French Twist

A house in Water Mill evokes the south of France in a quietly spectacular way

If the idea of Frenchifying a house in the Hamptons strikes you as a design concept better left on the drawing table, well, you’re not alone. That was José Solis Betancourt and Paul Sherrill’s reaction, too, when a couple approached them about refurbishing and decorating their home in Water Mill in high Provençal style. The principals of the AD-100 firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill were hesitant, as they have made their reputation on work that shows a sensitivity to context. Still, as Paul Sherrill recalls, “There was something so fantastic about the house that we agreed.”

French doors in the understated dining room bring in natural light and offer views across Mecox Bay.

Fantastic about its location on Mecox Bay, that is. The place itself had seen better days. Sherrill describes it as having a seventies-rustic theme with hex terracotta floors, reddish rough hewn planking, and an awful lot of drywall.

Nevertheless, the clients had spent time on vacation in the south of France and sought to recreate the look of the region’s wonderful old stone houses. From the outset, Betancourt and Sherrill resolved to shun any and all design motifs that were overtly Provençal: there was to be no toile de Jouy, no bright colors, absolutely no quaint tiles. They envisioned a sober, elegant interpretation of a country house in la France profonde.

“There’s so much folk imagery that comes to mind when you think of Provence,” says Sherrill. “But we are on Long Island and we didn’t want the interiors to feel like a cliché.”

The designers’ solution was to opt for natural linens, rough stones such as limestone and gravel, unfinished wood, and whitewashed and bleached floors throughout. Their first design move was a small, subtle one that changed the entire feel of the place. Previously, you crossed a courtyard, walked through the front door, and fell into a great room. To give a sense of arrival, the team constructed a vestibule. “Qualitatively, it made a huge difference,” Sherrill says.

To create a sense of depth, they chamfered the windows in the main room, integrated decorative ironwork, and installed French doors that brought in a lot of natural light and offered views across Mecox Bay. One of the room’s focal points is a large stone receiving table, which is used for dining during the winter season. In summer, the couple entertain at a long refectory table beside the pool. 

The textural palette includes tapestry-like textiles and faded damask. “Everything we chose had a sun-bleached feel to it,” says Sherill. “We tried to build in a patina and we went to lengths to make sure it was a clean one. We were going for barefoot elegance.” To this end, they deployed sisal carpet to unify the space and antique woven area rugs.

A library holds a vintage Knoll sofa which the designers re-upholstered in an antique tapestry. “One of the homeowners loves to sit there and make business calls,” Sherrill says. They also designed a small wet bar featuring an old French work table with a charming storage area for glassware. An ice maker and a refrigerator are cleverly concealed behind burlap panels.

Although the overall effect is casual and understated, as Sherrill notes, every element of the house was carefully considered. Old wood casement windows, Marmorino plaster walls, a stone vessel sink on legs from Turkey, a soaking tub with views of a parterre, and vintage steel chairs that the designers painted white all contribute to the impression of a country house in, yes, Water Mill by way of the south of France.