A fluffle of rabbits hopped across the lawn to welcome Howard Williams and Eric Gunhus the first time they laid eyes on their would-be East Hampton getaway. To mark that auspicious greeting, the couple would eventually hang one of Hunt Slonem’s bunny paintings in the pantry. It’s a small gesture, but one that speaks volumes about their intentions. “Every little thing was chosen and agonized over,” says Eric. “We asked ourselves, ‘Does it represent us? Does it feel out of place in the Hamptons?’”
Howard, the owner of the Manhattan gallery, High Style Deco, and Eric, a former Broadway performer who now owns company, EG Event Group, had been looking for a project—and the 1919 Colonial Revival certainly was one. “It was frozen in time,” recalls Howard, noting of its appeal, “We didn’t want anyone else’s renovation, so it was better that way.” Eric, in particular, was drawn to the rooms’ smaller scale. “I’ve learned as an event planner that when you have more intimate spaces, it brings people closer,” he says.
For Sag Harbor-based architect Anthony Vermandois, the couple’s vision fit squarely into his own professional philosophy. “Their plan wasn’t to change the character into something it wasn’t, and I’m not trying to transform houses into something they’re not,” says Vermandois, adding, “I’m updating them for the 21st century while keeping their integrity intact.” On the exterior, he restored the period detailing on the front porch and front door surround. Working closely with his frequent collaborator, general contractor Tom O’Donoghue, he replaced windows and added corner boards and dormers to the roof. (“We can give him an idea or sketch, and he can turn it into reality,” the architect says of O’Donoghue.) Eric, an Iowa native with fond memories of Midwest summers spent on the porch, requested a covered terrace, so Vermandois created a classical-inspired dining loggia on one side of the house. On the opposite side, a 1960s sun room addition received a makeover in a classical revival style.
To give the couple a bit more space, Vermandois then devised a modest two-story addition at the rear of the house. Upstairs, the extra space meant the couple gained an en suite bathroom complete with his-and-his sinks and a coffee station. On the first floor, a powder room and mudroom were added, while the dining room and kitchen gained more square footage. In the latter, stained-walnut built-ins resembling a vintage ice box emphasize a period feel, as does a curved Tiffany Studios stained-glass window salvaged from a 1907 townhouse, which the new pool house was designed around.
The couple delighted in sourcing art and furnishings for the home across frequent buying trips to Howard’s gallery. A painting of a grasshopper hanging in the entry, for instance, was from the estate of an opera singer, and the couple used the gray, brown and gold hues in it to establish the moody palette. “This is a year-round house, so it was meant to be warm and cozy,” Howard shares. This being the Hamptons, though, there are plenty of clever nods to the sea. In the dining room, the waves on the wallpaper evoke Japanese woodblock prints and the rug, with its varied lengths of pile, suggests kelp. “It’s organic and ocean-centric with Howard’s layer of gloss on top,” notes Eric.
A sense of place is evident in the outside spaces as well, imagined by landscape designer Michael Donnellan. In the secret garden off the sun room, antique brick for the walls was laid to mimic that at the old Parrish Art Museum and a pedestal nestled in the hedges came from Grey Gardens. As for the gardens themselves? “When Michael asked what we envisioned, I said, ‘I want it to look like Joan Crawford lives here,” Howard recalls of their first meeting. “It’s manicured, sharp and clean.” Although, Eric adds, “There’s a casual layer on top of that with free-flowing hydrangeas and a cutting garden.” In season, some of those hydrangeas will find their way into a Meissen vase in the kitchen. The arrangement serves as a visual representation of the homeowners. As Eric puts it, “The end result was always going to be a reflection of what Howard offers and an extension of my business as well.”