White On White...On White
The palest of the pale prevails at Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz and Brian E. Boyle's house for friends in Sagaponack, New York
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 7/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
To hear Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz tell it, the house his friends purchased in Sagaponack, New York, was a total turkey. "Like a really bad version of the Sydney Opera House," he says, rolling his eyes while describing an early-1980's folly of intersecting triangles. "I told them to tear it down immediately." But owners Steve Brown and Steve Saide thought the quirks might be workable. "Benjamin hated the crazy angles, but we fell in love with them," Saide says. As CEO and head designer, respectively, of the rental service Furnished Quarters, the couple opted for a short-term trial—five years—before giving up. "Ultimately, it didn't serve our needs but proved too costly to renovate," Saide explains. So he and Brown decided to raze it after all.
To help rebuild on the 1 1/2-acre site, just a five-minute walk from the ocean, Noriega-Ortiz tapped Brian E. Boyle, AIA, a firm with a New York office down the hallway from his. The two have collaborated since the '80's, when both worked for Interior Design Hall of Fame member John F. Saladino. "Brian makes the magic happen," Noriega-Ortiz says. Boyle offers kind words in return: "Benjamin trained as an architect, so he really gets it. I help him express himself, and he pushes me further. We're a great team."
The 6,700-square-foot cedar-shingled house balances communal areas with private space for hosts and guests alike. Taking cues from a Palladian villa, the U-shape plan centers on a double-height salon overlooking a courtyard and lush landscaping. One wing houses the sprawling master suite. The other wing encompasses the breakfast room and service areas, followed by the sunroom, which functions as a quasi pool house. Capped by hipped roofs, both ends of the U are articulated to look like freestanding pavilions. "It breaks up the bulk," Boyle says. "The architecture combines traditional materials with modern detailing like slim-framed windows."
Although the easygoing layout supports big gatherings effortlessly—cocktail parties, candlelit dinners for 16—the exterior looks restrained, even demure. Draped with cascading ivy, the windowless front facade features a slanted portico sheltering a 16-foot-tall aluminum-plate door coated in black automotive lacquer and bisected by a vertical glass slit. "It's a bit forebidding," Boyle admits. "But it's private, like the hedges surrounding nearby estates." The door opens to a long corridor sloped imperceptibly up. "Very Corbusian," Noriega-Ortiz notes. It's also invigorated by a James Turrell–inspired play of daylight through high windows.
The hall leads straight to the salon. As if the enormous tilt-and-turn windows and sliding glass doors weren't enough to unite indoors and out, the same 2-foot-square Jerusalem limestone paves both salon and courtyard. "It's the color of Hamptons sand," explains Noriega Ortiz, who actually used a handful as a color sample. Tiles inside are warmed by radiant heating as well as by a shag rug the color of sea salt. "Steve and Steve fought me on that," Noriega-Ortiz says. "They preferred to leave the gorgeous stone bare. But my argument was: What's sexier—a person naked or wearing a bikini? Sometimes you must hide to reveal."
The shag anchors an artful mix of furnishings upholstered in white faux leather—ornately carved Portuguese-style vintage wooden chairs, boxy custom sofas and club chairs. "The monochromatic scheme lets you appreciate the furniture more sculpturally," Boyle says. Indeed, the decor is almost entirely white, from this room's marble-topped Eero Saarinen side table, acrylic light towers, and throw pillows covered in Mongolian lamb to the master bedroom's monumental headboard. The designers even powder-coated every screw and faucet in the house. (Although the sunroom's plaster fireplace surround is indisputably tinted black, that's only to hide soot.)
Ethereality and serenity were no small considerations for owners inundated at their jobs with the minutiae of interiors. "They're flooded with product on a daily basis, so this is a reprieve. But it's a white house that's well used, not treated with preciousness," Noriega-Ortiz says. No worries if a guest spills red wine in the dining room. The two tables are topped in wash-and-wear faux leather, and that same vinyl covers the seating—the Portuguese-style chairs again, mixed with acrylic-legged sofas. In the kitchen, counters of creamy quartz composite and cabinets clad in white acrylic withstand messy cooking.
Less hard-wearing than the limestone flooring in public areas, light-stained rift-cut oak planks appear in the sparsely furnished master bedroom—a retreat reached via a hallway that starts in the den, then continues between two bathrooms, slipped behind frosted-glass sliding doors. Long sight lines are a Palladian trick, Noriega-Ortiz notes: "We love axes!" Boyle adds, "The hall connects to other parts of the house while allowing privacy."
Guests have privacy, too. Joined by a catwalk over the salon, two pairs of upstairs guest rooms offer en suite baths and high-walled roof terraces. "Great for nude sunbathing," jokes Noriega-Ortiz, a frequent guest. And perhaps the only spots where the color scheme changes from white to, er, buff.