A Barn Raising

Plum Builders' La Grange project in East Hampton
Plum Builders’ La Grange project in East Hampton

Mark Zeff spent six months negotiating to buy a cottage near Gardiners Bay in East Hampton before the deal fell apart in 2013.

So the design firm owner instead bought land near the bay and constructed his dream home. It’s not a typical Hamptons getaway: The barn-like exterior is painted black while the airy 6,200-square-foot interior resembles a Tribeca loft with modern conveniences.

“There are a lot of barns in the Hamptons and that was my inspiration,” said Zeff. “The house fits the landscape nicely.”

Buyers apparently agree. A flood of inquiries inspired Zeff to open Black Barn, a design and construction firm. The company builds speculative homes ranging from $3.8 to $4.5 million.

Black Barn is one of several companies capitalizing on buyers’ fascination with modern barns. ModernGreen Home, a long-time Hamptons builder that typically builds modern dwellings, is constructing three modern barns and plans to start another three this summer. East Hampton-based Plum Builders built its first modern barn in 2006 and is currently constructing two more for $4.4 million apiece.

“We started seeing interest in 2006 but then the market crashed,” said Mary Giaquinto, chairwoman. “Now we are really concentrating on modern barns.”

In fact, Plum is attempting to trademark the words “modern barn.” And with other builders and brokers jumping on the barn bandwagon, Plum is taking legal action to protect exclusive use of the name.

There’s no universally agreed-upon definition for a “modern barn.” But it might have a pitched roof, simple lines and large windows, with concrete or wooden plank floors. Like their namesakes, the homes feature open interiors.

The homes’ newfound popularity reflects buyers’ frustration with the limited options available in the East End. The selection largely consists of shingled traditional homes or enormous McMansions.

“My clients felt like if they’d seen one house they had seen them all,” said Jason Schommer, a broker at Corcoran’s Bridgehampton office who is working with a builder to construct and sell a modern barn in Water Mill. “People want something that is updated but isn’t a modern glass box.”

Modern Green president Peter Sabbeth said such homes appeal to both the nostalgic and practical sides of buyers. The homes may invoke happy memories of childhoods spent in the country while accommodating a desire for modern creature comforts.

Architect Chris Coy said the style is particularly appropriate in locations such as Sagaponack, known for its farms. He doesn’t expect the trend to overrun the Hamptons, noting that modern homes with glass curtain walls are still favored by those with beachfront property. “People want to look at those views,” said Coy. —Theresa Agovino

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