On the dedication page of his monograph, Time and Place, interior designer Steven Gambrel thanks his parents for a childhood of “flea markets, endless construction projects at home, and tours of historic villages and abandoned houses.”
New York–based Gambrel has never stopped collecting vintage flotsam. He’s bought six old Sag Harbor homes—two of them 19th-century whaling houses—and restored them with his trademark approach to punching up the past. In his hands, preservation rises to artistry. “I don’t want to design period rooms,” he says. “I like the way things become chic and modern when they’re mixed.”
Gambrel’s noted color sense puts an experimental spin on beachside homes. But for interior spaces with long views of beach or bay, he defers to the landscape. “Those rooms end up being silver or oyster, beige or biscuit, ice blue or sand,” he says. “Nature prevails.”
What inspires you most?
I am most inspired by the way things naturally age in rugged environments. Patina seems like a local artist scratching away at the surface.
What’s your favorite way to use color in a beach home?
Color in a beach house comes from the water, sky, reeds, sand, oyster shell, and bark of the environment. Rooms that have garden views can have stronger color but, otherwise, the sea wins.
Is color outside a do or a don’t?
Color outside has become less interesting to me. The lead grey tones of stone pavers seem to be my preferred color choice for terrace furnishings.
What’s your most prized antique find?
A collection of collages from a local artist constructed in the 1950s. It is like a novel of seaside experiences that span a decade.
What’s your favorite coastal town to go treasure hunting in?
Coastal antiquing in Essex, Massachusetts, was rewarding, but all coastal towns of the north east seem to have good relics.
Favorite time of day at the beach?
I like sunsets on harbors.
Boating or paddleboarding?
Boating in my mahogany Hackercraft.
At the beach, do you like to eat out or cook at home?
Cooking at home and creating really earthy simple meals are my favorite. I like serving in cast iron on old porcelain with planks of wood for structure and rough Belgium linens.
Favorite coastal meal?
Fish wrapped in parchment and local greens.
Left: A Sag Harbor view from Gambrel via his Instagram account, @stevengambrel.