Hefner: ALFRED A. SCHEFFER BEACH HAMPTON HOUSES, 1941 to 1965


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By Robert Hefner. Photography by Jeff Heatley. With research by John Gibson. Book design by Colin Goldberg. Published by Zwirko & Ortmann Architects, P.C. Hampton Lane Press.

When the architect Alfred A. Scheffer died in 1976, he was eulogized as the “dean of East Hampton’s architects” with more than 100 houses and public buildings to his name on the East End. His work here began at Beach Hampton, where in 1938 he was the architect for the Barbour Beach Hampton Club and in the 1940s his first beach houses were built. In 1949 Scheffer built his own house at Beach Hampton, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

This book is about Scheffer’s work at Beach Hampton, particularly his designs of the 1940s and 1950s. His work of this period is among his most innovative, as he joined other architects in creating something new, the weekend beach house. For Scheffer this meant treating a traditional form with a modern aesthetic, an overall informality, and, above all, keeping the volume low to the dune landscape. In the aftermath of the Great Depression and then of World War II, this was the era of the small house. Scheffer embraced the idea of economy and pared- down interior spaces and he stripped away all but the subtlest of decorative details. But his spare houses were more about aesthetics than budget.

Central to the story of Alfred Scheffer and Beach Hampton is the architect’s relationship to his major patron, Ella Barbour, a New York restaurateur. From 1935 to 1960 Scheffer designed at least 10 projects for her family. In 1938 she took Scheffer to Beach Hampton to design her restaurant there. In the 1940s she built three Scheffer beach houses on Hampton Lane and in 1949 invited Scheffer to build a house for himself at her compound. In Ella Barbour, Scheffer had a client who shared his own appreciation for clean and simple design and for her he designed some of his most carefully-crafted buildings.

Alfred A. Scheffer enjoyed his profession and kept working until he died at the age of 82. A client, Thomas Griffith, wrote an insightful estimation of the architect: “Interiors were his pride; his own taste ran to cleanliness, natural materials, and simplicity. He loved wood and old brick, so most of his work, though not an imitation of the East End style, fitted beautifully in with it.”

— Robert Hefner

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