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A Harmonious Beach House in New York

Acclaimed Interior designer, Sandra Nunnerley strikes a harmonious balance in this New York beach house

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By House & Garden South Africa | March 11, 2022 | Interiors

When it comes to beach houses, you’d be hard-pressed to find a few with enough effortless luxury that appeases those escaping from the fast pace of the city, while retaining the kind of practicality one would expect in a family home. But of course, not all beach houses have interiors designed by Sandra Nunnerley. This shingled beach house in the village of Southampton, near New York, is one of contrast and balance. Fine decor sits alongside raw textiles, key styles from every decade, and even every continent – all coexisting in a surprisingly natural way.

For Sandra and the team at her New York-based design studio, Sandra Nunnerley Inc., this is the result of a very considered and detailed approach that has resulted in the harmonious balancing of different elements.

Photograph: Richard Powers

‘We alwayse want to understand how people live in a house,’ she says. ‘In this case, I know the family quite well, as we’ve worked together on two previous projects.’ She adds, ‘but with any project, you have to determine how people move and function in a space and, most importantly, what their lifestyle is like.’ For this project, a family based in Manhattan wanted a place to escape to during the summer months. ‘We wanted this to be the type of house where the family could walk in from outside with sand-covered feet,’ says Sandra, ‘swimming gear and bags in hand. Which is why it was important that beneath the surface, every room had to be as relaxed and practical as possible.’

Working closely with Scott Sottile, a principal at New York-based Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, the existing house was completely reconfigured to allow for open-plan living. Walls were broken down, doors were widened, and certain features, such as the staircase in the entryway as well as the floors, were made to be more practical and suitable for the house. The result: a spacious and intuitive design where the kitchen serves as the centre of the home. Here, Sandra says, the family can entertain friends hassle-free and naturally. This need for ease of movement meant that finding the perfect furniture was crucial. While almost everything for the house was sourced, certain pieces had to be conceptualised and made from scratch. Custom furniture (by Sandra Nunnerley Inc.) helped meet the needs of a family on holiday.

Photograph: Richard Powers

‘The sofas are large yet elevated and don’t take away from the feeling of spaciousness in the living room,’ she says. ‘You can put your feet up on them, lie down and take a nap. It’s what you want from a house by the sea.’

Photograph: Richard Powers

To help layer the furniture Sandra incorporated various textiles she found while travelling in Bali and Java, a process that she says made her feel more like a collector than an interior designer. Curtains, throws and cushions were among the treasures she found and are now used throughout the house.

As with most of the studio’s projects, art makes up a prominent part of the interior design process. ‘While the family has a wonderful art collection in the city, we decided to opt for more relaxed works for the house. We added playful elements that speak to the atmosphere of the beach.’ Among these are photographic prints by Horst P. Horst for a 1941 issue of Vogue and Lionel Kazan for a 1960 issue of Glamour. Elsewhere in the house, art by Damien Hirst and Diane Petry stand out beautifully against the walls, while floral prints by artist Elizabeth Ockford and Nepalese paper prints echo the muted palette of the living rooms and kitchen. As with everything else in the house, the art is all about creating consistency.

Photograph: Richard Powers
Photograph: Richard Powers

“The house is a well-balanced design equation,’ says Sandra, ‘nothing shouts at you. There is a real sense of tranquillity.’ Quite appropriate for a beach house, we’d say.

Photograph: Richard Powers

Written by Edwain Steenkamp