Art & Soul: The Creative Spirit Behind Breathtaking Sagaponack

Breathtaking Sagaponack.
Breathtaking Sagaponack. Photo credit: Saunders & Associates

It might whisper of agrarian roots or shout of newfound success. It could have been passed down through generations or be as new as the sunrise you saw this morning. Every home in the Hamptons tells a story. You just have to listen.

Up on the roof deck of the newly completed construction known as Breathtaking Sagaponack, the tale of the final home to rise on one of the more renowned pieces of land on the East End begins with a glance east, at the waves breaking on the Atlantic, starting the stir of salt air. “Sagaponack is known for its ocean breezes,” says the man who developed the property, conceptualized the home and is now the broker, Alan Schnurman, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker, Saunders & Associates​. “And when you get up on the roof deck not only is it a sight for your eyes, but it’s also the tactile sense of wonderful, cool, ocean air that Sagaponack is known for. That’s its specialty—the vistas and the ocean breezes. That’s why I’ve called the house Breathtaking Sagaponack, because it truly is breathtaking.”

Alan Schnurman
Alan Schnurman
Photo credit: Saunders & Associates

Home, said T.S. Eliot, is where one starts from, and the start of this home truly is found a decade ago when Schnurman and his partners purchased 26 acres in Bridgehampton, south of the highway. Schnurman had never bought land to develop before, “but I knew this 26 acres in Bridgehampton on Ocean Road just north of Bridge Lane was an excellent location, and I thought I should own it.”

As he was going through the approval process to develop the land, “42 acres came up in Sagaponack, and I knew exactly how to do it, I had my team in place—I had my lawyers, I had my environmental people, I had my surveyors—and I said no one should own this but me.”

With such prime real estate, he would not be alone in his pursuit. “There was a bid of $28 million for the 42 acres, but since I bid $25 million I didn’t get it. I moved on to looking at other projects when I got a call from the lawyer for the seller, who asked if I could close within 30 days. And I said yes. I had to raise the money—which quite frankly was a challenge because I still owned the 26 acres in Bridgehampton—but I was confident I could do it. He sent my lawyer a contract for $28 million, which I changed to $25 million and returned it with a deposit of $2.5 million. The next day I received the signed contract and had a deal.”

The speed of that turnaround is in stark contrast to the time it took to develop the land. “It took me 3 years to get the approvals,” he tells, but having the rarefied portfolio gave him a distinction few in the real estate world can claim. “At one point my partners and I were one of the largest owners of developable land in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton south of the highway.

“Unfortunately, when I got my approvals, the great recession hit,” he goes on. “But I had what I considered the best land in the United States—Sagaponack south of the highway—and I sold all my lots. Nobody else sold. I lowered my prices, I lowered my margins, and I moved them. And the last lot, I said I’ll keep it and build on it.”

Holding onto that last piece of the historic property has resulted in more than 11,340 square feet of a dream come to fruition for Schnurman as the developer, owner, broker and visionary. Working with architect Val Florio, builder Fountainhead Construction and interior designer Christy Hanson, Schnurman has created his masterpiece, but he needed to learn a few things first.

After retiring from a career in law, Schnurman decided to become a broker in the Hamptons, at Saunders & Associates, in addition to being a developer here. One of his first listings was representing George Gavalas, a master builder who purchased one of his lots. The house on Daniels Lane was a popular stop for potential buyers during open houses.

From listening to the desires expressed by those open-house visitors came insight into what his own build would offer. From the elevator to the glass-enclosed breezeway, the 2 laundry rooms to the 7 fireplaces to the 9 bedrooms, the main-floor coat closet that could double as the Yankees locker room to the butler’s pantry, “I basically knew what the high-end market wanted, because from all these potential buyers, most of them would say ‘if the house only had this or the house only had that.’ So in this house I tried to put in everything the market told me they wanted at the high end.”

Those desires resonate through the large flowing space on the first floor, from the kitchen to the family room to the living room to the entranceway. The kitchen with its countertops of Imperial Demby marble and room for 14 to dine in view of the 26-acre reserve abutting the nearly 2-acre lot. The junior master with its covered terrace outside and fireplace (the house has 6 fireplaces in all). The touches, like you see glancing up to the formal dining room ceiling adorned with a circle of woodwork lined with lights, surrounding actual silver leaf that, depending upon the particular light of the day, can be hard to identify: it could be silver or gold, or some precious metal mined only here on the East End.

Up one set of stairs is a private guest wing with its own living room, a terrace overlooking the reserve and the grounds, two bedrooms and two baths. “It’s a self-contained unit, totally private—it’s almost like having a guest house,” Schnurman notes. Up another set of stairs you’ll encounter the double-door entry master bedroom, with its fireplace, massive terrace, and bath with not just a marble shower, but with its own terrace as well.

Throughout, everything is soft, simple. The whole house is greys, off-greys and whites. “The market today is a little different than it was 3 years ago. Today people want traditional on the outside and modern on the inside. Keep in mind, the market for these houses is young people in their 30s and 40s with 2 or 3 children, quite successful in their professional life, and they want a full entertainment environment. It’s no longer limited to the summer—the Hamptons has become a four-season area.”

The lower level embraces that notion. There is a movie theater with a 13-foot screen, and a glass-enclosed wine cellar with stainless steel racks and room for a table to dine in the midst of an oenophile’s treasures. A wood-paneled billiards room, a recreation room with a gas fireplace, a service kitchen and a gym that would make L.A. Fitness envious round out the amenities here.

“People are very athletic today, so I built probably one of the largest gyms you’ll ever see in the Hamptons—large enough to put in massage tables, two TV screens, a sauna and a steam shower.” It’s all glass-enclosed, one wall all mirrors, and the floor a very soft vinyl—as a professional gym would have. “And outside I built this below-grade garden, so this huge gym looks out on this beautiful garden with trees and flowers.”

The outside of the home is as much a part of its soul as the interior. Pulling up, the first welcome is proffered by the covered porch and a connection to Schnurman’s own past. “When I was a kid my mother used to send me to camp—I was raised by a single mom, so she was always working. One of my favorite things about camp was when I used to sit on the bunk porch and watch the rain. So I have a sweet spot for covered porches and I think they just are wonderful places to be—they protect you from the sun and the rain, and yet you still can enjoy the elements as they are.”

Out back is the gunite saltwater swimming pool, 72 feet long and 18 feet wide with a spa, adjacent to a long pagoda and pool house, and enough bluestone hardscape for a party of 300 people (the outdoor kitchen and full kitchen within the pool house will keep food and drink flowing). An expanse of grass large enough for a baseball game beckons, although home runs may soar onto the Har-Tru tennis court, sunken just alongside the reserve to “totally blend in with the picturesque, quiet, sincere beautiful vistas.”

Sincere. More than a word, it’s the essence of how Schnurman created the place itself, how he put his heart into it and is now at the precipice of having the final chapter written. One might think it would be hard, after a decade, to know it’s almost time for all this to end. But Schnurman knows the essence of experience comes in the journey, not necessarily the destination, and he is buoyed by the knowledge that the buyers will start a story of their own here.

“It’s a wonderful experience that I was part of,” he says. “Look, I can’t paint a painting, I can’t play an instrument, but building a house—buying the land, dealing with the architect, dealing with the contractors, dealing with the interior designer. It’s truly a creative process and it feeds my creativity.

“The house took 2 years to build,” he continues. “The reason it took so long to build is it was all built onsite by craftsmen. It just takes time to build a masterpiece, to craft a masterpiece. This house is a piece of art, and it will be sold to somebody who appreciates that.”

Photo credit: Saunders & Associates
Photo credit: Saunders & Associates

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