Chatting with Local Architect John Laffey

John Laffey is a traditional architect on the East End. He has designed  more than 100 custom high-end homes and renovations in the Hamptons over the last 22 years. A graduate of New York Insitute of Technology, he began his practice in 1991 and has worked continuously to build a clientele of wealthy financiers and their families. At NYIT in 1984, Laffey studied with Ed Bentel, and he learned the essentials for starting a practice. Today, his office is located in Water Mill, in the heart of where he builds.

Laffey lives in Southampton village, and he builds and renovates multi-million dollar mansions from Montauk to Westhampton Beach. The architect’s first commission was the renovation of a 1970s-era contemporary house in East Hampton to make it look 100 years old. The addition of gambrels—typical features of the Dutch colonial movement—and asymmetrical detailing transformed the exterior of the modern home into one with a historic appearance, Laffey’s speciality.

“A successful renovation looks like you’ve never been there,” said Laffey. His hallmark is homes that appear as if they have always looked a certain way, instead of a house may have been renovated to look historic. An actual historic home Laffey worked on is his most recently completed project on South Main Street in Southampton. It was important to Laffey to keep the integrity of the 1890s original with all matching wood and windows. So the architect’s range is not only to design in a historic manner but also to work within existing historic fabric to update a home.

Laffey developed his practice in the Hamptons slowly, building one house at a time. Gradually, smaller commissions became larger as he gained the support of local contractors and realtors. Today, his projects range from large-scale mansions of 14,000 square feet to modest cottages of 1,200 square feet. A typical project is around 5,000 square feet and is considered by the architect to be a good value for a home that is meant to be lived in. Laffey employs two full-time architects besides himself, so he takes only a few jobs a year, but he is consistently busy, even as the marketplace ebbs and flows.

Laffey’s practice is rooted in the historical context of the American vernacular. He designs homes that are termed “shingle style,” which refers to the movement from the 1880s lead by McKim, Mead and White prevalent on Long Island, in Newport and throughout New England. The term was coined by art historian Vincent Scully and is a somewhat catchall phrase for homes with balloon frame and shingle siding.

Two examples of renovations Laffey has done are the conversion of a 1970s contemporary house to a shingle style one, expanded and refaced to look historic without changing the footprint. He also matched the expansion of a home that would seem like an oxymoron, a “modern shingle style” house originally designed by Norman Jaffey, to the angular and flat roofed original.

Ranging from farmhouses to flatroof contemporaries, Laffey’s portfolio is a vast array of Hamptons houses tailored to the needs of the family and the demands of the summer season. For Laffey, a successful composition is anchored in time, yet not dated, and adds to the area as a summer colony. These homes see maximum demand and occupancy during the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and Laffey plans for that peak capacity in terms of building systems. So Laffey prepares for these high times of entertaining, as well as making the living spaces comfortable and not too cavernous for use in the off-season.

Laffey feels lucky to do what he does and live out on the East End, getting the opportunities to do what he loves best. He will keep designing and creating as long as people want historic homes in the Hamptons.

For more information, visit John Laffey Architects at 860 Deerfield Green in Water Mill. Call 631-726-5108, or visit johnlaffeyarchitects.com

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