Noted contemporary architect began her work on this new summer home by going for long drives with her client Herbert Sambol along the meandering lanes of East Hampton and the nearby pastures of Wainscott and Sagaponack. To help focus their collective process, they photographed historic houses, barns and outbuildings as they drove. Specific elements of those classic structures provided inspiration for the design of the 4,300-square-foot house, yet the finished product reinterprets its local predecessors in unanticipated ways.
The house expresses Berke's trademark style: spare, concise, almost austere, which is what attracted Sambol to her work. "It was great to have a client who would embrace the rigor," says Berke, who is on the faculty of the Yale School of Architecture. "We both wanted a style that would relate to the history of the region without being slavish to the past," says the homeowner, a real estate investor.
For the interior decor, Sambol hired Brent Leonard and Sean Webb, principals of Form Architecture + Interiors. Having worked with them on his former house, he thought their aesthetic would be sympathetic with Berke's restrained spaces. "They worked closely with the architectural team [which included project architect Rhoda Kennedy] to modulate the interiors," says Sambol. Leonard explains Form's look as casual yet luxurious. "We are not cluttery," he says. "We like to select beautiful objects that come together in a dialogue," as they do in the 32-foot-long living room, where three seating areas create both grandeur and intimacy, Webb says.
The spacious stair hall and foyer were designed for ample circulation between the formal rooms. Picking up on long-standing beach-house tradition, Berke decided to clad these transitional spaces in vertical boarding. She trumped the original, however, and upped the elegance ante by specifying the same one-by-six-inch white-painted vertical planks that she used for the exterior. (Like the slate living room floor that runs out onto the back patio, this increases the indoor-outdoor personality of the home.)
Out back, Berke varied the geometries of the street facade. "The back of the house is very open and much more explicitly modern," explains Berke. The terrace level, off the living room, has eight-foot-high windows that are almost indistinguishable from nine-foot-high French doors. The second floor, however, has a more traditional configuration, with evenly spaced windows allotted to a row of four bedrooms accessed by a hallway that runs along the front of the house. "Though the house is not strictly symmetrical, it has a real sense of order and balance," says Sambol.
Landscape architect Perry Guillot addressed difficult issues of the oddly shaped lot of just under two acres. In order to disguise the acute angles of the property, plantings were kept free-flowing and naturalistic along its outer edges. Plantings next to the house are simple, with clean lines. The plant palette includes privet, cedar trees, woodland rhododendron and ilex. "The house's architecture dictated the restraint needed in the garden, which is mostly tone and very little texture," explains Guillot.
The kitchen and dining room were designed to be open to each other, in deference to Sambol's lifestyle, which includes year-round entertaining but always in an informal manner. He wanted the space to be simple, low-key and filled with light. "For me the kitchen is a morning space, where houseguests gather and have coffee and relaxed conversation, so I felt that the room should be cheerful and have views out to the garden," he says.
To allow ample light to pour in and offer unobstructed views through the windows, Sambol and his team opted to forgo upper cabinets. To capture the early-morning light, a skylight was centered over the marble-topped island. Sambol, who says he typically shuns skylights, chose one that was fabricated in an industrial style. To accommodate utensils and accoutrements, extra storage was built into the prep island, and the massive buffet in the dining room holds dishes and flatware. Eleven feet long and designed by Leonard and Webb, the invaluable piece is constructed of oak and white leather, inspired by Swedish furniture of the 1920s. At night, the dining room is lit by a reissued Gino Sarfatti chandelier from Flos.
Of the relatively spare kitchen, Sambol says, "we were over the idea of kitchen as status symbol." For Sambol, what was essential was that it be functional and properly scaled. "It has all the features you'd want in a kitchen -- it has beautiful materials, it's easy to work in -- yet it's understated," adds Sambol. It nonetheless features high-end stainless steel appliances (Sub-Zero refrigerator, Wolf oven, Thermador range and Miele dishwasher among them).
Having observed how Sambol likes to live -- sparely, with each object chosen with curatorial care -- Leonard and Webb wanted the master bedroom to be "super restful." With hues that bring foggy mornings at the beach to mind, the misty gray-blue tones instill an aura of tranquillity. The textural character imbues the room with a feeling of luxury and comfort. Especially in one of the designers' trademark large-element statements: the custom tufted headboard that spans from wall to wall (fabric is Laura Ashley Royal Velvet). "It's a broad move," Webb says, "done to make the space feel enveloping." They also designed a pair of bedside tables and specified beach-friendly sisal carpeting.
The adjacent master bath is all marble but no-nonsense. The vanity, a separate toilet area and a wet room (with shower and tub) are all faced simply in hand-selected stone. Entry to the wet room is through an opening that has been elegantly trimmed with inch-thick marble detailing. Windows were placed high to admit light but provide privacy at the same time.
A small nook in the master bedroom contains Shaker-simple built-in closets and drawers as well as a small desk (designed so computer gear can be stowed out of view). An adjacent window provides a view of the rooftop deck above the kitchen-dining wing, and a door provides access.
This all suits Sambol, who prefers to have only essentials at hand. "Herb lives very lightly and very gently in his spaces," Leonard says.
What the Pros Know
Architects Brent Leonard and Sean Webb know how to make any room feel bigger. The library-media room (right) was intentionally designed to contrast with Sambol's large, light-filled living room. The design partners heightened the elegance of the 13-by-16-foot room by wrapping it with Jean-Michel Frank-inspired paneling and cabinetry. The paneling rises to eight feet, the point on the wall where the shed roof intersects it. Then a wood cap tops the paneling as an unbroken band encircling the room. "This stops your eye from moving up and gives the space a human scale," says Leonard. In a small room, the duo add big elements. "It's our number-one trick," they concede. Not only does it make the room feel bigger, but it maximizes the seating. For decor they layer periods: Here, Antti Nurmesniemi leather swivel chairs that date from 1958 mix with a Stolnikoff carpet from 1980.
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