“Unprepossessing” is an apt way to describe the 1920s colonial revival house that Ted Porter found in 1999 in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and finished renovating for himself and his partner, Steve Godeke, last year. The New York–based architect with his own practice wanted a weekend home in this picturesque former whaling village, and the location, within walking distance of Main Street, was ideal.
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But its small rooms and low ceilings (7 feet, 11 inches high) were constraining, and local codes and guidelines restricted how much could be made of the two-story, 1,900-square-foot cottage. First, it is a “contributing structure” to a National Historic District, which meant the town’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review declined to allow significant changes to the street facade. Second, zoning prevented a house on such a small site—.22 of an acre—from expanding beyond its footprint or height.
Not surprisingly, the review board had no problem with Porter’s replacing the aluminum clapboard and asphalt roofing—both transmogrifications made some years ago—with cedar shingles of the original design. But other than this upgrade and the inclusion of boxwood, Japanese maple, and cloud-pruned yew in the front yard, there is little clue from the street of an architect’s extensive intervention.
But upon entering, you find an open, airy interior. Everywhere, white oak clads floors, walls, and even ceilings—punctuated by splashes of color in furnishings, objets d’art, and other accoutrements. “While I was designing the house, I visited Alvar Aalto’s architecture in Finland,” says Porter in reference to combining a modernist vocabulary with natural materials. The effect is warm (literally, helped in the winter by the insulation added to the wood frame, and a newly redesigned fireplace in the living room).
To create light-filled volumes, Porter opened up the rooms to the rear: he lifted the ceiling of the living area to a 10½-foot height, and installed a literal “picture window"—9½ by 8 feet and triple-glazed—to frame the view of the lush back garden. Jutting out to the back, too, is a remodeled screened porch, 10½ feet tall, which overlooks European beech trees that conceal a small lap pool beyond.
The desire for higher ceilings required Porter to raise most of the second floor 3 feet and push the ceilings of these rooms into the former attic, where they reflect the slopes of the gable. Now a guest bedroom, library, and a new sun-room (above the screened porch) complement the one-story master bedroom suite at one end of the first floor.
In connecting the two levels, Porter removed the straight stair perpendicular to the entrance and inserted a switchback one to the right of the door. To keep the incline of the first flight low enough so it would not obstruct the two windows facing the street, Porter designed deep treads with shallow risers: as the stair turns back to ascend to the upper hall, it reassumes normal dimensions.
Through these basic, if complicated and painstakingly crafted moves—inserting a new stair, raising ceiling heights, adding ample expanses of glass, and cladding surfaces in wood—Porter has demonstrated a timeworn precept: innovation is born of necessity. Constraints, to repeat the key word, often are a good thing.
Ted Porter Architecture
45 West 21st Street, Suite 4A
New York, NY 10010
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Ted T. Porter, AIA, Principal in Charge
Joerg Thoene, AIA
Architect of record:
Ted Porter Architecture
Ted Porter Architecture
Structural: Edward Armus Engineering
Lighting: Star Lighting Design
Philip Manuele Contracting
Wood: 18” Red Cedar Perfection Shingles
Moisture barrier: Intello Plus
Tile/shingles: 18” Red Cedar Perfection Shingles with Pre-Weathered Stain
Wood frame: Marvin (Front Windows on Historic Façade)
Wood frame: Cembra (Rear Windows on Garden Façade)
Wood doors: Trustile
Sliding doors: Cembra
Special doors: Bilco Roof Hatch
Locksets: Valli and Valli
Pulls: Valli and Valli
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Rob Russell Design and Millwork
Paints and stains: Bona
Paneling: Clear White Oak Tongue and Groove Center Match 6” Wide Boards
Solid surfacing: PentalQuartz
Floor and wall tile: Opus Cliff Natural (Bathroom Floors), Metro Gloss White Tiles (Bathroom Walls)
Raised flooring: Floor is Clear White Oak Tongue and Groove Center Match 8” Wide Boards
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Ceilings are Clear White Oak Tongue and Groove Center Match 6” Wide Boards
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Re-used Antique Wood Doors from Original House for Paneling in Guest Bedroom
Chairs: Maruni (Dining Chairs)
Tables: Gubi from SuiteNY (Dining Table)
Upholstery: Clarence House, Kravet
Other furniture: Tecta (Sofa)
Other furniture: USM Modular Furniture (Bedside Tables)
Other furniture: Vitra (Artek Aalto Bench)
Other furniture: Vintage by Owner
Interior ambient lighting: Globall by Flos
Interior ambient lighting: Sonneman
Downlights: Swidlux by Nulux
Downlights: Element by Tech Lighting
Tasklighting: Tolomeo by Artemide,
Exterior: Copper LED by BOOM Collection
Dimming system or other lighting controls: Lutron
Bathroom Sink: Duravit
Bathroom Sink Vanity: Duravit
Bathroom Faucets: Speakman
Shower Faucets: Grohe
Toilets: American Standard
Bathroom Accessories: Moen
Kitchen Sink: Kraus
Kitchen Faucet: Delta
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Navien Combi-Boiler / Water Heater
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project: Rockwool Batt Insulation