Houses With Pasts

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There once was a man named William Bennett. He sailed the high seas, first as a whaling captain and then as the chief of the U.S. Coast Guard in Southampton, where he eventually settled in 1899 and built a classic saltbox.

When Scott Currie, vice president for fashion giant Elie Tahari’s Global Communications Division, bought the Bennett homestead in 2000, he found himself thinking about the captain—his life, his tastes, his passions.

“My theme was, ‘What would Captain Bennett like to see in his house and how would he have lived if maybe he had a few decorators as friends?'” Mr. Currie said last week during a telephone interview. “And I went from there. I think he would absolutely love it. I have collected things over the years that I think a ship’s captain would have collected if he had a big enough ship. Beautiful things that, at some point, came from the ocean or around it.”

His collections—which, along with his home, will be open to the public during the fourth annual “Tour of Southampton Homes: An Insider’s View” tour featuring five village homes on Saturday, May 11—range from eggs and rope knots to whale vertebrae and old bottles. The collection weaves together a nautical fantasy rich with colors and treasures from the sea, not to mention a unique personality, according to tour chairwoman Sanda Walser.

“Each house that we’ve chosen has its own style. And they also have to have a soul,” she said last week during a tour of Mr. Currie’s home. “You walk in and you’re not left cold. They have to embrace you and the houses that we have been fortunate to get embrace us.”

Greg and Margaret Hedberg’s home is no exception. And the moment Mr. Hedberg drove past 375 Hill Street—formerly dubbed the “Cranberry House” after its burgundy hue—the quintessential farmhouse snared his interest.

“Our son looked at a photograph of this red house with its Gothic filigree, and he said, ‘Leave it to you two to buy a house in the Hamptons unlike any other house I’ve seen in the Hamptons,'” Mr. Hedberg chuckled last week during a tour of his home. “I’m an art historian, so this is the kind of house that interests me.”

Originally built for the Post family sometime before 1858, the home, now painted beige, is filled with updated Victorian furnishings and fine art collected by Mr. Hedberg—who is the Department of European Art director for Hirschl & Adler Galleries—and surrounded by Japanese and English gardens featuring 50-year-old wisteria planted by former owner, landscape architect James M. Huntley.

“He brought in these rocks. In a Japanese garden, you have one rock that’s the mountain and another that’s the valley,” Mr. Hedberg explained. “He had a crane bring those back. Actually, Ms. Huntley said it was grounds for divorce because the crane went right up the walk and messed up the lawn and the rocks were flying all over.”

When the Hedbergs closed on the house in 1996, the couple knew they had their work cut out for them. It required hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations. “All of my money went into this house,” Mr. Hedberg laughed. “It was pretty rough.”

But that didn’t stop the couple.

Similar obstacles didn’t derail Mr. Currie from his vision, either. A stem-to-stern renovation on the three-story saltbox turned into a 4-year ordeal, he said, adding that the end result was worth it.

He moved a three-room guest cottage to the back of the property, opening up the half-acre parcel for a pool, and transformed the garage into a poolhouse. The main house was encased in gray metal shingles. Stone, plywood, shag carpet and linoleum covered the floors. And as he peeled them back, Mr. Currie—who, as a child, split his time between Manhattan and Shelter Island, where he learned to sail and his grandfather was the island’s sole doctor—unlocked the true pulse of his new, and of Captain Bennett’s, home.

“I wanted it to be a journey on the sea, where light and clouds and periods of the day will change the colors,” he said. “So the colors go from sea foam to a light pale gray, the color of stormier darker gray, into a very warm rich green. The eggs or the old green and blue bottles that are in some of the windows, when you see the right light coming through them, it takes the ordinary or boring or unusual and makes it beautiful.”

The fourth annual “An Insider’s View of Southampton Homes” tour will be held on Saturday, May 11, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at five homes in Southampton Village. The tour will be followed by a champagne reception and art exhibit preview at Rogers Mansion from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Tickets are $75 in advance, or $90 the day of the tour. For more information, call 283-2494 or visit southamptonhistoricalmuseum.org.

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