Cool, Casual, and Pretty Darn Perfect
A couple turn a down-at-heel Montauk fishing shack into hipster heaven
For Steffen and Sara Ringelmann, it wasn’t enough to transform an unprepossessing shack in Montauk into an airy investment property with nothing more than elbow grease and the sweat of their brows. Steffen, who together with his wife Sara, runs the design/build firm studio MTK, also took it upon himself to design and hand-build much of the furniture in the 950-square foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow. The result is an object lesson in architecture and design self-reliance. “It’s about being resourceful,” says Steffen, who previously served as the creative director of a real estate investment fund.
All those years of experience help explain why, on finding themselves the proud new owners of a dilapidated old fishing shack with low ceilings and 70s era wall-to-wall carpet, the Ringelmanns elected not to throw money at the problem. Rather than bring in a contractor, they undertook a gut renovation all on their own. Steffen dealt with all the messy bits first. He raised the ceiling to expose the existing joists and beams, ripped up that decades-old carpet, and lay down 4 x 8 sheets of plywood throughout. And then there was the small single-walled kitchen, which in its un-renovated state was cramped and close. By knocking down a wall between the kitchen and dining area, the Ringelmanns gained enough space to add an island. Since the cottage was conceived as a rental, they installed serviceable cabinets and laminate countertops from IKEA. “We chose materials that were low maintenance and could be quickly replaced as needed.” explains Sara.
And yet precisely because it was a rental, they didn’t want the place to feel anonymous. And so, they took pains to imprint their own style on the property, even going so far as to hang art which they’d picked up on their honeymoon in Hawaii and tribal masks from their travels on the walls. To add color and warmth to the space, they scattered vintage Ralph Lauren and jute rugs on the floors. They supplemented the furniture Steffen made with vintage finds like the pair of reproduction Breuer armchairs in the living room, which the couple picked up for $30 each at a flea market in Brooklyn.
Although it might seem nuts to decorate a rental with much-loved objects, Sara, who has worked in retail management for Acne Studios and Anthropologie, insists that it’s a risk worth taking. “Things are meant to be used. When people come in, they can tell right away that we poured our heart and soul into the place, and for the most part they treat it really well. It’s funny — even though it’s an investment property, we put so much energy into the renovation that the house really feels like our home.”
On the energy-pouring front, Steffen constructed a wooden sofa frame, a banquette, a round dining table that seats four, and a kitchen island for the cottage. The DIY-ethos also pervades the bedrooms with their white-painted floors and wooden beds. Ringelmann says that in a small space, where every piece of furniture counts, it sometimes makes more sense to get out a tape measure and go custom. The overall effect is part groovy fishing shack, part Anthropologie catalogue sprung to life. “Casual, cool, and imperfect,” is how he describes the couple’s shared sensibility. “It’s by no means a polished home. It’s a beach house, the kind of place where if you come in with sand on your feet, it’s no biggie.”