A floor plan is a reasonable starting point for designing a new home, but leave it to Ellen Hamilton to riff on the notion. For this colorful Quogue retreat for longtime clients, the designer embraced “floor plan” literally, taking her inspiration from rugs—and not just any rugs, either. In addition to haute couture sketches and collaborations with Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and others, French fashion and art darling Christian Bérard designed rugs for Jean-Michel Frank. The resulting pieces are merveilleux modernist artworks hand-woven into carpets that Hamilton’s clients had read about and loved.
“Our first step was a trip to Provence to see Bérard’s rugs in person,” Hamilton recalls. With color-splashed selections for the living and dining rooms, and another Tuileries-inspired number for the library, Hamilton had her jump-off point and was on firm footing for creating the vacation home her clients desired. “They wanted a classic, shingle-style exterior, but with a modern, color-infused interior—the exact opposite of the all-white Hamptons look,” says Hamilton, who took her cues, including a palette of rich reds, golden yellows and turquoise blues, more from the French Riviera than Shinnecock Bay.
The clients also wanted a residence large enough to do what their Manhattan apartment could not: become a generational gathering spot for their two adult sons and their eventual families, as well as a home away from home for their closest friends. After finding a prime waterfront lot, they turned to architect Stuart Disston to erect their dream.
“The owners are very passionate about architecture, and while we couldn’t save the existing older house that was here, we borrowed elements from it, such as the gables and beautiful bracketing,” he notes. In collaboration with general contractor George E. Vickers, Disston also incorporated nostalgic features that further celebrate the setting, from a guest wing that references a former gatehouse on the property (replete with watchtower) to an existing boathouse-turned-watering hole, where the stern of a ship named Shaken Not Stirred now serves as a campy bar.
“A beautiful home can’t have everything brand new. You need things from the past,” agrees Hamilton, who layered antiques with modern pieces and wove “a little bit of every color in every room, so each space feels surprising and new, but like an iteration on a theme.” Though rugs ground the interiors, whimsical lighting elevates them, thanks to the client’s wish for “showstopper fixtures in every room,” the designer says. She obliged with fanciful selections, including a cloud-like, organza-wrapped living room light sculpture by Ayala Serfaty and a dazzling bespoke dandelion chandelier by Studio Drift in the dining room. Blossom motifs are repeated in Hamilton’s custom-designed chair fabric, which was hand-embroidered in Portugal.
Off the grand stair hall, the leather-and-wood library pays homage to a favorite haunt of the owners—Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris—while an upstairs sitting room takes its inspiration from Jules Verne’s famed sci-fi novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. “The deep-blue walls and sofa fabric reference the ocean, while the beautiful, vaulted ceiling and undulating lines reflect gestures on the exterior. It’s a great, cocoon-like room for evening gatherings,” Hamilton notes, adding that her client wanted an “interesting, lively” residence, with each space offering a different experience, “so no one would get bored.”
Garnished with a museum-worthy collection of art, including Wolf Kahn oils and sculpture by Franck Evennou, there is little chance of that. “My clients love glamour, and there was no getting around that everything had to be glamorous,” the designer says. But it’s also a comfortable and functional family home, as ready for poolside relaxing and salty boat rides as for elegant entertaining.
After all, the village’s low-key quaintness was always the draw for these homeowners. “I grew up summering in Westhampton and would ride around Quogue on bikes with my father. Even as a young girl, I loved the local charm and dreamed of one day having a place here,” the client shares. She enlisted landscape architect Ed Hollander to design a “laid-back, old Long Island vibe” replete with beech, catalpa, and kousa dogwood trees among other local favorites. “A crape myrtle allée bursting with blooms in July and August invites guests from the house down to the pool and waterfront,” Hollander adds. As if an invitation were needed. This thoroughly artful home is one standing invitation to savor summer goodness.
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