Hampton Real Escape
A pair of computer screens in this home’s study is a giveaway: The man who lives here follows the world’s financial markets. And his workweek often continues into Saturdays and Sundays, which he tries to spend here, on the East End of Long Island. “One minute he’s talking to Europe; the next minute, to Asia,” says Vicente Wolf, the veteran designer who was brought on board when the house was already under construction.
Those phone calls gave Wolf the first clue to how he would fill the rooms: “The owner’s perspective is very international, and I wanted the house to reflect that,” Wolf says. As a result, he chose items like the unexpectedly modern Chinese lantern above the round dining table and Thai architectural fragments mounted on steel rods as accent pieces in the den.
But the house isn’t an ethnographic museum. Wolf, a meticulous curator whose own travels have made the world his design oyster, used decorative objects sparingly. He mixed them with comfortable upholstered pieces—many from his own furniture line—as well as modernist mainstays, including Management chairs by Charles and Ray Eames, which he alternated at the dining table with more traditional, ebonized Williams Switzer armchairs.
Photo: Vicente Wolf
Given his stressful career, the owner says, he wanted the house to be relaxing from the moment he walked in the door. In the hands of a less experienced designer, the presence of so many compelling objects could have been overwhelming. But Wolf arranged the pieces against neutral backdrops and, like a graphic designer reserving crucial white space, gave every item in the house—and the overworked owner—room to breathe.
When Wolf was hired, the house had been designed—in a traditional style, with gables, cedar shingles and colonial-style double-hung windows. Wolf couldn’t change the impression the house made from the street, but he was able to change the impression it made from the open front door. Among his eleventhhour interventions were staining the wood floors dark brown and, while he was at it, applying the same stain to the terra-cotta tiles on the kitchen floor. (As long as the tiles are not glazed, Wolf advises, a regular wood stain will do the trick.)
On that newly darkened base, he arranged marriages of sleek and antique, thick and thin, primitive and high-tech. The prep island embodies the opposites-attract approach: Its slim marble top rests on four bulky legs flanking a stainless steel base. At the other end of the kitchen, a sextet of molded Eero Saarinen chairs sidle up to a trestle table with enough lumber for a small building.
Between the cooking and eating areas, Wolf formed a room divider from double-sided, glass-doored cabinets. While its transparency and gridded design make the piece modern, it also bows to tradition, precisely echoing the panes of the double-hung windows. The room doesn’t need a lot of art—it’s artful in its use of materials and textures—but Wolf created a picture ledge on which the owner can arrange pieces at will. The only picture that won’t move is the flat-screen TV, which Wolf installed as just another in a row of images. In Wolf ‘s hands, the utilitarian isn’t stashed away but hidden in plain sight.
Photo: Vicente Wolf
Vicente Wolf, who was born in Cuba, has been an interior design icon for more than 30 years. These days, he not only creates spaces but photographs them (the images here are his). Each winter, he embarks on a trip to Asia and the Middle East; the journeys began as antique-buying trips but have become photo expeditions as well. This year, Wolf’s voyage will take him to India, Bali, Thailand and Iran.
The fact that Wolf can leave his office for weeks at a time is a testament to his organizational skills, honed over decades of serving demanding clients. In this case, construction wasn’t finished until April, but the owner wanted the house ready before summer. Wolf bought everything in advance and installed it all in three days.
That it got done in time is especially impressive given that many items were custom-made for the house, including the giant mirror leaning against a wall at the top of the stairs. Wolf often uses overscaled mirrors to make spaces seem larger and more complex than the architecture itself permits, and he often leans the mirrors against walls for the sake of informality. (In this case, the mirror is a single piece of metal, brushed around the edges to create a subtle frame.)
Though every bit a modernist—he painted much of the house in Benjamin Moore’s Super White—Wolf isn’t afraid of color. The master bedroom is a baby blue (Benjamin Moore’s Cumulus Cotton) that the owner says he finds restful, and the guest room has a single wall of dusty salmon. The room’s other walls, which are white, reflect just a bit of the color, extending the effect.
What the Pros Know
When you’re working with a designer, compromise is key. If you’re going to love your home, it’s important that it reflect your own totems and taboos, even—or especially—if your designer has established a signature style. Over the years, Vicente Wolf has become known for what he calls “dusty pastel” colors, gauzy fabric (often allowed to float in front of walls) and furniture arranged in layers (like the mini-dresser, designed by Wolf, beneath the bedside console table above). But that doesn’t mean he ignores his clients’ personal desires. The owner of this house enjoys sleeping on platform beds, which, he says, make him feel grounded. So when Wolf designed the mahogany-and-steel bed here, he made sure the mattress would rest on a platform near the floor—although he dressed it up with corner details that include oversize white wheels. From the owner’s point of view, the resulting piece is a comforting platform; from Wolf’s, it’s a focal point with dramatic proportions.