Nature and History in the Reconstruction of This House

The US-based Architecture AF have described their 2019 restoration of Andrew Geller’s Antler House as their most ‘whimsical’ project. Originally built in The Springs of East Hampton in 1968, the home is characteristic of the sought-after, eccentric, sculptural beach homes Geller is remembered for.

Although Antler House has remained a vacation home in high demand over the past 50 years, Architecture AF were unhappy with the ‘ill-conceived’ modifications that had been carried out on the building and succeeded in simultaneously modernising and restoring the home, using Geller’s original drawings for reference. 

We sat down with Andrew Herbert and Forrest Frazier from the award winning multidisciplinary design firm, and we learned more about their reconstruction.

floor plan

THE PLUS: Tell us about the location in East Hampton. How does this environment impact the building’s design?

Architecture AF: The Springs is a small community within the township of East Hampton; the wooded coastal region has a huge aesthetic appeal. The area also boasts a rich cultural history. In the late 20th century, when the house was built, the Springs were an artist enclave where Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner had homes and studios nearby.

TP: How has the area changed today?

AA: As the area has become increasingly popular as a vacation destination, many of these modest, mid-century gems by Andrew Geller and his contemporaries were replaced with sprawling vacation homes aiming to max out the buildable floor area on the site. By restoring the home, we aimed to restore this piece of history for our clients and the people of the Springs.

TP: Where did you begin with the restoration process?

AA: We worked from a copy of Andrew Geller’s original drawings to remove all of the ill-conceived modifications over the years. It was definitely a balancing act to simultaneously restore the home to its original form while adding modern conveniences that were never part of the Geller’s design.

TP: What changes did you make in the restoration process so that the house would more accurately reflect its original style?

AA: We focused on making the south, east and west facades of the home as close to how Geller had originally designed them as possible. All additional requests from the clients, including the AC, deck, and additional bathroom, were placed on the east facade, which is least visible from the road.

TP: Did you face any major challenges during this process?

AA: I’m Adding a second bathroom was a unique challenge since we had to fix the damage of previous owners’ attempts. Our solution was to remove their addition, then enlarge the original first floor bathroom footprint, extending 42 inches under the new deck. We then split that footprint into two full bathrooms.

TP: The fireplace is very unique. Is this an original touch from the 1968 build or what era is it from?

AA: We believe the cast iron wood stove is an original element in the house. This style of heating has been popular in the US for nearly 300 years, when Benjamin Franklin first introduced it.

TP: This project has been described as a ‘wooden spaceship in the forest.’ How important is the balance between nature and the modern world for this home?

AA: Geller felt strongly about the importance of the environment to architecture. He believed that a house should occupy no more than 20% of the project site. Looking at this house, the connection to nature is evident – the program is inverted with the living room and kitchen on the upper floor, where the “owl eye’ windows open the space and create an environment akin to a treehouse in the forest.

TP: The interior and exterior use of wood contrasted with the ensemble of abstract shaped windows works extremely well for the home. What type of wood is used in the home and did this change in the restoration process?

AA: The interior and exterior are all finished with common #2 cedar, as specified in the original drawings.

Were there any challenges you met during the restoration process? E.g. sourcing specific materials? We found a great contractor and carpenter who was able to reconstruct some of the original Antler House’s quirks, such as the owl eye windows and triangular flaps. We restored all of the interior surfaces with #2 cedar as well.

TP: How does this house compare to Architecture AF’s other recent projects?

AA: Clearly, this project is a bit more whimsical than our typical work, but we embrace many of Geller’s design principles. We strive to create fun, beautiful spaces that connect with nature. We believe that a well designed home can be functional and efficient; you don’t need 4000 SF if you design your home well. The Antler House is only 1100 SF (102 sqm) and I imagine many people would jump at the opportunity to call it their home.

TP: Where do you want your holiday house to be and why?

AA: If you ask Andrew, it would probably be in Samana in the Dominican Republic — his wife grew up nearby in Santo Domingo. Samana is a small town with a great vibe and beautiful beaches. Although from a design standpoint, it’s a different climate than most of our projects, where we have to contend with hot and humid summers, as well as cold winters in the eastern US.