This feels like an estate, and I don’t use that word lightly,” interior designer Joanna Jones says of the historic Bellport home she helped renovate for a TriBeCa family. The 1838 house is revered in the community, so when it hit the market in 2015, a frisson of nervousness ran through the village. There was no need to worry, though. “The owners felt entrusted to take care of the house, and they wanted to do it right,” Jones says. “We used the term ‘respectful renovation.’”
The owners, who work in finance and economics, weren’t particularly looking for a vacation home, but the husband had long dreamed of a big lawn for family football games during the holidays. When they toured the property, known as Nearthebay, they were smitten. Despite looking at several others that day, they knew this was the one.
Nearthebay was the lifetime residence of Sarah Elizabeth Birdsall “Birdie” Otis Edey, a rather remarkable figure who was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, a writer and a president of the Girl Scouts of America. At age 12, she crafted a Victorian paper doll’s house in the form of a book, which was recently published by Eric Boman. “After we got Boman’s book, we realized the previous owners had recreated the feel of the house from Birdie’s day,” says the wife, who early on discussed renovation concepts with architect Anthony Frabizio. They decided to keep the home nearly as it was and simply expand spaces a little. “We wanted to maintain the integrity but open it up,” Frabizio says. “It was very important to keep the old charm.”
The same applied to the decor. “The interiors had been very heavy, so our goal was to make it more approachable,” Jones says. Working with general contractor James Nicotra, the team set about refinishing original wood floors, opening some walls on the main floor, repairing cracked moldings, updating the kitchen cabinetry and rebuilding the sunroom. The biggest task was adding air conditioning, which they hid behind built-ins on the third floor. “It worked out in a lovely way, because it let us create window seats lined with bead board for a sense of age,” Jones says. It’s an addition appreciated by the children, avid readers, who now have a multitude of cozy hideaways.
For the furnishings, Jones and the wife shared a Pinterest board of images that reflect unfussy interiors–rooms that could hold up to summer living and the scamper of bare feet leaving a trail of grass. To that end, they focused on re ned but relaxed furniture silhouettes, natural textures– such as the woven-rush dining chairs–and sturdy indoor- outdoor fabrics. To accommodate guests, the interior designer incorporated generous sofas, extra day beds, trundle beds and bunk beds. “It can sleep a lot of people,” she says of the 6,000-square-foot home.
Jones kept the main rooms relatively traditional and certainly serene; a seagrass photograph above the master bedroom’s sitting room replace–one of seven originals in the house–sums up the palette perfectly. Yet there are moments of levity that sweetly counter the formality of the home’s Greek Revival architecture. Jones and the wife especially bonded over a love of wallpaper, and nowhere did they have more fun than in the sunroom, where they chose Hygge & West’s Daydream pattern with coral-hued swallows darting among clouds. Crowning the space is a custom red lantern by The Urban Electric Co. that landed there by happenstance. “Joanna had picked out three of them in blue for the foyer, but they ended up being too small,” the wife says, “so I suggested we move it to the sunroom in red.” The site of Thanksgiving dinner, the
multipurpose space is the wife’s favorite room. “It used to be full of plants and furniture,” she recalls. “Now it’s open, with tables and benches for eating, reading or working. We use it as a yoga room sometimes.” The look epitomizes the goal of the project, Jones adds: “It captures everything we were trying to achieve–bright, light and a sense of the house’s original intent.”
A connection to the landscape was also key, so Jones kept window treatments minimal. “They soften the edges and highlight the grounds,” she explains. To ramp up summer living, the team redid the terrace, adding a kitchen and dining area that overlooks the verdant setting by landscape architect Matt Palermo. “It’s all about preserving the spirit of the house,” he says. “They embraced the notion I had to let the landscape age naturally with the house.” On the property are a pool and topiary garden, espalier apple trees, an herb garden, old yew hedges, native ferns, hydrangeas, myriad trees–including a copper beech as old as the home–and even an old post office.
A labor of love, the home captures its original spirit with personal touches. “This project is near and dear to my heart,” Jones says. The same goes for the family, who have embraced the location. “We love it,” the wife says, “and not just Nearthebay but the town that has made us feel welcome.”