Found: The Summer House of Your Dreams
Luxury brand consultant Alice Ryan creates a refined country dwelling now on the market for the next lucky owner.
Bucolic is the word for the North Fork of New York’s Long Island, where mom-and-pop vineyards and organic farm stands stretch out for acres across the horizon. Even in the off-season, the feeling of summer lingers: a mood of airiness and ease that casts an immediate, almost palpable spell. It’s a sensibility that has specific resonance for Alice Ryan, an English transplant and high-powered publicist with deep connections in the fashion and lifestyle worlds. (Her clients have included Jimmy Choo, Jo Malone, and Valentino). She and her husband, bespoke menswear designer Kirk Miller, set out to explore the area on a whim inspired by friends of theirs, Christopher and Amanda Brooks, who owned property nearby.
“We piled into our Mini Cooper on a rainy afternoon,” Ryan remembers, “and we drove from the South Fork to the North Fork. And I instinctively knew that the surroundings were right. It was much more open, less frenetic, with fewer houses; everything just felt a little gentler paced.”
As real estate stories go, this one possesses more than its share of enchantment. In the role of Sleeping Beauty: a 1901 clapboard farmhouse surrounded by almost four acres of grounds in the town of Southold. “We drove past and I said to Kirk, ‘That’s my dream home,’” Ryan says—then put it out of her mind when she heard it had just been sold. Little did she know that the woman who had lived in the house for more than 50 years had come close to selling several times, only to get cold feet. When Ryan and Miller found out the property was back on the market, they sped over to take a look. As they pulled into the driveway, Ryan—newly pregnant at the time with the couple’s now-seven-year-old son, Grey—jumped out of the convertible and did a dance of joy.
“She’d had the same gardener for the past 25 years. From her travels she had taken clippings and grown rhododendrons, English roses, wisteria,” Ryan explains. Having spent her childhood in and around formal English landscapes, she felt an instant connection to the grounds. “She’d planted irises outside the breakfast room so you could see them outside the window. She’d planted the clematis so you could glimpse it from the kitchen. Her children had summer birthdays, and it made her happy that the peonies were in full bloom for their celebrations.” Residing with Miller in an East Village loft, Ryan had been craving a home with space and light: “It was my version of the white-picket-fence dream.”
Fortunately for the young couple, their offer was accepted—and this time, the sale went through. When it came to the interiors, Ryan initially kept it simple and took the valued advice of a trusted friend. “[Designer expert] Tom Delavan suggested that creating a consistent canvas would be a great way to get to know the house and how the light would unfold over time. So we painted everything a single color—Timid White, by Benjamin Moore—and that’s how we lived for the first six years.” She commissioned drapery and upholstery from the mother-daughter team of Artful Windows in Southampton, using English fabrics from Cowtan & Tout. Almost all of her furnishings came from the antiques shop Beale & Bell in the nearby town of Greenport. “It didn’t require incredible investment. The light streaming through the windows, that North Fork glow, was so remarkable that we didn’t feel the need to create something overly precious,” Ryan says.
Another good friend with refined tastes—luxury-goods executive David Lauren—connected Ryan to Hadley Wiggins-Marin, who had opened a vintage furnishings and design shop called North Found & Co. on Peconic Lane. “I can remember with absolute clarity the first time I heard the sound of Alice’s voice. She has the most beautiful British accent I’ve ever heard,” says Wiggins-Marin. The two soon bonded over a shared love of homes with history. A few years later, when it came time to take on a kitchen remodel and finish the home’s interiors, the collaboration was a natural development. “Alice pushed me to explore a more feminine aesthetic than is typical in my work,” explains the designer, “and I pushed her to introduce a mix of global influences and key modern pieces.”
The primary challenge lay in figuring out how to stay true to the home’s character while adapting to a contemporary lifestyle. “I don’t make things easy for myself when I put historical authenticity and the functional needs of a young family on the same level,” says Wiggins-Marin. “But there is simply no other way to create great design.” Rather than opening the wall between kitchen and dining room completely—“doing so would compromise the integrity of the house and risk suburbanizing the entire property,” says the designer—the decision was made to modernize in other ways. The door opening was widened to a generous six feet to allow light and flow between the two separate spaces. The ceiling was raised and the original interior beams left exposed. A bank of four windows was installed above a farmhouse sink, providing views across the peony garden and to the property’s whitewashed barn.
“I love the old and the antique, obviously. But I also love a tight color palette and a minimalist approach, and the juxtaposition that is created when traditional shapes and styles are seen through this lens,” says Wiggins-Marin. Muted pale tones on floors and walls allow the patina of the rich wood furnishings to shine. A round dining table with considerable heft contrasts handsomely with a set of Bertoia wire chairs. In another room, antique Turkish textile pillows and an English oil painting share the space with 19th-century Berber rugs and a colonial American trunk.
With two more children in the mix, three-year-old Elliott Grace and baby Barnes, Ryan and Miller were mindful to keep interiors, in their words, “un-precious.” The living room’s Cisco Home sofas are covered in Sunbrella fabric; tables and chairs are constantly moved outdoors for afternoon tea parties. “It was always my desire to use everything from the china to the Irish linen, whatever it might be—every piece of furniture,” says Ryan. “There isn’t anything about the house that remains off-limits.” Now, after a cross-country move to Southern California, Ryan and Miller have put their North Fork summer home on the market. “It’s a house with a great heart and a great history,” says Ryan—and, like all good fairytales, it’s destined for its own happy ending.
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