All a Dream: The Lively Intersection of Art and Hip-hop Make History at “Island in the Sky”

Water Mill, auction
The view from the pool cabana
Courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty

Sitting up on one of the highest elevations the East End has to offer, perched on a hilltop in Water Mill that offers a glimpse of the ocean over the treetops, is a home unlike any other in the Hamptons.

Old-school hip-hop fans will recognize its unusually shaped pool and the adjacent pyramid-topped structure from a music video for the Notorious B.I.G.’s break-out hit Juicy back in the 1990s. Standing poolside, Biggie spit the first bars on the rags-to-riches anthem: “It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine . . .”

Fondly known as “Island in the Sky,” thanks to the elevated pool and spa, it was actually the dream, if you will, of the Japanese-American architect and sculptor Setsuo Ito.

Ito built the 12,000-square-foot sprawling abode in the early 1990s on a nine-acre parcel of land he had purchased a decade earlier. The Noyac Path property boasts 300-foot elevations. He wanted to take advantage of the rare views of the Atlantic Ocean to the south and Peconic Bay to the north. The home’s size could never be replicated today due to the aquifer overlay district created just after Ito began construction, imposed to protect where the water is most pure.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty

The unusual design features a 5,000-square-foot deck, square pool house with glass on all sides, topped by a structural steel pyramid that rises 32 feet into the air. An observation deck, not for the faint of heart, enjoys 360-degree views over Mecox Bay to the ocean and over the bay out to Long Island Sound.

Down below is the pool, the pièce de résistance. Some may call it a rooftop pool, though it’s really more elevated between the home’s ground floor and second level.

“Short jetties for basking in watery proximity divide it into arrow-shaped bays, allowing a 60-foot stretch for lap swimming,” an article in The New York Times described the pool in an April 1994 article, shortly after Ito first completed the home.

It’s the swimming pool that gives you direction — north, south, east, west – with all arrows pointing to privacy,” says Angela Boyer-Stump of Sotheby’s International Realty. She recently listed the home for $4.475 million.

The perfect spot for Biggie to deliver this verse:

“Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool
Considered a fool ’cause I dropped out of high school
Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood
And it’s still all good”

Other scenes show a crowd of people partying by the pool and lounging under the pyramid. Ito told to The Times that 100 people could gather by the pool without feeling cramped.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty

The airy, light-filled home is an entertainer’s dream. While the current owners have renovated the home, one aspect has remained. The home still has that party house vibe depicted in Biggie’s video 27 years ago.

The home has been on and off the market for many years. Ito finally sold it in 2011 for $3 million, donating some of the proceeds to victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami relief. In recent years, the home has been listed as high as $7.495 million.

The current owners have spent money updating the home, making it more livable, Boyer-Stump explains. “It looks like a different house than when Ito owned it. There was no white marble. Everything was brown and earthy tones and now everything has been bleached, white washed.”

Ito’s sculpture is “strongly influenced by the natural beauty of the western regions of the United States, the philosophy of American Indians, and his own Japanese culture,” according to Earthscapture: The Art of Setsuo Ito, a book by Roger Yee, a graduate of the Yale School of Architecture.

Large double doors on the ground level, which open to a dramatic foyer, offer an Asian influence original to the home, but has been toned down. A gallery, perfect for cocktail parties, leads to the main open living space and kitchen. A circular gas fireplace is surrounded by white sofas and two walls of windows and sits underneath a vaulted ceiling and skylight. French doors open to the outside.

The all-white kitchen gleams with white-glass flooring, custom contemporary cabinets, white stone countertops, and chef-caliber appliances.

“It’s really laid out for entertaining,” says Boyer-Stump.

The five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath house has several different wings with lots of extra space for guests. “You have an extra 20 friends you need to bring? Bring them,” the realtor adds.

The home is broken into different levels on each wing. On one side, there are four bedrooms, including three ensuite guest rooms on the ground floor, all of which have access to the outdoors.

Up a spiral staircase, there is a large primary suite that features a spa-like bathroom, and allows access to the pool area.

A patio leads to the poolside cabana/studio. “If you’re having a huge party, this is where you set up your bar,” Boyer-Stump explains.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty

On the other side of the house, up a separate staircase, is the fifth bedroom, which boasts a balcony and ocean views over the treetops to one side and access to the pool on the other.

Down a long, wide hallway — which could easily be reimagined as a media room or some other use, the agent offers — is the mezzanine level under the pyramid. There’s a glass-enclosed space that has been used as a gym, plus there is a powder room and a bonus space.

A large laundry room leads to a one-car garage. Boyer-Stump says there’s enough space to make for a bigger garage.

Biggie’s video and the space for parties aside, the nine-acre property really does exude an air of tranquility. The privacy is evident. Surrounded by a wooded reserve, neighbors can’t be seen.

The same owner holds the deed to an adjacent six-acre wooded parcel, making it possible for someone to create a 15-acre compound. It is available for an additional $2 million.

“You can actually hear the leaves on the trees. That’s unusual this close to town,” Boyer-Stump says, standing on the deck under the pyramid. We actually hear the birds. We hear the leaves rustling.”

“It’s peaceful,” she says. One might say, it is a dream.

This article appeared in the July 2021 issue of Behind The Hedges.