Living with Art

At a Grand House in Southampton, it’s the Paintings that Shine

Decorating a house from zero is hard. There are so many small yet critical decisions to be made. Color-palette. Upholstery. Rug choice. Wall-light placement. To say nothing about pandemic-induced delivery worries. Will the sofa arrive before the start of the Hamptons summer season? (Maybe not.) Before too long, the beleaguered homeowner longs for nothing so much as a nice long nap. But not the owners of the 17,500-square-foot mansion in Southampton Village that is featured on these pages.

The architecture of the space is dramatic — all double-height ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. The furniture is low and and modern and lounge-y.

“The couple chose all the finishes in just four meetings,” recalls Francis Nicdao, a principal and chief creative officer at the New York interior design studio Pembrooke & Ives. “They have three college-age children and lots of friends and their style is casual. Their home is a real gathering place.”

The clients, as it happened, were practiced hands at the design game, having survived the process with their other homes and their yacht. It helped, too, that they’d collaborated with the firm on three previous projects, including a Palm Beach retreat. Nicdao knew their taste and aesthetic sensibility and so his choices and decisions were right on target.

The architecture of the space is dramatic — all double-height ceilings and long runs of floor-to-ceiling windows with views of leafy green foliage. In a bold move, Nicdao and his team, in collaboration with the home’s architect, Sound Beach Partners, decided to accentuate the ceiling height and windows. Nicdao also opted to make the furniture low and modern and lounge-y. “We scaled all the furniture so that there’s enough proper space to maneuver around the pieces. At the same time the furniture fills the space properly.”

Filling the space properly was a particular concern of his, given that the owners decided early on to let their collection of contemporary paintings take center stage. The interiors were to function as a neutral backdrop, the better for the artwork to shine.

Such a brief came with challenges. While a less practiced designer might have opted for the full-on minimal treatment — an approach that could have resulted in a chilly space with all the charm of an airport lounge — Nicdao had other ideas. In a word, balance. He laid stress on classical ideals of proportion so that the appointments were of a piece with the size of those capacious rooms.

“Our main focus,” says Nicdao, “was getting the scale right.” Although it seems counter-intuitive, he found that in doing so, the rooms began to feel even larger than they were, in a good way. “Some of the coffee tables are huge because the sofas and sectionals are so big. We also brought in ottomans, because the family members like to put their feet up. It’s a really well-used house!”

All the main living spaces had to be equipped to accommodate a rotation of guests. Hence the extra-generous seating areas in the living room; and, in the bedrooms, king-size beds and extra beds that can be deployed as needed. In the same vein, the kitchen has two Glassos-clad islands (one for food prep, the other for dining); and in keeping with the open-plan yet private nature of the house, the space opens organically into the dining room and family room. Guests may choose to dine at counter-height or dining-height.

Color-wise, the couple kept to a neutral palette of creams, soft blues, whites and greys. Nicdao tempered the effect of those hues through the introduction of “subtle textural changes,” namely plasterwork on the walls and bleached oak throughout, all in the right proportions. He then softened and infused the space with warmth through the skillful use of texture and form. And he personalized the décor with bespoke pieces of Pembrooke and Ives’s design.

“Nowadays custom furniture isn’t necessarily more expensive than mass-produced items,” says Nicdao. “With custom work, we find we have more creative control. Plus, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, retail can be unpredictable.”

The final design, he says with satisfaction, “is very much a reflection of the clients’ lifestyle.” Unfussy interiors, family and friends, and a house art where art comes alive: what could be better?

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