Hamptons Cottages & Gardens Aug '06, "A Match Made In Heaven"
pages 110-119 by Ellen Sherman
There are two sets of circumstances that usually prompt someone to call a seasoned decorator like Joe Nahem of Fox-Nahem. "People bring us in either when the house is brand new and they want to start from scratch or they want us when the place is just a wreck,"says Nahem.
From the outside, their East End residence was an architectural gem designed by the Bridgehampton firm of Barns Coy. Inside, the craftsmanship was also distinctive. There were classic touches like wooden columns and striking features like an enormous wooden vaulted ceiling. While the bones of the home couldn't be faulted, the rest of the interior just didn't live up to its surroundings. "The owners said, 'There's nothing terribly wrong with it," Nahem recalls. "'We just don't like it.'" Fox-Nahem came in for an assessment. "much of the furniture was scattered around, taking away from the architectural details," he recounts. "It was nice stuff, but stiff. There was also that huge vaulted skylight, so that in the daytime there would be glaring light. All in all, it looked like a very nice corporate office."
The decision was made to start from scratch. The only given was that the architectural details and a basic structure would be preserved. Initially, what needed to be addressed was the harsh living room light that came from the magnificent skylight. An electronic shade was installed to soften the harsh mid-morning glare. Next, all the furnishings were donated to Housing Works in Manhattan. Much of what was then brought into the house were vintage pieces: A midcentury wooden cabinet now stands near the cheery blue chairs in the gaming room, and a distressed wood table that retains its original paint sits in a guest room. At first, not all these pieces were well received. Upon first viewing by the clients, a pair of metal Mexican mirrors were given a hearty thumbs down. At the last minute, Nahem decided to place them in a hall and take his chances. The clients loved them. "When there was any kind of question they reminded themselves of when we did the townhouse in the city," Nahem observes. "Even if they questioned something, once I had it in there, they liked it. So they always said, "If you really think it's going to work, we trust you."
Other pieces were specifically designed to suit the owners' needs. A couple with a fondness for entertaining needed an ample dining room table. However, the dining room already had a preponderance of wood and tile that needed to be considered. "We wanted a big table that wasn't too heavy," Nahem says. "So we designed a glass table, which just kind of floats in the dining room. It's large but not massive." Similarly, the TV room needed to accommodate not only the couple but also their college-age sons and their friends. In addition, the room served as a retreat on lazy summer afternoons. With that in mind, the firm designed a 10-foot-long white sofa, perfect for late-night couch potatoes or for a long summer nap.
The clients, who usually chose the conservative side of the color spectrum, decided that this time they would take some chances. In the living room, sea greens and blues predominate, a choice reminiscent of the ocean nearby. In a guest room, the look of the original wainscoting was enhanced by painting it a muted blue. In the cozy TV room, the white sofa sits in front of an upholstered pink wall. "We love this color because it's a fleshy natural pink, not a baby pink," Nahem says. "It softens up the room." In the gracious master bedroom, a four poster bed seems to float on a rug of soft lilac hues. The boldest strokes are in the two totally renovated bathrooms. One features vibrant tiles in shades of yellow, orange, blue and white, the other in muted blues, grays and white. "It was a stretch even for us at Fox-Nahem," the designer recalls, "but in this case, we were really happy with the outcome."
As often happens in the Hamptons, Fox-Nahem was working on a deadline in that window of opportunity from winter through Memorial Day. Luckily, Nahem was dealing with clients who are both busy professionals and didn't have time to dawdle. "If decisions needed to be made, they were made quickly," he says. The clients didn't see the house until the summer's first weekend. Naturally, there were some last-minute jitters on the part of the decorator, but they were dispelled the minute the clients walked into the house. "They were overwhelmed," Nahem fondly remembers. "They kept saying, 'We can't believe it's the same house.' And of course, in many ways it really wasn't."