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Touring Sag Harbor's Watchcase Site

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On Thursday, we toured the Watchcase building site and the first decorated apartment. We were blown away, quite frankly. Today we'll discuss the site as a whole; tomorrow, the model apartment.

First, a little history. The Watchcase is a former factory building on a site that has been industrial since the 1850s. Why choose Sag Harbor for a factory, anyway? Because of the whaling trade, Sag Harbor actually used to be a major industrial center and port. The current building was erected in 1881, although it has been added to since then. The actual factory closed in 1981; since then, various ideas have been floated about how to use the site. Finally, in 2006, the Cape Advisors group began development of what is now the Watchcase.

The most impressive thing to us about the Watchcase was how the designers respected the legacy of the site. It would have been easier and cheaper to knock the whole thing down. In addition to the factory building, there will be some townhouses built where cottages for the factory workers once stood. These echo the vernacular style of Sag Harbor.

Every bit of the old factory building that could be saved has been incorporated as much as possible into the apartments. For example, all the ceiling beams that were still serviceable have been retained, while new replacements are as close as possible to the old ones; many came from unused train trestles in the South, for example. (The ceiling beams were cleaned by being blasted with walnut shells. This is less stressful to the wood than sandblasting.) The old bricks were cleaned—over 30,000 of them—and those that couldn't be reused were replaced by carefully selected new ones incorporated seamlessly. We love that an old wooden water tank located on a tower of the factory building has been recreated as a cupola for lucky residents (upper right, first picture).

Because the factory made watch cases out of precious metals, it has some unique qualities, such as an abundance of windows. (Workers creating delicate watch cases need a lot of natural light.) Another legacy of the factory are secure storerooms for precious metals made of huge blocks of solid granite. These have been incorporated into the apartments in various ways, as kitchens or bathrooms in some. Yet the building incorporates 21st century technology: for example, the floors were raised so that mechanical systems like radiant heat could be run underneath.

We'll have more for you tomorrow.
· Watchcase [Official Site]
· All previous coverage of The Watchcase [Curbed Hamptons]