You can almost taste the salt air at this Hamptons house renovated by Betty Wasserman and Glenn Leitch
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 7/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
In the string of charmed and charming villages that make up the Hamptons, the vernacular of cottages and castles is the same: shingles and gables, usually hidden behind carefully clipped privet hedges. Still, there are a few pockets of modernism, notably the boxy or angular 1970's and '80's beach houses on an oceanfront stretch of Bridgehampton, New York.
After several summers of renting one of those cedar-sided boxes—call it Weekend at Bernie's deluxe or Charles Gwathmey Lite—two city dwellers eventually decided to buy a place for their young family, focusing their search on the same quiet street near the ocean. Fortunately, a house came up for sale. Unfortunately, it was "the ugly duckling on the block," recalls Betty Wasserman, called in at the outset for what the couple nevertheless thought would be a simple update. They didn't foresee a lot of work beyond "French doors and an upgraded kitchen," Wasserman says.
Despite a lot of potential, the house had a lot of problems: small bedrooms, lack of storage, not much natural light. There were two fireplaces, "one more hideous than the other," Wasserman says. So she brought in her frequent architectural collaborator, Highland Associates principal Glenn Leitch. He, too, remembers the house as "almost ugly. Most people would have torn it down in a second. But I liked the basic form, especially the shed roof. The clients started to see the potential, too." Together, the pair reworked the entire three-level scheme; ripped out floors, walls, and ceilings; and replaced sliding glass doors with expansive aluminum-framed windows. The simple update became a three-year overhaul—only the slanting roof line and the stacked profile remain.
Thanks to Leitch's efficient layout and space plan, the redesign emphasizes the house's modernist bones, with an eye toward practicality. "Then Betty took it to the next level," he says. On the ground floor, durable bluestone pavers recognize the inevitability of sandy feet and wet swimsuits, while an efficient mudroom offers plenty of storage for beach towels, tennis rackets, and soccer balls. Three of the bedrooms—one with bunks for the owners' daughters, another two for visiting family and friends—have wall-to-wall carpet, again to deal with sandy feet. "I'm very pragmatic as a designer, a mom, and a business owner," Wasserman offers.
As with any residence, there was much discussion about where to place the television. There would be only one, and it wouldn't be in the living room. The designers responded by creating an intimate, adult-friendly media room off the entry, screened from the front door by floor-to-ceiling walnut fins. According to Leitch, the fins work beautifully as an organizing element, a way to define a box within a box without building walls. As for reading, the second-floor landing became a semiprivate space for the mother, with a tufted chaise strategically angled toward a window. "It's just for her, hence the one place to sit," Wasserman explains.
Her palette is deep and warm—this is a year-round weekend home, after all—and her color wheel goes far beyond paint. "I don't believe in just throwing on accent pillows to introduce color," she says. "I'm a minimalist, but I love fabrics. There are probably seven to 10 in any one space." The living room is the perfect example of Wasserman's layered approach to tone and texture. Washed in northern light through double-height windows, the room glows with color. Avocado walls set off a range of green tones in the upholstery, rugs, and pillows.
Lining the staircase to the top-floor master suite—with its view of the ocean and big, open sky—the tint of the Venetian plaster introduces a pale, soothing blue. Downstairs, the media room's bluestone floors harmonize with brick-red wall paint and grapefruit-pink sofa upholstery. Wasserman's pairings may be intense and even unusual. She even classifies lavender as a neutral, and she used a particularly sophisticated, muted shade on the walls in the young daughters' bedroom. It's a color, she believes, that they can grow into.
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