A Summer House Worth Coming Back To
A far-flung family finds home base in a 19th-century farmhouse on the North Fork of Long Island
Jennifer Webster and Zsolt Juhasz Buday are nothing if not skilled in the art of multitasking. The couple leads an international lifestyle that involves juggling individual and joint projects on different continents. An architect and set designer, Buday met Webster in Budapest, where she was launching a production company in the late ‘90s after leaving her job at a prominent New York City advertising agency. In 2003, the newlyweds bought and refurbished a home in Buenos Aires; to capitalize on their growing experience as renovators, they founded an interior design and architecture firm called the Alchemists. Along the way, they also had two children, Sophie and Felix, with whom they spent several months in Hungary each year.
A decade after moving halfway across the world, the couple was ready for another big life change. “Zsolt is Hungarian, and I’m American,” says Webster. “We wanted to get back to our roots and cultures.” The family decided to spend the school year in Hungary and summers on the East Coast—eventually setting their sights on Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island. The historic seaside village, with its quaint shops and small-town diners, is a favorite with both vacationers and young families who reside there year-round. “It has a summer scene, but it’s also wholesome and down to earth,” she explains.
Webster and Buday were still living in Buenos Aires when they saw a listing for an 1850s farmhouse near the beach. “I fell in love with the south-facing orientation and the big lawn with its massive wisteria,” Webster says. “We bought it over the Internet and didn’t see it until the day of the closing.” This was late 2013, and the months that followed were a whirlwind of activity as they packed their belongings in Argentina while planning double relocations and directing the renovations of a 160-year-old home, mostly from afar. (“It was a totally insane period of time,” she admits.) The family filled two shipping containers with furniture: one for their apartment in Budapest, and another bound for Long Island.
When they arrived in Greenport last summer, the work was nearly complete. The basic structure of the four-bedroom residence was preserved, but a few internal walls and doorways were opened to reconfigure the flow of the space. Almost every interior surface, including the wide-plank hardwood floors, was painted white, giving the house a summer-cottage atmosphere. Materials used to renovate the bathrooms and kitchen—also in white—came from retailers such as IKEA and the Home Depot. “I don’t think decorating should be expensive; everything is economically minded in our house,” says Webster.
Several of the furnishings that arrived from South America—a mix of secondhand and made-to-order pieces—are displayed in the spacious living and dining area. One side of the room is anchored by a large rectangular sofa and matching chair covered in white denim, a fabric that Webster has used many times for its durability and washability. There’s also a Louis XV–style chair partially upholstered in an acid-green velvet that Webster isn’t too enamored with (“I think it’s little bit much,” she quips), although it creates a compelling juxtaposition with the large red painting behind it. The vintage dining table nearby, which sits 10, was purchased from a restaurant in a small village outside Buenos Aires. The chairs that surround it were custom-made in Argentina by weaving spaghetti wire onto iron frames.
While some of the rooms are ample and airy, others have low, sloping ceilings that required a bit of ingenuity. In the kids’ bedroom, for example, Buday designed cubbyholes to cover an entire wall that was exceedingly squat, thus creating space for three consecutive twin beds. A fourth twin bed is tucked under a small mansard window across the room. “It’s the first time I’ve been involved with a wooden structure,” says Buday. ”Old homes in America are so different than European and South American structures, so it was a really interesting project for me to work on.”
Despite their peripatetic lifestyle, the family has easily accommodated to their summers on the North Fork. Sophie and Felix often host sleepovers; they also spend their time going to pool parties, riding bikes around the neighborhood, and playing under the huge wisteria vine that covers the trellis in the one-acre garden. “In terms of raising children, this is an ideal place,” says Webster. “This is our laid-back American experience.”