Interior Designer Alec Holland Reimagines a Hamptons Home with Whimsy and Warmth
Generally speaking, interior designers in the Hamptons don’t go in for color. They speak of the neutral-colored living room, the restful properties of beige, and upholstery that is meant to reference nature. While Alec Holland, a New York City-based interior designer, has nothing against white walls and linen slip-covered sofas, his aesthetic is decidedly un-beige. To put it mildly, he adores color. That sensibility resonated with Emily Tisch Sussman, a Democratic political strategist, the host of the podcast “She Pivots”, and a mother of three. “Emily has always believed that more color and bigger earrings mean more fun,” says Holland, who has known Tisch Sussman for ages.
Thus, when she and her husband, Kevin Craw, bought an eight-bedroom, nine-bathroom, earth-toned home in Water Mill at the height of the COVID pandemic, they engaged Holland to overhaul the interiors. There was just one catch: he wouldn’t be starting with a clean slate. Desperate to quit New York, and in need of a place to eat and sleep, the couple had taken the house with all the previous owner’s appurtenances and they weren’t about to throw them all away. The furniture, says Holland, gave off “a matronly Queen Victoria-ish vibe.” Many of the pieces seemed more like replicas than cherished antiques. The walls were painted a buttery yellow. The entry hall was grand.
Recalls Holland, “Emily’s son was sleeping in a queen-size brass bed, and this kid was only four! It just didn’t feel like the home of a young family.” His first intervention was to rescue the boy from the middle-aged bed, which he replaced with one that has a canvas tent and doubles as a hidey-hole. On learning that his young client was into the color blue big time, Holland painted the walls and furniture in the “brightest, happiest blue” he could find. The girl’s room combines lavender walls with geometric wallpaper. The nursery features an outsize bright red mobile by Jim Hunter above the crib, golden walls that fairly glow, and Farrow & Ball’s “Bumblebee” wallpaper. All three rooms are easy enough to re-paint and re-decorate as the children mature, but for now they are miniature wonderlands of fantastical creatures and soft, age-appropriate furnishings.
In another life, Holland was a comedian and a television writer, so it makes sense that there’s a decided whimsy, a playfulness to his design work. Another challenge, he and Tisch Sussman realized from the outset, would be to use color in a way that was bold but that did not eclipse the design scheme or the space. “When you’re designing an entire house, you want to make sure there’s a beautiful flow.” He says the two spent a lot of time looking and thinking about negative space so that the effect was painterly rather than full-on. To this end, the centerpiece of the living room is Kenneth Noland’s 1967 “Graded Exposure,” a dramatic twenty-foot-long painting comprised of bright bands of color while the rest of the elements in the room are in relatively muted tones. And the primary bedroom is furnished in subdued, calming hues.
Among Holland’s boldest moves was to paint the base of an old dining table — one of the pieces that came with the house — in a saturated Yves Klein-blue. It’s the exact shade that was used by the painter, now produced by the French company Ressource. He chose a velvet-matte finish, “as it was the most subtle.” Then, with Tisch Sussman’s encouragement, he refinished the tabletop in lacquered neon-green and paired the assembly with chairs upholstered in a mossy crushed velvet from Cliff Young. By way of a finishing touch, he clad the walls in Phillip Jeffries’s “Flight” wallpaper, which is the mottled blue of a night sky. “I thought I was a color freak,” says Holland, “and there was Emily, leading the way. It was pretty nuts!” He felt emboldened to turn the dining room into a showcase, as he knew it would mostly be used for entertaining. Under the table is that emblem of eastern Long Island design, a sisal rug. “I wanted a fresh, clean feeling,” says Holland, who notes that here and there you’ll find white walls and even a piece or two of wicker furniture. “After all, it is a Hamptons home.”