Coco Chanel once famously advised looking in the mirror and removing one item before leaving the house. Architect Paul Masi hews to a similarly less-is-more philosophy when it comes to building houses. “The most successful architecture makes the biggest impact with the most minimal means,” he contends—and this residence bears out his thesis. Situated among modestly scaled postwar dwellings, and just across the road from the pristine shores of Hither Hills beach, the structure captures the relaxed mood of Montauk and refrains from overpowering its neighbors either by scale or aesthetics.
Achieving that balance, however, required a complex design program. “The property didn’t have a flat side,” Masi explains, and the soil ranged from sandy to rocky. Terracing the house into the landscape and using a series of bluestone retaining walls created the level ground plane. The move also facilitated a floor plan that placed the living spaces and main bedroom upstairs to capture the ocean views, and the guest bedrooms below to directly flow into the landscape. “We had to cut into the hill pretty deep—18 feet for the foundation on the back,” recalls general contractor Keith Romeo, who oversaw the home’s construction.
Besides the bluestone used for the retaining walls, Masi opted for just a handful of materials. He chose a warm mahogany decking material for the upper level, using it to wrap the sides of the house in a cohesive blanket. White oak is a similarly unifying force, beginning at the lower-level entry where it covers one wall and serves as the foundation of a built-in bench and screen that draws visitors in and up the stairs. It then envelops the primary living area: on the floors, walls and louvers beneath the kitchen skylight. “Each one is on a fabric hinge and when those big doors are pocketed, the wind comes through and begins to move the louvers, casting different patterns and shadows,” Masi says.
Realizing the house’s interiors for its new owners had particular resonance, both personally and professionally, for designer Brooke Abrams. The wife happens to be Abrams’ best friend, and the designer has long admired Masi’s work. “The architecture shaped a lot of my visualization,” she says. “The wife and I have a mutual love for neutral and modern, and here, a neutral palette and the finishes worked extremely well together.”
Approaching the open upstairs layout with an intimate understanding of her clients’ lifestyle, Abrams designed a floor plan that caters to carefree evenings in the company of friends. The homeowners love to cook and entertain, so naturally, she positioned the dining area right alongside the kitchen. She collaborated with woodworker Ben Rioux on the cerused oak table, choosing an inky finish that plays off the black metal of the nearby windows. “The clients love this piece,” says Abrams. “It already has so much soul since they use it all the time.” From the louvered skylight above, she hung an Apparatus fixture whose leather sheathing similarly picks up on the dark hardware of the windows.
In the adjacent living room, Abrams crafted two separate conversation areas that reflect her passion for mixing neutrals and textures. One space reads more casual with a low-slung sectional in soft linen. “It feels lived-in and works well with the paneled wood wall behind,” she says. While still approachable, the other zone leans slightly more formal with a loveseat covered in a finer, off-white linen. “I love a light sofa and then mixing in an organic-shaped chair,” she says, pointing to the adjacently situated club chairs upholstered in cream bouclé. A chunky, braided rug and silk-covered pillows add additional plush, textural flourishes, while details like the surfboard-shaped coffee table keeps the vibe at the beach.
For Abrams, the project was a particularly edifying one. “It’s satisfying to know the spaces I create are enjoyed by the clients,” says Abrams, who has had a front-row seat to watching the couple fall in love with their new home. (She happens to live down the street and was part of their quarantine bubble.) And she counts herself as fortunate to have worked within Masi’s framework. “It was an honor to design this project,” she says. “When you put things into the universe, it’s amazing how they come back to you.”