When Meryl Kramer first moved to the North Fork in 1993, the modern aesthetic in home building was still a distinctly South Fork phenomenon. Since then, that has changed, especially in the last 10 years, as more ultra-modern and eco-conscious homes have been popping up across the North Fork, challenging the idea that the traditional farmhouse is the standard for residential tastes in the area.
Architects — like Kramer — local builders, and real estate agents have varying thoughts and opinions about why homeowners — both full-time residents and second-home buyers — are increasingly embracing, or at least considering, elements of modern design when buying or remodeling. But they seem to agree that several factors are driving the trend, from the recent popularity of minimalism extolled by celebrities like Marie Kondo, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West, as well as the ever-present spectre of climate change, and an overall desire to live more simply.
Kramer is considered one of the premier architects on the North Fork, and indeed across Long Island. For her, any discussion about an increased demand for modern homes on the North Fork begins with an examination of what the word “modern” really means, beyond the typical connotations.
“I was trained in modern architecture, so it’s always been something I enjoy and that I’m excited and inspired by,” she said. “But when I moved here, there wasn’t a lot of modern architecture happening.”
Blending her aesthetic with the desires of her North Fork clients required Kramer to be creative.
“My work has always been a little more traditional because I was responding to the needs of my clients, interpreting a traditional style of architecture from a more modern viewpoint,” she said.
There’s a kind of misconception of what modern is. Modern isn’t necessarily stark and sterile. It has to do with clear design intent, and minimal ornamentation, and a careful study of spatial relationshops, functionality and achieving a design with a few clever moves.Meryl Kramer, Architect
Sheri Winter Parker is a highly successful real estate agent with Corcoran. She started to see the kind of modern homes with a nod to the traditional North Fork aesthetic popping up in the area around 2006 and 2007 and says the demand for these kinds of homes — modern barn-style homes, in particular — has continued.
“There was a tilt toward going green back then, and it’s been a continued trend,” she said. “And I do think in the last few years, the more minimalist approach is taking a foothold. People are getting into that way of living, lowering their carbon footprint. So I think it’s been a trend for a lot of years. I’ve been talking to people about modern prefab homes for over a decade. There’s one near me, and I look at it all the time. It looks like it belongs in a desert; it’s super eco-friendly and very cool.”
Parker sees a parallel trend in the agricultural sector of the community as well, with many farmers adopting more modern, environmentally friendly systems, part of an overall shift toward eco-friendly living that she doesn’t see stopping anytime soon.
Parker and other realtors said they don’t believe the trend toward more eco-friendly, modern homes is more pronounced with one demographic than another, but rather that it is appealing for first-time homebuyers, middle-aged couples with young children and those either retiring or on the cusp of retiring, as well as the ever-increasing numbers of second-home buyers.
“Young people are coming out here and wanting smaller homes, which itself is eco-friendly,” said Regan Batuello, an agent with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s. “And I’m seeing a trend toward permaculture, with people growing edible plants and water-saving plants, instead of wanting a big, green swath of lawn, which is nice. There’s this whole trend of young people from Brooklyn coming out here and it’s kind of lovely because what they want is to live modestly rather than in McMansions with big lawns. But everyone still wants a pool.”
Batuello said she just sold “an adorable little house on the wetlands” to an architect and his wife.
“I know they’re very eco-conscious, and they’re planning a gut job,” she said. “They’re very much what is coming to the North Fork.”
Another factor nudging this trend along, and giving it staying power as well, is new mandates from government entities aimed at protecting the environment. Tom McCloskey, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman, pointed out that new legislation from the town and state level is requiring new homes be more eco-friendly than their predecessors, regardless of the design aesthetic.
“There are regulations about how tightly the house has to maintain its seal, and the use of uber-efficient oil and gas burners,” he said, although he added that he hasn’t necessarily seen an increase in demand for truly “off-the-grid” or ultra eco-friendly homes, because while they save money in the long run, the price of those extra features is still often cost-prohibitive at least up front.
Kramer’s projects are prime examples of how modern ideals and principles can be blended with more traditional design elements and features, and how shifts in thinking about being more eco-conscious play in when it comes to home building. She spoke about a residential project in Orient, where the owners were intent on updating and renovating an old cauliflower distribution barn and the residential portion that had been attached to it, preserving certain design elements while making it more modern and eco-friendly.
The home is powered with solar and geothermal energy, which was important to the owners, Kramer said. Working with John Bertani Builder, siding from the old barn was pulled off and incorporated into the new living room, with the bold capital letters LICD (Long Island Cauliflower Distribution), giving off an almost artistic impression that pays homage to the structure’s past life.
“I think being able to preserve part of a structure is obviously part of sustainability,” she said. “It’s not always just about energy, but also about not filling up landfills with waste, if we can do that.”
I think being able to preserve a part of a structure is obviously part of sustainability. It’s not always just about energy, but also about not filling up landfills with waste, if we can do that.Meryl Kramer, Architect
The owners were also interested in using sustainable materials for new elements of construction, whenever possible. As a result, much of the roofing and siding on the home is metal. Kramer said that while she still loves working with wood, metal is a more eco-friendly choice. The rest of the project was about marrying the old with the new, trying to preserve the original spirit of the structure and surrounding property.
“We didn’t change much of the original footprint,” she said. “When we took off that old corrugated metal siding, we wanted to preserve that barn-type feeling.”
Kramer made use of new technology and materials to maximize eco-conscious design on another residential project, situated on Gull Pond in Greenport and built by Seifert Construction. The 2,600-square-foot, five-bedroom house has a farmhouse feel to it, with a metal roof, double-hung windows and what she described as a “typical configuration” in some areas but also has a flat-roof garage, a more distinctly “modern” look. Clean lines are present throughout, from the wood beams in the kitchen’s cathedral ceiling to the horizontal siding on the garage. The home is insulated with SIPs (structural insulated panels), which use a model akin to 3D printing to create customized insulation panels in a factory before shipping them out to the homebuilder. The panels are highly energy-efficient, trapping air that normally escapes with traditional insulation.
The home has both traditional and modern elements, but for Kramer, homes like this can still fall into the category of modern because they are less about defining certain features and more about the overall effect.
“It’s about trying to have clear ideas and not cover things up with too much ornamentation,” Kramer said. “It’s about creating order in [the homeowners’] lives, both visually and functionally.”
That kind of thinking about homebuilding and design is understandably appealing, and many builders, architects, and real estate agents think it will continue to catch on, turning what might still be considered a trend into something more permanent.
“These homes are in demand for sure, and I have everyone from people in their 20s to baby boomers who are interested,” Parker said. “A lot of them are one-level homes, which works for baby boomers. I think that soon, we will look at this as the norm. It’s an intelligent, eco-friendly trend, and that’s where we’re going.”