Certain houses give hope to us all. This two-story, shingle-sided ranch on a creek off the Long Island Sound started out life, probably in the 1950s, as a modest contractor’s special. It was built before credit cards, when money and materials were scarce and bank loans stingy. Then, probably in the 1960s, the house in Sag Harbor, New York, was expanded, still modestly, with an extension on one end. A decade or two later, more ambitiously, the then-owners hired an architect to break open the bungalow with an addition that transformed the box.
The poolside lounge chairs are by Richard Schultz.
That flat-roofed addition, with a combined living and dining room above and playroom below, was built perpendicular to the rectangular house. The house was no longer small, but it wasn’t quite large, either—between 3,500 and 4,000 square feet. Now it was airier and, with sliding glass walls, more open to the landscape.
By the time New York architect David Mann was hired by its current owner two years ago, the house that had been built back in the age of innocence, when folks served pink marshmallow salads, was already complex. Like an archaeologist, Mann puzzled through the strata to understand its history and learn just how and where to add. He wanted to keep the house whole.
In the master bedroom, the bed is from ABC Carpet & Home, the lamps are by C.J. Peters, and the cowhide rug is from Sacco Carpet; the artwork is by Ed Ruscha, the vintage throws are from John Derian, and the beadboard walls are original to the house.
Usually, fancy architects from Manhattan come to underbuilt houses on overpriced properties and declare war on modesty, building giant houses with gigantic rooms. But Mann liked what he saw and welcomed the house as an exception to the mansion-ization occurring in the posher enclaves of Long Island: “The additions opened up the original ranch, so it didn’t feel small and claustrophobic.” He would work in agreement with the history of agreement that had preceded him. “I loved its humility. It was charming. The modern moves made by the previous owners were smart and didn’t overwhelm the house.”
The dining porch contains a table by Moooi, chairs by Gloster, and a teak sideboard from Mecox; the banquette is covered in a Perennials fabric, and the ceiling fan is by Haiku Home.
His client, recently divorced and a refugee from the increasingly suburban and crowded Hamptons, was beginning fresh, acquiring a house he could share with his two young boys on weekends. “I was starting over and wanted something a little new,” says the owner. “I wanted the sunset, views, some privacy, access to the water, and maybe a dock for boating and swimming.”
Though minus a wife, Mann’s client didn’t ask for a man cave, nor did he request paisley and chintz. “The house inside was a mess, with dark ebony floors that killed the light,” says the owner. “My vision was modernist and minimalist, with a Scandinavian feel that’s simple, livable, and easy to maintain. Tell an architect like David that you like Scandinavian, and he makes it happen for you.” “Casual attire,” summarizes Mann. “A leather-and-denim kind of place, very informal midcentury modern, tan and blue.”
The kitchen island is stainless steel and walnut, the sink is by Julien, the fittings are by Dornbracht, and the stool is by BDDW; the refrigerator and range are by Thermador, and the cabinetry is lacquered in a Ralph Lauren paint.
So rather than letting it rip in a blowout, inflationary renovation, Mann set out to work with what he found, keeping it understated. His single major move was to open the enclosed kitchen to the living and dining area, merging it all into a great room where Dad can cook for the boys and entertain his friends while keeping their company. The kitchen became the core of the house, so Mann gave it a special emphasis with a generous run of sleek, lacquered cabinets that form an L around a big island where the boys can chill. Throughout the house, he stripped and bleached the ebonized oak floors to bounce light. He applied wood veneer to the ceiling, warming the space, and created an additional glow by uplighting the room with curtain valances equipped with LED strips.
The den’s modular sofa is by Usona, and the ottoman is covered in a Kyle Bunting hair-on-hide leather; the photograph is by Darren Almond, the floor lamp is vintage, the rug is alpaca, and the walls and ceiling are painted in Benjamin Moore’s Super White.
Mann’s principal idea in crafting the interior was “to make sure there were lots of places to flop down and read, or spend time with friends.” That meant contemporary leather club chairs in the living room (based on postwar Scandinavian designs) and a long couch suitable for dozing. He kept the furniture low so as not to interrupt the three-sided views of water and landscape. Throughout, he favored furniture with exposed wood frames. Defending against stains, he minimized upholstery. Several vintage pieces, such as a rope chair on a wrought-iron frame in the entry, reference the home’s 1950s origins.
The lamp in the den is from Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.; the vintage lounge chair in the entry was designed by Allan Gould.
Like all architects, Mann has his heroes. When designing the house, he recalled Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa, who worked on palazzi in Venice by adding a contemporary layer to buildings that had already been layered over the centuries.
This Long Island ranch house is perhaps not in the same league, but the same principles apply: “Scarpa always thought of his work as just another layer at that moment, and he knew that his work would be changed as well. To me, it’s funny that this house has morphed and then morphed again, and now again. My layer is just the latest.”
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of ELLE DECOR.