An 18th-Century Hamptons Barn Goes Modern


In this converted barn, a media room lives under what would have been a hayloft. The hay and farm animals are long gone, and now the rustic walls and hand-hewn framing are off-set by modern furniture, such as the chocolate-covered sofa by Fendi Casa, the bronze-and-stone coffee table designed by Arthur Dunnam and contemporary ink-on-paper works by artist Ceal Floyer.

The home's entrance is marked by a bronze-and-marble table by Hervé Van der Straeten that, for larger events, can double as a dining table. The geometry of the piece is matched by the patterns in the wool-and-leather rug by Doris Leslie Blau and the artwork by Damien Hirst

For months, Dunnam and his client searched for a living room light fixture. When the owner spied an installation by Lasvit in a newspaper, she called Dunnam to say, "I found it." The company made this bespoke piece for the space. The vintage orange armchairs are by Hans Wegner and the sofa is by the designer

The pool has grass to nearly the edge. The effect is to make it seamless with the landscape, reminiscent of a pond. A ring of duVal Sun chaises by McKinnon and Harris and Knoll pool umbrellas make sure that relaxation is just steps away from the water.

When the trumpet vine on the deck is in bloom, the color inspiration for the home is revealed. McKinnon and Harris outdoor furniture gives the family a front-row seat overlooking romantic flower beds of farmhouse perennials and an enticing lawn designed by Charlie Marder.

There’s no shortage of grand homes in the Hamptons–but that wasn’t always the case. Until the late 19th century, it was a place better known for potato farms than opulent mansions. It’s that former reputation that, in part, inspired designer Arthur Dunnam’s refresh of a house that was once an 18th-century barn. Part of a family vacation compound–which includes a home for the couple’s daughter and her family, as well as a “sports barn” that Dunnam designed with architect Frank Greenwald–the agrarian-style home retains its humble roots after a recent remodel with a shingled exterior, original proportions and rustic board walls. But now it also embraces a new, glamorous attitude complete with bright color and modern furnishings.

Dunnam credits the low-key, elegant nature of the place to its owners, who purchased it more then 20 years ago. He says the couple always wanted the opposite of ostentatious and looked to an earlier time in their lives for inspiration. “From the beginning, their overriding dictate was not to create a massive, grand edifice. Instead, they were committed to maintaining the authentic and historic vibe of the place,” says Dunnam. “They have happy childhood associations with summer camps. The wanted to replicate that feeling on this property.”

That said, after observing her daughter’s Dunnam-engineered remodel nearby, the wife was committed to thoughtfully altering the former barn’s unassuming all-American aesthetic. “The wife loved the energy and openness of her daughter’s residence, and she wanted to bring that to her own vacation home,” says the designer. “But these are very different people, and their homes reflect that. The daughter’s barn has a softer quality. The mother’s barn is bold and lively.”

For this project, Dunnam started by editing and refining. “Prior to the remodel, this dwelling had an old-fashioned, Americana feel. Spaces were closed off and rustic–the family was constantly getting splinters in their feet from the rough-hewn floor,” he says. Working with general contractor Ian Anderson, he removed a good bit of the large, hand-hewn framing members that separated the spaces, leaving a few of them plus a ladder that once led to the hayloft and a stair rail with twisted vine balusters. Now, the lower-level is home to a living room, a media room and a dining room that are open to each other, separated by only framing and a fireplace. “The space has a loft-like feel,” the designer notes.

Throughout, vibrant orange shades play against the wood walls. A trumpet vine with fiery-colored blossoms on the back deck and the client’s primarily russet and salmon-hued wardrobe provided the inspiration. The centerpiece of the home is a cluster of 60+ orange, silver, gold and white mercury-glass light pendants that float in the air above the living room. “You walk into the entry, which has a lower ceiling, and then you enter the main living space and see glass orbs hanging from the soaring 35-foot ceiling,” says the designer. “I’ve seen guests do this, and they are awed. We searched for a year for the right piece, but it was worth it.”

Warm hues and modernist thinking play out in the furnishings as well. In the living room, Hans Wegner’s iconic Papa and Mama Bear chairs wear bright citrus-colored upholstery. A custom sofa and armchair are done with fretwork in the style of French designer Jean Royere and are covered in upholstery and pillows with orange-colored patterns. “The owner was really into the Papa Bear chair we used in her daughter’s home, and she wanted one here,” says Dunnam. “The modern pieces and bright colors feel like a breath of fresh air.”

The master suite features a more private living area. Set off the master bedroom (where the floor is painted a bright orange) is an ethereal sitting room where the floor, walls and ceiling are done in white, giving the impression that the space floats gently above the lawn. Noting that the color story continues in this room, the designer describes it as “bright, fresh and happy.” A circular rug in the middle of the white floor is a joyful punctuation point, while a Milo Baughman-style sofa and a cast acrylic coffee table serve as the mod squad.

Outside the windows is a landscape created by designer Charlie Marder to look as if it’s always been there. “We tried to make it look effortless, like the plants have naturally grown here for generations,” he says. In keeping with the country nature of the compound, Marder added what he describes as “old-fashioned, American-farmhouse perennials,” including roses, dahlias, lilies and mallow.

What you won’t find in this compound is multiple pools. Instead, there’s just one here at the parents’ dwelling, created to blend into the surroundings with grass growing practically to the water’s edge. “The compound is designed to bring the family together, and the pool is designed to bring the kids to their grandmother’s house,” says Dunnam. “On any given weekend, you can find this family wandering throughout. The place is like a family camp in the best possible way, and it allows them to play hard and relax completely.”