1990, and Nina later willed the property, including its collection, to the Museum of Modern Art, which removed the art and, in 1994, sold the house to decorating doyenne Martha Stewart. She gutted the place in anticipation of a remodel by London architect John Pawson, but put it up for sale when her legal problems mounted. Listed in 2003 at $10.5 million, the 2,400-square-foot structure did not attract buyers in a community that now favors getaways five times the size. This spring, Palm Beach, Florida–based textile magnate Donald Maharam and his wife, Bonnie, bought it for a sum reportedly near $9 million.
The Maharams intend to demolish the house and rebuild on its footprint. "To restore the house would mean rebuilding it," explained David Pill, of Winchester, Massachusetts, the Maharam’s architect (and son-in-law), citing extensive foundation problems. The pending demolition looks certain, and comes only a short time after Emhart was bulldozed.
"Of course, it’s a bad idea to take it down," commented Krinsky. Since it was conceived as an ensemble of art and architecture, however, the house alone, she added, "is far less valuable, I regret to say." The Maharams have rejected the creation of a Bunshaft "facsimile," says Pill. The new design "will be a Modern house with quite a lot of glass, and it will be low." Equaling the significance of the Bunshaft house is not Pill’s primary agenda. "I’m trying to create a nice piece of architecture for my clients," he responded. "It will be what it is."