It’s not often that a night of karaoke leads to a commission, but for architect and interior designer Elizabeth Roberts, a friend’s birthday party turned out to be quite the auspicious occasion. “It was the first time I ever did karaoke, and it turns out that I really like doing karaoke,” Roberts laughs. “We were there until the wee hours of a weeknight and had so much fun. And, in the morning, I got a call from our mutual friend who said, ‘You know, my friend who you met last night? He has a house in Orient, New York, that he’d like you to renovate.’ Our personalities meshed.”
Roberts’s charms notwithstanding, she’s also a powerhouse AD100 architect; her clients include A-listers like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard. The homeowners and Roberts also shared a geographic connection: Both are California transplants who share a love of open, bright spaces and unfussy decor. “She got right away that we were a family with kids and an unruly dog and that we would be hosting lots of other families with kids and unruly dogs,” one of the homeowners says. “She was able to take that information and give us a plan that was nonprecious but still felt elegant.”
Roberts first saw the home about two years ago; the property consists of a main farmhouse as well as a large barn and a garage structure. The homeowners had actually used the home for years before buying it from friends, so they already had an idea of the structural changes they wanted to make. “It was just a horrible layout, frankly, but on a beautiful site,” she says. “This old house had been added to so many times.” The main directive from the homeowners? “Brighten it up and make it better,” she says.
It took nine months for architectural plans to be finalized and then approved by the town of Orient’s historic preservation commission, and then another 12 for the renovation. Roberts’ main point of inspiration was the sunroom at the rear of the home. “It’s the most beautiful room and the most beautiful part of the site, because that’s where you can see the pool and this whole field that’s part of their property,” she says. “One of the first things I knew we needed to do was really open up the house to the back.” Decades of shortcut renovations had left the first floor a warren of small, dark rooms. Roberts and her team essentially rebuilt the entire floor so that spaces now flow seamlessly into one another, culminating in the sunroom.
That room itself was also given a serious internal and external facelift: Radiant heat and a wood-burning stove were installed so that the room stays cozy even in the chilly North Fork winters, and Roberts clad the walls in reclaimed heart pine to warm it up aesthetically. “Old pine has that really delicious kind of honey tone, as opposed to standard pine, which would look more yellow and very blond,” she says. The finished room is not only California-worthy in terms of its abundant light, but made inviting with plush furniture in cool shades of teal, black, and dark leather.
While the homeowners mostly left the architectural and interior design vision to Roberts and her team, they did relay to her that cooking and entertaining was a major passion of theirs. This request informed not only the open floor plan of the home, but details of the large kitchen and dining areas. Roberts actually converted the original home’s fireplace into a wood-burning grill that now lives in the dining room. The kitchen, with ample counter space for preparing and serving food, looks directly into the sunroom via an internal window. “The goal was to be able to spend your life in the kitchen, but also really enjoy that vista [beyond the sunroom] and connect to the rest of the site,” she says.
The bones of the home may read as farmhouse, but Roberts went in a more modern direction for the interior design. “The inspiration was really very California beachy,” she says. “The homeowners love light blue and a very clean, clear color palette; it was meant to feel light and fun. I really love contrasting these modern interiors and furnishings with the old house.” Roberts also made sure to incorporate light blue in different areas, most notably as a painted runner on the stairs from the first to the second floor, and in the master bath, whose floor and standing tub are painted a soothing shade of robin’s-egg. “We loved her suggestion to paint [those areas],” said the homeowners. “She was sure that as these got scuffed and people made their accidental marks, the happy, unfussy character of the house would emerge.”
The work on the farmhouse itself may be completed, but Roberts is now gearing up for phase two, which will include converting the barn into a guesthouse complete with a large open area for yoga. “One of the hardest parts [of the project] was just really coming up with a master plan that wasn’t over-the-top,” she says. “But we wanted to be appropriate to the town, and keep this house as a cozy little farmhouse.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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