I had the great good fortune to grow up in Stony Brook, New York, a small town on the north shore of Long Island. The New York Times describes Stony Brook as a scenic hamlet located roughly sixty miles east of Manhattan at the midpoint of the Island’s 120-mile length, close to both the big city and the East End. Stony Brook was a special place to be a young boy, and as I look back now, I can see many things that were important in guiding me toward my chosen profession of design and architecture.
1. My father, Richard Arelt, was an architect. But, for me, it wasn’t an obvious career path and never did I feel “of course that’s what I’ll be too!” other than perhaps inheriting the DNA genes that have given me an innate spatial ability. My dad was quite successful, and prolific, at a time when the area was first being developed (circa 1950’s) and every project was a custom design. He designed our home and most of the others in the neighborhood.
2. Ward Melville: The “Three Villages” as they are called – Old Field, Setauket and Stony Brook – were developed around a master plan conceived by the genius and vision of this man; and then funded in large part by his philanthropy. Melville bought large parcels of land in the Three Villages and donated them as parkland, ground for a university, and a town center. Read more about Ward Melville’s vision for the first planned business community located in Stony Brook.
What it meant for me was that I grew up in an area that truly had character: Mill ponds with grist mills and picturesque stone bridges; a crescent-shaped town center with the post office in the center, the hardware store at one end and the fire department at the other; trash receptacles emblazoned with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.”
The pride of place, the sense of place, clearly had an effect on me and became core values. Contextuality is a fundamental part of my design process.
3. The Hamptons: Most weekends my mom and I, and sometimes a sister or two, would drive out to Riverhead to visit my grandmother’s grave. After that, we would continue out on the North or South Fork for lunch, antiquing and general sightseeing. The highlight for me was the Hamptons, in particular East Hampton. I was insistent that we drive systematically up and down the neighborhood streets making sure to take in each spectacular property. Some were screened by hedges or stone walls, at which point I’d implore her to drive up the driveway (a habit I continue to this day to the great embarrassment of my wife). The beauty and sophistication of the designs, not just of the buildings but the hardscape and the landscape – the whole thing – was exhilarating. I’m pretty sure my takeaway then was that I wanted to someday live in one. It turns outI design them instead. Maybe that’s even better!
Nautilus’ Top 10 Long Island Must See & Do List
2. Lunch at Modern Snack Bar
3. Visit the town of Aquebogue
4. Visit The Big Duck
5. Gone but not forgotten Herb McCarthy’s Restaurant Southampton NY
7. Bridgehampton Candy Kitchen
8. Roadside Produce Stands like Pike Farms
9. Fishing in the Shinnecock Canal
4. The Mechanical Eagle at the Stony Brook Post Office, 129 Main St., Stony Brook, was hand carved and has a wing span of 20 feet. It flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. as it has done since 1941, welcoming visitors to the Stony Brook Village Center.