Home & Design: Design Professionals

History in the Hamptons

Antiques and family heirlooms make a comeback in home design
By Heather Senison - August 26, 2019

Memorial Day barbecues aren’t the only way to celebrate history in the Hamptons. After several years of ultra-modern being the prevailing trend in home décor, antiques are making a comeback, area designers say. Whether it’s unique finds from flea markets or treasures from friends and relatives, elements from an array of time periods and cultures are becoming popular again. And in an area with a history as rich as the Hamptons, they are a good fit.

“Even my youngest clients are requesting and appreciating a mix of old and new,” notes Long Island designer Kate Singer. “Some are fortunate to have family heirlooms and special pieces that have been passed down from generation to generation, which evoke fond memories and add sentimentality.”

While Singer personally favors Sweden’s style for its lightness and luster, especially for spaces by the water, many Hamptons homes are so old themselves that antique furnishings look natural in them, she says. This is the case in Singer’s own home, a 100-year-old restored carriage house on the North Shore. She has her grandmother’s dresser in a guest bedroom and an old American chest of drawers gifted from a client in her master bedroom.

Another piece in her personal collection is an oval mahogany dining room table from the late 1800s that Singer bought at an estate sale. With eight leaves, it can seat 18 people. “It makes me happy each time I extend and set it for a large gathering, then share a meal and a special time with loved ones gathered around this beautiful old piece,” Singer explains.

It was that turn-of-the-century design, often referred to as Americana, that designer Elsa Soyars fell in love with when she moved to the United States from Portugal in the early 1990s. She has a soft spot for French Art Deco too, and adds that a filigree mirror hung on a wall or placed over a vintage desk is a tasteful way to add vintage charm to a room. “There’s a beautiful patina that happens in antique pieces,” Soyars says. “It gives character and adds soul to a home.” It’s also a way to let her clients contribute their own sense of self to their surroundings, Soyars adds. After all, a house should be a reflection of the people that reside in it more than the designer hired to decorate it.

One customer, for example, had two chairs inherited from her grandparents, including one that was more than 70 years old. They gave it a makeover and it’s now one of Soyars’ favorite pieces from the spaces she’s designed in the Hamptons. “We put a very loud, fabulous fabric on it and it was re-stained and we made it look fresh,” she recalls.

Not only do older pieces add sentimentality to a residence, but they can also prevent it from looking over-designed, adds East Hampton designer Greg McKenzie. “An antique makes it feel like it’s actually been developed over time, not like you bought everything out of a showroom,” he says. “Good design is about a mix of styles, furniture, fabrics, textiles and periods.”

McKenzie is enjoying watching dark paints and stains become popular in furniture again. They were used to add depth to homes in the early 1900s, but were replaced by the mid-century modern look that preferred white and glass. “The thing about dark wood furniture is it adds sensitivity,” McKenzie says. “It’s nice to have a sense of history and a sense of time.”

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