Sag Harbor’s Historical Home Transforms Into A Modern Wonder

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Captain's Quarters in Sag Harbor

Two historic Sag Harbor properties are transformed into a year-round family compound.

Blue and White Strip Under Stair Cupboard Hallway and Bench

In a historic Sag Harbor property, the homeowners’ fondness for wallpaper is evident in the guesthouse’s entry hall, which is dressed in an Osborne and Little Dutch-blue-and-white stripe wallcovering. The new stairwell, baluster and handrail were designed by architect Kathrine “Kitty” McCoy; the upholstered bench in the hallway is from One Kings Lane.

Pink Wing Chair Living Room with Fireplace and Chandelier

The living room in the guesthouse features upholstered wing chairs from RH and an antique chandelier purchased in Paris by the owners. The bamboo-and-glass coffee table is from Ruby Beets.

Multi Pattern Traditional Parlor with Bench and Sofa with Fireplace

In the main house’s rear parlor, perfect for an intimate gathering, the soothing white-and-gray palette contrasts with striking yellow accents. The damask wallpaper is Elise by Sanderson; the settee, sofa and tufted side chairs are from George Smith.

White Siding Guest House with Landscaping and Green Lawn

Stone pavers create a foliage-lined path to the back entrance to the guesthouse, which showcases custom doors by Upstate Door in Warsaw, New York.

Original Fireplace Formal Dining Room with Dark Circular Wallpaper Mirror and Chandelier

For the main house’s formal dining room, McCoy designed a new fireplace mantel, fabricated by Greg D’Angelo Construction, although the fireplace itself is original, dating to 1740. The wallpaper is Paisley Circles by Sanderson, and the antique marble-and-oak dining table is by Derouet Jean-Paul from Marché Vernaison in Paris.

Custom Contrast Kitchen with White Cabinets, Dark Floor, Antique Chairs and Red Chandelier

In the main house, McCoy designed the custom kitchen cabinetry, which was fabricated by Darren Sternlieb Woodworking. The countertops are from Southampton Gallery of Marble & Tile, the Drucker bistro chairs are from Walters Wicker, and the antique chandelier is from Paul Bert Serpette in Paris.

Dragonfly Wallpaper Bathroom with Dark Cabinetry

The main house has a suite of his-and-hers bathrooms with a shared bath-and-shower area. A dragonfly painting from One Kings Lane complements the Scion wallpaper. The antique iron-and-crystal chandelier is from Paul Bert Serpette.

Yellow Patterned Master Bedroom Wallpaper with Purple Accent Bedding with Windows and Bench

The master bedroom in the main house is a splendor of warm tones, notably yellow, with wallpaper from Clarence House and Toile bedding from Pottery Barn. The settee is from Ruby Beets.

Turquoise Wallpaper Guest Bedroom with Pink Accented Pineapple Chandelier, Mirror with Window Seat

A guest bedroom in the main house is a garden scene with Zoffany’s floral Manchu wallpaper in turquoise and a painted metalwork antique chandelier with a pineapple motif from Ruby Beets. The mirror is from Pottery Barn; beneath it, the inlaid mother-of-pearl cabinet is from ABC Carpet & Home.

Green Ship Wallpaper with Old Desk Bedroom with Circular Mirror and Window Bench

Toile abounds in a second-floor bedroom in the main house, decorated with L’ile Des Lanternes wallpaper from Zoffany. An antique desk from Ruby Beets is paired with a chair from RH. The convex mirror is from One Kings Lane; the sconce is from ABC Carpet & Home.

Blue and Pink Patterned Fabric and Wallpaper Guest Bedroom with Chair and Chandelier

The peaceful master guest bedroom is swathed in Designers Guild’s Linnaeus wallpaper. The oval mirror and brass metalwork chandelier are both antiques from Paris.

Pale Blue Semi Circle Window Seat with Storage Corner

A cozy bedroom in the guesthouse features custom built-in beds with pull-out trundle beds and a chest of drawers, all designed by McCoy and fabricated by Greg D’Angelo Construction. The linens are by John Robshaw from Fishers Home Furnishings.

Vibrant Red Floral Wallpaper with Mirror and Soaking Tub

In a bathroom in the guesthouse, Sanderson’s Etchings & Roses wallpaper provides a rich, warm contrast to the polished Carrara marble countertop from Nunzio & Sons Tile & Stone. The Carrara basketweave floor tiles are from Stone Source.

Pool Exterior Home Shot with Flower Bushes and Four Lounge Chairs

Thanks to the exquisite landscape design by Charlie Marder, the grounds are as much of an oasis as the main home and the guesthouse. The outdoor furniture is from Dodds & Eder Home.

When a Manhattan couple purchased a pair of adjoining properties in Sag Harbor, they were faced with an intriguing quandary: how to reconfigure two historic homes to handle the demands of modern life and create a cohesive, welcoming family compound. 

The couple—she is the producing director at an off-Broadway theater; he is a venture capitalist in the aerospace industry—had been visiting Sag Harbor for more than 30 years when they decided to purchase two available neighboring homes occupying nearly 2 acres. “We must have rented more than 20 houses through the years,” the wife says. “We have four children, and as they grew up our needs changed.” For their current lifestyle, the couple knew a renovation to their new vacation homes was in order, a nearly four-year project they were more than happy to take on. “I like to buy houses that have great bones and need a lot of work,” the wife says. “It gives us parameters but also the freedom to make them suit our needs.” 

This time, the owners were dealing with two landmark homes, the Rysam House (circa 1790) and the adjacent Federal-style Sleight House (built in 1820), both of which had suffered from “benign neglect,” as the wife describes it. The original owner of Rysam House was Captain William J. Rysam, who worked in Sag Harbor’s then-booming whaling industry; his son-in-law, Cornelius Sleight, owned the smaller structure next door. “The challenge was returning the house to its original roots and staying true to the spirit of a sea captain’s home,” the wife says. As such, the couple knew assembling an outstanding design team was necessary. 

Enlisted for the project was local architect Kathrine “Kitty” McCoy, a native East Ender who founded her firm in 1991. The couple found McCoy through their real estate agent, who had become a close friend over the years. “We looked at a new home Kitty designed and wondered if she was interested in renovation,” the wife recalls. “We met and immediately hit it off. It helped that she and I attended the same college. We hired her soon after meeting her.” 

Next, the couple brought on designer Darlene Fridstein, a close friend the wife had met in London in the 1990s, and renowned Hamptons landscape designer Charlie Marder. Together, the trio combined their expertise to create a plan for a welcoming modern property that still honored its past. “The vision was to create a compound for multiple generations of both family and friends that respected the historic structures yet fashion living spaces for a 21st-century lifestyle,” McCoy says. 

The main house was transformed into an elegant residence stretching more than 8,000 square feet over two-and-a-half stories, with an attic and a full basement. Portions of the structure were gutted and reconfigured, and an addition included a large eat-in kitchen and a side entrance. A driveway bisecting the property was removed, and a new terrace, a swimming pool and a combination pool house and garage was installed. 

As construction progressed, surprises were uncovered. “When working with an old structure, the moment of truth is when the framing is exposed,” McCoy says. “Prior to that, you really don’t know what you’re dealing with and hope for the best. Here, much of the existing framing of both houses was deteriorated, and many of the wall studs still had bark from the trees they were cut from.” Builder David DiSunno recalls other challenges: “Much of the existing framing in both the houses had been compromised by way of water, fire and insect damage or through many renovations through the years.” In fact, a new foundation had to be built for the Sleight House, which was gutted to the studs, given new wiring and plumbing and turned into a 3,800-square-foot guesthouse. 

On the ample lot, Marder says he aimed to provide “privacy from within while respecting views from the community” and to create “a variety of focused vistas and points of views that create intimacy and expansiveness simultaneously.” He accomplished this by designing the grounds to be reminiscent of a French garden. “Charlie has given us an allée and lavender,” the wife says. “We’ve got a beautiful lawn and a rope swing in the front yard. And the pool fence is our vineyard—we have a row of grapes we’ve harvested and hope to have wine next year.” 

Inside, Fridstein collaborated with the wife to bring to life the client’s eclectic, dramatic and whimsical aesthetic through her preferences for pattern-on-pattern style, Parisian antiques and family heirlooms. “She has great taste,” the designer says. “She knows what she likes, and she has a very good sense of how she wants her home to feel.” This meant playing up a palette of warm tones of gray, white and yellow for the main house and Dutch blue, white and red in the guesthouse, particularly through wallpapers. “They provide immediate intimacy in a room and can put you in the mood to eat, sleep, read or write,” the wife says. “It’s very warm and vibrant.” 

Inside and outside, the property respects its history while also reflecting the owners’ style. “I ficnd contentment in every part of the house,” the wife says. “I’m just as happy coming downstairs to the kitchen in the morning as I am going upstairs to my bedroom at night.” 

Carmela Ciuraru

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