Lee Skolnick is one of the East End’s most prolific architects. In addition to residential projects, he has worked with many cultural and civic organizations including the East Hampton Library in East Hampton, the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, Guild Hall in East Hampton and, most recently, the Aquatic and Cultural Arts Center at the Montauk Playhouse in Montauk. Skolnick shares insights about his projects and his take on East End architecture.
What is unique about working on the East End?
Like so many, I am inspired by the exquisite beauty of the natural environment out here—the famous light, the land and water, the big sky and breathtaking vistas. Because of the rampant development that we have experienced over the last few decades, which seems to have accelerated even more of late, I feel an increasingly deep responsibility to preserve and enhance the landscape and the unique qualities of this natural context and the charming historic villages.
On the other hand, the East End has always been a crucible of new ideas in architecture. From the great old grand beach houses, through the early modernist experiments, and even the regrettable Postmodern and McMansion periods, there has been a marked tendency to consciously view architecture as an important and vital component of our culture, and to look to buildings to convey the current, or even future, aspirations of society. Of course, the prevalence of culturally aware clients, both those with considerable financial means and those with more modest budgets, has facilitated architectural experimentation and exploration. Our challenge now is to find a way to realize peoples’ dreams while protecting what attracted them here in the first place.
Can you tell us about some of your most memorable design projects on the East End?
I like to say that my favorite project is my next one. At the same time, in addition to our residential work, we have been privileged to work with many cultural and civic community organizations over the years—The East Hampton Library, The Children’s Museum of the East End, Guild Hall, The Sag Harbor Customs House, The Shelter Island Historical Society, The East Hampton Historical Society, The Montauk Point Lighthouse, The Oyster Ponds Historical Society and others. We’re very excited to be working right now on a new aquatic and cultural center for The Montauk Playhouse Foundation.
How did you get involved with the Aquatic and Cultural Arts Center at the Montauk Playhouse?
My understanding is that they began to ask around and consulted with East Hampton Library, where we had recently completed the Children’s Reading Room. I’m sure they did their homework and checked out other past clients and projects as well. Nevertheless, we had to compete for the project and were thrilled when we learned that we had been chosen.
What are some of your favorite Montauk attractions?
We’re like everybody. We must visit Gosman’s, go to the cliffs and ocean, and try new and old restaurants. The trick for Montauk right now is to solve the massive party and huge group rental problems. We’re losing what has always been best about the place. The quiet, the intimacy, the small scale and the raw, natural beauty.
What are you thoughts on Hamptons architecture in general?
It’s a mixed bag. There are some stunning homes, both new and old. You can see some of the best home designs in the world here. But increasingly, you have to search these out. Because there’s also a lot of over-scaled and misguided design. I appreciate traditional architecture and, of course, the indigenous shingle style that proliferated out here for centuries.
What’s your architectural pet peeve?
Buildings that don’t belong in their contexts: on their sites, or in the landscape and villages. Size for size’s sake. Misunderstandings and misappropriations of architectural styles and history. Buildings taking over nature and doing harm to the environment.
What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into a home space?
People sometimes tell me that they’re nervous about me coming to their homes. Or prep me beforehand not to be too critical. The fact is, unless the house is extreme in some way—for better or worse—I mostly look at the people, the artwork, the personal expression that they bring to their lives. It’s actually not all about architecture.
For more information, visit skolnick.com.