There are plenty of things to consider when choosing an interior designer: aesthetic, for one thing; also work style, the scope of the project, and his or her credentials. But what no one tells you is that interior designers also have a few of their own things in mind when meeting potential clients, the most important of which is an adventurous spirit. “It’s great to work with someone who is open-minded and curious,” says James Huniford, founder and principle of Huniford Design Studio. “The interesting thing about working for a client like this is that you can expand on something they like and really collaborate to get to a different place.”
Luckily, Huniford found a perfect match in one young Manhattan couple, a real estate investor and early education teacher who just had a baby and recently purchased a weekend home in the Hamptons town of Water Mill, New York. “They’re both very visual and have a point of view, but they’re also open to new ideas,” he says. So with their vision in mind, they gave the designer the freedom to explore and create a new identity for their 1910 shingled farmhouse—one that offered a relaxed, contemporary take on a modern beach retreat and was sensitive to both the home’s seaside locale and his clients’ stylish leanings.
To open up the first-floor public spaces and establish a layout that was more conducive to the family’s lifestyle, Huniford and his team knocked down walls and converted three small existing rooms into a multifunctional loft-like area. Ripping out the sheetrock from the ceiling revealed randomly arranged wood beams beneath the roofing; Huniford chose to leave them exposed, adding several more to give the now uniform structural element a more prominent place in the room’s design and create a sense of architectural interest. The airy ceiling height—and the improved light that appears as a result—combines in a space that feels much larger than its footprint, allowing for a generous and inviting atmosphere that flows into the open kitchen and dining area.
Here, too, Huniford removed built-in cabinetry, wallpaper, and carpeting, opting for a more streamlined aesthetic that maximized space without compromising style. He adopted an L-shaped kitchen layout and added clean white marble countertops, lending slick texture to the wood elements throughout. He also installed a sliding barn door, creating height and a sense of architecture where a regular door to the house’s mudroom once stood. “I like that play of clean and modern with a rugged kind of tension,” says Huniford. “Now there’s a fluidity to the house, in the design and color and scale of the furniture,” he says.
In fact, every design element reinforces that layered sensibility and dedication to flow. In the living room, a custom-made sofa sit just below the stool (ledge) of the window, allowing for an unobstructed view from the kitchen. “That kind of thing is really important to me,” he says. “People feel that the room is calming but they don’t really know what elements created that calmness.” Milk-glass fixtures in the kitchen have a similar effect, as does the silvery-gray hue of the wood flooring, reclaimed from a barn in Vermont and stained a chalky gray to give the illusion of a seamless space. “There’s a crispness and a warmth to it,” says Huniford. “Some people say, ‘Oh, I want a white beach house,’ but that can start to feel sterile.” Instead, the beige-and-blue-gray color palette throughout the home lends a soothing sense of understated elegance that is tailored to the owners’ personal style. “They’re both very chic. Everything they showed me was luxurious and sleek, and I wanted to find that fine line of doing that without making it look like it was overly polished.”
Huniford's soothing sense of restraint continues on the second floor, where he created a true master suite by raising the room's drop ceiling, adding a bank of closets, and increasing the square footage in the bathroom to include a claw foot tub and glass-enclosed shower. While silvery-blue hues dominate in that space, the owners’ daughter’s nursery is a study in creams, complete with an embroidered daybed, a Swedish wood bedside table, and a 1940s rocker, found at a local antiques shop and re-upholstered in romantic floral fabric.
“It wasn’t about really bright colors that are going to jump out at you,” the designer explains of the house’s muted aesthetic. “I wanted a really calm, restful retreat with a really edited point of view.” With his clients’ vision as a launchpad, Huniford was able to achieve just that.