If you had asked interior designer Nate Berkus 15 years ago where he would feel at peace, it is unlikely that he would have described a house near a beach. Berkus was on vacation in Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka in 2004 when the country was devastated by a tsunami. Though he survived, his partner at the time, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, did not. Nevertheless, when Berkus’s husband, designer Jeremiah Brent, suggested they check out a house for sale in Montauk, New York, as a second home for their family, Berkus was finally ready to explore the idea.
“I was raised in Southern California and lived on a lake outside of Minneapolis. The water has always been how I think of a carefree afternoon,” explains Nate Berkus, who has been living in Montauk full-time since March 2020 with Brent and their children, Poppy and Oskar. “I did not want my experience in the tsunami to deprive our family of summers like that.”
In August of 2019, Berkus and Brent had just returned from three years in Los Angeles, where they had planned to stay longer until they realized how much they missed the hubbub of New York City. However, the house in Montauk, previously owned by the photographer Raphael Mazzucco, proved difficult to resist. Residing on a nature reserve, the home built in the 1980s and extensively renovated by Mazzucco boasted an attractive landscape, ample light, and numerous handcrafted touches.
The couple gave the house a renovation “face-lift,” as they characterize it. They painted the exterior black to contrast with the brightness within, stripped and sanded floors for added lightness, and redid the kitchen with plaster walls and white concrete countertops. Perhaps most crucially, they added 40 percent more native vegetation to the surrounding land.
Inside the house, Brent and Berkus stuck to a neutral palette and incorporated design details influenced by their trips to Portugal, Mexico, and Peru. Down the hallway is the great room with its 22-foot-high ceilings and the stone fireplace. Much of the furniture is from Berkus and Brent’s collaboration with the company Living Spaces, which they mixed with online finds from Etsy and eBay covered in performance fabrics.
In the wood-paneled family room, 1970s rope chairs with shearling cushions from 4th Generation Antiques in Pasadena add textural interest. At the same time, varied surfaces abound in the main bedroom on the second floor. Where they added a wall and pocket door to separate the previously open bathroom and sleeping areas.
In the bathroom, they added a holly olive tree in an old limestone pot to go with the existing pebble-floored shower.
A deep sense of calm permeates the whole home, something Nate Berkus attributed to Brent’s mindset when approaching the design process.
“The pressure was off. We were building and selecting things thinking; it does not have to be perfect”, he explains. “I think that opened up something in both of us. The spirit in which we decorated and renovated this house is the spirit in which we live here.”
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