For a family's weekend retreat on eastern Long Island, designer Robert Stilin offers an elegant twist on the quintessential pleasures of life by the shore.
Some years ago, a billionaire quietly bought a large parcel
of land in Sagaponack, New York, and erected a $200 million, 29-
bedroom Italianate compound surrounded by formal gardens. So it's easy to understand why residents of the tiny hamlet, which lies smack in the middle of the Hamptons, were wary when the CEO of a major lifestyle brand and his photographer wife bought one of the last intact farmhouses there. Many in town worried that the couple—whose primary home is a sprawling Westchester County estate—would tear down the farmhouse and put up a monstrosity.
Their concern was unnecessary. Instead of leveling the gracious 19th-century structure, the couple preserved as much of it as they could, creating a unique paean to the sort of casual, beachy elegance that used to define Sagaponack.
In the family room of a Sagaponack, New York, home designed by , a light fixture hangs above a cocktail table by ; the cushions of the vintage René Gabriel armchairs are upholstered in a Stroheim stripe. The bookcase is vintage, the walls are painted in 's Seapearl, and the paneled ceiling is original.
"The last thing that we wanted was a McMansion," says the photographer. Instead of being surrounded by the massive privet hedge typical of Hamptons landscaping, their two-and-a-half-acre plot is open to the neighboring houses and fields. (The Atlantic Ocean, with its radiant sunsets, is a short walk away.) The house is airy, light, and modern, with original wide-plank floors and moldings. "The floorboards creak," says , a designer based in New York City and East Hampton, to whom the couple turned for help with the renovation. "It's fantastic."
A custom-made sofa upholstered in an linen, a cocktail table from HB Home, and 1940s sconces in the family room; the Borge Mogensen–style wing chair is upholstered in a linen by , a vintage bar cart serves as a side table, and the rug is by .
The 4,000-square-foot, Shingle-style farmhouse, which had been converted to a rather fusty traditional residence by a prior owner, is now minimalist, but it's far from chilly. There's a lot of white—this is the beach, after all—including slipcovered sofas and linen curtains. But there are also cool blues and warm, broken-in leather; shelves and tables are accented by earthy ceramics. "We aren't the kind of people who go in for things that are flashy," says the photographer. "We want our home to be aesthetically pleasing, but we don't do things just to make a statement."
In the living room, a 1940s chair by Eero Saarinen retains its original leather, the armchairs are by Guillerme et Chambron, and a custom-made sofa is upholstered in an Elizabeth Dow linen; the curtains are of a Calvin Fabrics linen, and the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's Tapestry Beige.
In fact, her husband works for a company that does make a statement of sorts. His brand has properties in most of the nation's major cities. Often housed in industrial-style, loftlike spaces, its branches have a similar vibe to the couple's Hamptons base: historic-meets-contemporary, without too much fuss. When decorating their house, Stilin says, "they were insistent that you can keep what's essentially charming about a place and yet make it effortlessly livable for a family."
The entry hall's pendant light and coatrack are vintage, the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's Seapearl, and the original flooring was bleached and stained gray.
The front door opens directly into a large room, the size of which was the project's first challenge. Too big for an entry, it is now a family room that sets the tone for the rest of the house. Simple midcentury wood chairs with cushions covered in a breezy cabana stripe are arranged under a shiny light fixture that the photographer calls "my disco ball." The use of elemental materials with industrial flair—metal, concrete, and glass—makes the house cozy and real, she says. "It feels like it honors the past."
A light fixture, a custom-made concrete-and-chestnut table, and midcentury French chairs in the dining room.
A children's bedroom in the guest house features 1950s headboards, radiant-heated concrete floors, and a sliding door made from the barn's original exterior boards.
Despite the seaside ambience of the house's jute rugs and bleached floors, there is not a seashell curio in sight. "I'm not a tchotchke girl," the wife says simply. Instead, she encouraged Stilin to seek out the contours she is attracted to in her photography: clean lines and lots of curves, such as those embodied in the swooping undulations of an Eero Saarinen Womb chair. Natural forms abound, in the shape of driftwood, deer antlers, and dried vines.
French light fixtures and a Hans Wegner armchair, all from the 1950s, and a painting by Lola Schnabel in the guest house; vintage chairs surround a 19th-century wine-tasting table, the custom-made sofa is upholstered in a fabric, and the sliding door was originally on the exterior of the barn.
The pendant light and Italian mirror in a hallway are vintage, the 19th-century bench is from France, and the shade is of a linen.
Most important, she wanted the house to accommodate her daughters and their big, friendly Labrador retriever. The girls' bedroom, with two low platform beds specially designed by Stilin, is "wonderfully camp-like," she says; paintings by Hunt Slonem add a dose of color. The space she most prizes, though, is the girls' rough-hewn art room, where "they can paint the walls and themselves without feeling inhibited."
In the daughters' bedroom, the paintings are by , and the beds are custom made; the walls are painted in 's Haze Green.
Like many farmhouses, the property came with outbuildings, in this case, a pair of former potato barns. One now holds a gym and the garage; the other is a two-bedroom guest house, with the original barn doors hung to divide the living and sleeping spaces. The floors are polished concrete. Friends come to stay often, even sometimes when the family isn't there.
The guest house, one of two former potato barns on the property.
The couple aren't much for throwing big parties, even though they have the space. They use the house on weekends throughout the year, not just in the summer, and they prefer intimate dinners, casual barbecues, and quiet nights chasing fireflies with the girls under the stars. "We take the kids apple picking and to the pumpkin patches," the photographer says.
The master bath's original tub has fittings by ; the painting is by , and the stool is antique.
Although the family moved in only two years ago, the greatest compliment from friends is that "it looks as though we've been here forever," she says. "Some people like things perfect and new. And big, big, big. We just like things to feel like us."
In the master bedroom, a custom-made bed has a headboard covered in a fabric from and is dressed in linens and a vintage blanket; the side table came from a mill, the chair is Belgian, the bench is by Harry Bertoia, and the photograph is by .