Arbiter of Style: Cynthia Frank’s Southampton House

When Cynthia Frank convinced her husband to buy a seven-bedroom house a block from the ocean in Southampton, New York, their children braced for the onslaught of 18th-century French furniture. “They refer to me as ‘the mother who buys chairs that no one wants to sit in,'” Frank says. “A lot of our homes have been very formal—very behind the silk rope.”

The loggia’s antique arm-chairs and bench are upholstered in Pierre Frey fabrics, the Lucite-and-metal cocktail table is vintage, and the flooring is marble.

Frank recently celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband, Donald H. Frank, M.D., a neurosurgeon who has stood stoically by as his wife has embraced one decorating style after another. Their 12-room prewar apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is furnished to the nines. “In the city, everything in my home is velvet and silk and leopard carpets and crystal chandeliers,” she says.

The dining table came from a Sotheby’s auction, the antique chairs were purchased at Doyle New York, and the chandelier is a Paris flea-market find; the photograph is by Nathaniel Kramer, and the rug is by Stark.

Seven years ago, they owned another house in Southampton, one that, while small, was perfectly scaled for a pair of empty nesters. Cynthia admits she had an ulterior motive in trading up: She hoped that a larger house would lure her adult children—daughter Amanda, and twin sons James and Brian, who were all single at the time—into visiting more often. “James is a big tennis player, and the property has a fabulous court,” she says. “Brian is a surfer—our house is a block from the ocean. And Amanda loves to socialize, and what else do you do in the Hamptons? I made an offer the day I saw it. Then everyone started getting married!”

The Belgian linen–covered sofa in the living room is by Démiurge, and the bergère is upholstered in a glazed linen by Rogers & Goffigon; the cocktail table is by Jansen, and the vintage plaster lamps were made for Miami Beach’s Eden Roc hotel.

She enlisted the help of two of her closest friends, architect Timothy Haynes and interior designer Kevin Roberts, to help lighten the interior of the house, which was built in the 1980s. Inspired by classical French interiors, they refined the architecture of the rooms by adding paneling to the walls and pilasters to doorways. The loggia, which overlooks the swimming pool and sunken tennis court, was brightened with French doors. A terrazzo floor was replaced with diamond-patterned marble.

The sofa in the living room is vintage, the 1930s armchairs are by Frances Elkins, the Serge Roche–inspired lamps are from David Duncan Antiques, and the cocktail table is leather and horn.

Of course, Frank’s version of family friendly incorporates such prized possessions as a Louis XV armchair, a Maison Jansen Lucite cocktail table, and a pair of Frances Elkins Loop chairs. Everything she owns is antique, vintage, or one-of-a-kind. But the beach home’s mostly white scheme, which she mixes with colorful contemporary art, is the closest this maximalist has ever approached to minimalist decor. “I don’t think I have ever seen my mother not do chinoiserie in at least one room,” says Amanda. “This style is much more modern than any decorating she has done in the past. But even though it’s a departure, you can still see my mother’s touch in every detail.”

A view of the pool.

The master bedroom’s linens are by D. Porthault, the 18th-century armchairs came from a Christie’s auction, and the plaster lamps were found in Palm Beach.

Once she found herself bidding by telephone—at three in the morning—on a set of six 18th-century French painted chairs that were being sold by Christie’s in Monte Carlo. A month later, she was on assignment in California when her husband called to ask, “Cynthia, are you starting a nursery school?” Frank was stunned to learn that the chairs had arrived—and were pint size. “And I paid a fortune for them!” she says.

In the sitting room, the Italian armchairs are vintage, and the painting is by Virginia Wylie; the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pointing.

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