Living on the South Fork, I’ve seen a lot of astounding houses … but none as seemingly perfect as the Sag Harbor home of renowned interior designer Steven Gambrel. With parts of it originating in the late 18th century and add-ons throughout its history ending with Gambrel’s own rebuilding of it in 2002, it encompasses both a traditional and modern aesthetic.
A blend of muted colors and bold furnishings, every inch has been carefully thought out – from the built-in captain’s bed and sepia-tinged waxed wallpaper in a guest room to the stones surrounding the pool. Not your ubiquitous bluestone, these Kota stones from India are similar to the ballast that might have been found on an old ship.
Let’s begin the tour . . .
When I arrive on Glover Street the tall handsome designer is across the street at a second house, which he is building from scratch as a guest house for the overflow from his own house. A clutch of workers is busy putting in a driveway leading to the garage where Gambrel will park his car.
Though new, the structure was designed to fit in with the architectural vernacular of the village. Gambrel emulated both door and window proportions along with roof pitch of nearby dwellings. Besides providing room for his guests, the property will also provide Gambrel with a studio where he can paint his still-lifes and collages and, most important, tend a garden where he and his partner, James Anderson, have already planted raised beds of kale and other vegetables including artichoke bushes.
Steven greets me and we head a few yards to the house he’s called his East End home for the past couple of decades. Next to a perpetually flickering gaslight, the front Dutch door’s open top draws the eye into a wide hall that leads 30 feet back to where a small round dining table is framed by a window that looks onto a swathe of blue water: Upper Sag Harbor Cove. Talk about dramatic.
We are greeted by James, who offers us a glass of wine, and the couple’s adorable Labradoodle. The hall itself is hung with forties-era still life paintings, which the designer finds at flea markets around the world, and features a long farm table – itself a grand still life — upon which is displayed a fascinating array of candlesticks and curiosities including a whale vertebrae.
We sit in what Gambrel calls the Front Room, one of the home’s original rooms, which he has painted a soothing eggplant. The stately sofa, upholstered with tufted Belgian linen to match the walls, was designed by Gambrel and is available through his furniture line at DeringHall.com. “I love that it’s so lean,” he says of the exquisitely deep (about 40 inches) piece with its slender arms.
Across the hall is the library, paneled in pale pine, most of which was sourced from a salvage company, the rest of which he filled in with matching pieces. The room is anchored by a pair of unusual Edwardian armchairs.
A small hall, lined in what he calls “faux rustification,” leads to the sitting room, a grand affair with a vertiginous ceiling pitch that unbelievably was once the garage. It’s hard to miss the large bronze chandelier, a fanciful concoction sporting octopus finials. The room is paneled in shiplap, painted wood designed for a ship’s water to drip off. Nautical references are few and subtle, and the designer likes it that way. “We’re in Sag Harbor but I don’t want to hammer that home.”
Next door is a stunningly outfitted kitchen in what was formerly the mechanical room. What strikes the eye are the expansive Tennessee marble floor tiles that form a rugged stone quilt. Turns out the three-inch-thick tiles lined the terrace of the Museum of Modern Art before its renovation.
The couple’s houseguests are beginning to drift in. Rosé corks are popped and someone ducks behind a hedge with a badminton racquet. Later Gambrel will roast a chicken and make a batch of pesto for his guests. In Sag Harbor tonight all is right with the world.