Gem on the Cove

With classic shingles outside and a clean white palette inside, this waterfront cottage outshines the rest.

Text by Jeff Book
"No restaurant in the Hamptons has a better table than this," Hal Neier declares over lunch on a broad deck overlooking Sag Harbor Cove. He and his wife, Kathleen Boyes, are regulars here-the deck extends from their house. In fair weather they eat many of their meals alfresco, with ingredients purchased from favorite local markets. The expansive deck is just one of the features that make their compact Hamptons hideaway seem spacious.

"We bought the house from the longtime owners, who sold it to us largely because we weren't going to change the outside," Kathleen says. Some would have seen the 2-acre lot as a launchpad for a shingled mega-manor. "But we only needed a house for two, plus occasional guests," Hal says.

Built in the 1930s as a simple summer bungalow, the 2,100-square-foot, gambrel-roofed structure felt dim and cramped. An earlier remodel had removed original moldings and, amazingly, walled over the living room's water-view windows. "This was as much a restoration as a renovation," Kathleen says. "We wanted to make it look like it had always been this way."

You'd never know that almost everything is new. "We stripped the structure to the studs, gave it new electrical, plumbing, HVAC, insulation, and insulated windows that match the architecture," says architect Darren Helgesen, who worked with contractor Vic Israelian. "The floors were made level, the walls and ceilings straightened, the stairs redesigned for more headroom." To mimic old-fashioned flooring, they used 10-inch, tongue-and-groove red pine planks, surface-nailed every 32 inches. "I like the way the pine shows what I call 'life marks,' including scratches from Elizabeth, our golden retriever," Kathleen says. "Some say the dark stained floors aren't beachy, but I like the contrast with the white walls and ceilings."

Sliding-glass doors opened the sunporch to the outside, and Kathleen and Hal added heating to make the space more appealing when the weather turns cold. New windows and glass doors pull views from the porch into the kitchen and living room, where the couple kept to a beige-and-white palette. Now the house is refreshingly pale and cool, like a linen suit. "Whenever we have extra time, we're here," Kathleen says. Whether tooling around in their boat, lounging by the pond, dining on the deck, or enjoying the outdoor shower (which features a second, handheld sprayer to rinse Elizabeth after she goes for a swim), every moment at their seaside escape validates the massive overhaul of the modest house.

Upstairs, the couple resisted the urge to make the room with the biggest view the master bedroom. Instead, it's an inviting study, furnished for reading, watching TV, or working. "Because of the view, Kathleen said this should be where we spend most of our waking hours," Hal explains. "We can steal away early on Friday and not feel guilty, because it's a pleasure to work here!"

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