It’s tempting, when first encountering this new home tucked between Amagansett’s village and beach, to default to making stylistic assessments. Does its humble gabled roof make it a cottage? Does its glass-walled southern façade make it modern? Or do the mullioned windows on its cedar-shingled guest house make it traditional?
Architect James Merrell wishes we wouldn’t ask those questions. “As soon as we name it, in a sense we own it, and we are no longer engaged with it,” he explains. “The works of art that persist are the ones that people go back to because they haven’t quite figured them out.”
That’s why, for this getaway for a Manhattan-based family of five, Merrell and colleagues Steve Soule and Garrett Wineinger set out to craft a structure that “purposefully messes with stylistic expectations,” Merrell says; one that would honor the young family’s needs and the historical modesty of the neighborhood, whose streets were once lined with small summer cottages.
Like most properties in the Lanes, this one is long and narrow, running perpendicular to the street. Unlike most, it is nearly two lots deep, with an existing barn and pool on the back half-acre. Rather than presenting the bulk of the house to the street, the architects turned the ridge of the structure to run east to west down the length of the lot, maximizing privacy and natural light. On the main level, floor-to-ceiling windows comprise the south-facing wall. Above them is a row of dormers separated by fixed windows hidden behind cedar louvers. By day, the rhythmic detail fills the second floor with light. By night, it transforms the house into a glowing lantern.
By Hamptons standards, the interiors are compact, with an open-plan living and dining area that connects to the kitchen, the only double-height room in the house. “Having everything built around the kitchen was important to us,” the husband says. “We didn’t want a scenario in which everyone has their own space to entertain themselves away from each other.”
The challenge with such a layout, Merrell says, is that the functional aspects of the kitchen “can interrupt the calmness desired in a living room.” To prevent such a conflict, the architects hid those messier elements in a pantry and imagined the kitchen as a library-like space, “with elegant woodwork that’s visually quiet,” Merrell says. “It’s not about making cabinets that look like kitchen cabinets; we hope they disappear.”
Key to that magic was a concise materials palette dominated by white oak, which general contractor Peter Cardel and his master carpenters coaxed into a wood-wrapped breakfast nook, a marble-inset island and millwork that merges with creamy plaster walls. “When we start a project with Jim, we have the set of plans, but rarely do we have things like interior finishes,” Cardel says of the deceptively simple details. “Those evolve over the course of the project. The designs are like living beings.”
Designers Elizabeth McNellis and Alexis Litman took that evolution several steps further, first honing the finish palette, then “really warming it up with lots of textiles and organic materials that keep the house sophisticated but approachable for a young family at the beach,” McNellis says. “We didn’t want an intimidating house. We wanted it to be welcoming and warm,” the wife adds.
In the bedrooms, textured wallcoverings and roomy upholstered window seats set that mood, “creating comfy, cozy spaces where you want to sit down and read a book,” Litman says. In the living areas, leathers, wool bouclés and kilims soften clean-lined furnishings that occasionally lean modern. “Amagansett has this fresh, modern vibe about it—more so than the other hamlets in the Hamptons—which we tried to honor,” McNellis says. “Take that vintage travertine coffee table in the living room: It lends a bit more of a cool factor to the space.” As do architectural lighting fixtures—which “break up the white oak ceiling planes,” Litman says—and colorful modern art, including the living room’s groovy collage by Texas artist Kelly O’Connor. “We wanted something more fun and less suggestive that this is a serious room,” the husband says. “It’s a piece that lets people know this is a home where they can let their guard down.”