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    Wednesday, May 29, 2024

    OPINION: $8.25 million will buy an extraordinary ‘glass house’ on Fishers Island

    The house Hooverness, as it appeared May 23, is perched along Fishers Island Sound. (David Collins/The Day)
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    The house Hooverness, as it appeared May 23, is perched along Fishers Island Sound. (David Collins/The Day)
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    As much as I’d like to daydream about it, it’s quite unlikely I’m ever going to have $8 million to spare.

    I don’t even buy lottery tickets. And at my age, hopes for ever earning that kind of money are certainly dimming.

    But if did have an extra $8 million, or $8.25 million to be exact, I would seriously consider using it to buy the amazing “glass house” on Fishers Island.

    It’s just come on the market. I used my press credentials to get a peek. I hurried because, and I know this sounds crazy, I expect it might fly off the shelf.

    There are a lot of people around these days with $8 million burning holes in their pockets.

    It’s a remarkable place.

    The house that Tom Armstrong built -- he even wrote a book about it, “A Singular Vision Art Architecture Landscape,” which was published posthumously after his death in 2011 -- is known informally on the island as the glass house.

    That’s because its entire perimeter is made of glass. It’s very big, all one floor, with a couple of bathrooms but only one bedroom, the only place in the house now fitted with curtains.

    Armstrong wrote in the book that he had one piece of advice for children and grandchildren fretting about the lack of guest rooms in the house he was building: Rent.

    Standing inside the house is like standing outside. And vice versa, when you are on the covered platform that surrounds the house.

    The inside/outside phenomena is certainly interesting. But it becomes spectacular when you consider the setting.

    To the north is the broad expanse of Fishers Island Sound, with the outline of the mainland spread across the horizon. To the south are magnificent gardens that Armstrong designed first around the original house on the site and then its replacement.

    It’s like a park.

    Indeed, the family regularly opens it to islanders, who know when to check the sign out front to see if is open to visitors. The sign helps respect the privacy of people who live in a glass house.

    They host a spring fundraiser each year, when tens of thousands of daffodils are in bloom.

    Armstrong formally christened the house Hooverness when it was finished in 2008, replacing a more traditional house on the site, Hoover Hall, that burned to the ground in December 2003. It was one of the great house fires of Fishers Island, where fires are hard to put out once they start.

    (The name originally grew out of an island joke about Armstrong’s preference in vacuum cleaners.)

    Armstrong had a celebrated career as a museum director, leading both the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

    The glass house is full of his modern art, which is another treat, beautiful paintings and sculpture that fit so well in the space.

    My tour guide from Mystic Isle Realty, which is co-listing the house with Sotheby’s International Realty, noted that the interior of the house is like a museum gallery.

    I know what he means. But I’ve never been in an art gallery as mesmerizing as this one.

    Full-time caretaker Michael Simoncini joined us for part of the tour and shared some tales of 22 years with the family.

    Simoncini knows the house as well as anyone, from the workings of its geothermal heating and cooling system to the methods of pruning its substantial garden plantings, on which he often worked side by side with Armstrong.

    Armstrong dedicated the book on Hooverness to his wife, Bunty, “Who gave me a project to celebrate my life.”

    But he made it clear the house was his vision and the culmination of a life of obsessions with art, architecture and landscapes.

    Armstrong was 71 when the fire destroyed Hoover Hall, but the gardens were flourishing and he and his wife decided to rebuild inside them.

    “It was she …. who decided a new house surrounded by the garden was to be exclusively my project,” he wrote in the book. “I decided to build a modernist steel-and-glass house to capture continuous views of land and sea.”

    It does indeed.

    And if you have $8 million to spare, I’d definitely have a look.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

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