While working on the book Houses of the Hamptons 1880-1930, I and my co-author Anne Surchin got to visit many of the incredible houses that still exist from the Hamptons Gilded Age era.
The Gilded Age (1880-1930) produced a great diversity of architectural styles for every decade of that period. When asked during book signings or lectures if I have any favorite houses discovered during the creation of the book, I never expected that I would respond—considering all the huge and elaborately detailed residential architecture that existed or still exists—that my answer would include a simple, elegant home called Four Fountains.
The Hamptons, as I said, has a great diversity of residential architectural styles.
The story behind Four Fountains is as intriguing as the house itself. The present building, located on Halsey Neck Lane in Southampton, started as an arts pavilion. In 1928, Lucian Hamilton Tyng and his wife Ethel were living in a shingle style cottage across the street. Mrs. Tyng, being a patron of the arts, wanted a place to hold musicals, art shows and provide workspace for the many artists that have always congregated in the Hamptons.
The building that would become Four Fountains bore no resemblance to the Tyngs’ home. The architectural firm of Peabody, Wilson & Brown, more noted for their traditional Colonial or Georgian Revival vernaculars, designed a modern, almost classical building in the Art Deco style. The building is approached from Halsey Neck Lane, through a short allee of trees, and ends in an entrance courtyard. The courtyard opening greets the visitor with two stone piers surmounted by Art Deco falcons and a surrounding fence with Art Deco detail.
Once in the courtyard, two auxiliary wings frame the main block of the building. These wings contain service rooms, guest quarters and garages. This square space was designed to hold four outdoor fountains in the corners—hence the name of the building.
The entrance to the building is through an elegant metal and glass door in the center of the wall. The door depicts peacocks and opens to an almost lobby-like space. Beyond this, through a central opening, a vast light-filled space beckons. Since the main purpose of this room was to be an auditorium, it is a large cube that measures 40’ x 40’ with a 20’ ceiling. At the opposite end of this cubed space was the stage, slightly raised a few steps. Over the main entrance was a peacock-scrolled organ screen, with the organ in a loft above the lobby entrance.
While this building was under construction, the Tyngs’ main summer residence across the street caught fire and burned to the ground. The Tyngs ended up living in Four Fountains for a short time, until Peabody, Wilson & Brown constructed a new residence in the new modern international style.
Ethel Tyng did not enjoy the two buildings for long, as she died unexpectedly in 1933.
Mr. Tyng remarried a year later, and the couple enjoyed the use of Four Fountains and the rebuilt “Shallows” until the early 1940s. The Shallows was sold as a separate residence and Four Fountains was sold to one of the building’s architects, Archibald Brown, and his wife Eleanor Brown, the president of the McMillen decorating firm.
The Browns converted the space for residential use. The stage became two bedrooms with baths, and the great cube became a living and dining space. By the late 1970s, the Browns decide to sell the house and Sotheby’s auctioned the contents.
According to Houses of the Hamptons 1880-1930, “In his introduction to the auction catalog, designer Albert Hadley wrote that Four Fountains was a unique example of American Art Deco design.”
The Browns sold Four Fountains to CBS Chairman William S. Paley, who used it as a summer retreat and a gallery space for his notable art collection.
The current owners bought the house in the 1990s, restored it and improved the grounds of the almost 7-acre estate. After nearly 25 years, the property is for sale again—listed for $35 million exclusively by Corcoran’s Tim Davis.
Hopefully the next owners will continue to appreciate the elegant simplicity of this great house from the Hamptons’ Gilded Age.