Step one of any successful decorating project, according to Sandra Nunnerley, whom Architectural Digest has named to its AD 100 list multiple times, most recently in 2015, is to make sure a home has good bones. In the case of an 11-year-old, 8,000-square-foot, shingled Southampton beach house, the place had osteoporosis. “It was an absolute disaster,” says New Zealand-born Nunnerley, who teamed with architect Mark Ferguson of Ferguson & Shamamian and his senior associate Scott Sottile on the wholesale redo, their third collaboration for the clients, a Manhattan couple with two teenage children. “It’s been tweaked, big-time,” says Nunnerley. “The entire inside was gutted.”
Removing a kitchen wall opened up the first floor, letting in both northern and southern light. Doorways were widened. Operable double-hung windows replaced fixed, single-pane, storefront-style picture windows. The front staircase, originally an irregular polygon shape, was reconfigured into a more gracious, classical entry. “The stair hall is now a room,” says Ferguson. “Now you come to the front door and feel like you’ve actually arrived somewhere.”
With new and improved bones bolstering the home, Nunnerley and her design team, led by senior designer Jason Fischer, could finally get to work. Nunnerley had just returned from Bali and Java, where she’d purchased hand-dyed batik fabrics that were then made into orange pillows. These and other Balinese textiles became her inspiration for the palette of the home. (“I said to the clients, ‘You’re lucky that you didn’t get me when I got back from India, because I’d want everybody to sit on cushions on the floor.’”) In the living room, the pillows adorn oversize custom sofas, bringing attention to an intricate yet relaxing interplay of design details in the space; a vintage printed throw, also from Bali, covers an oversize leather ottoman. A series of Berber rugs used in tents were sewn together to create a large striped rug.
Invoking what Nunnerley calls the subconscious eye (“as you leave one room and go to another, your subconscious eye goes with you; coordinating colors give a space calmness and tranquility”), more notes inspired by the orange batik pillows in the living room appear throughout the home: in the orange-red fabric shade on the Baker chandelier in the dining room, the Woodard & Greenstein runner in the mudroom, the custom Moroccan terra-cotta sconces by Stephenie Bergman in the family room. “I call it ‘our refined conversation,’” Nunnerley says of the well-balanced design equation. “It means that nothing is shouting at you. There’s tranquility, as well as a certain punch, but it’s not over the top.”
The refined conversation in this home covers a lot of ground. It includes lean, angular furnishings, such as the Jacques Quinet molded steel chairs in the living room, as well as upholstered pieces, like the vintage tufted wingback armchairs in the family room. Nunnerley juggles a variety of geometric shapes in both light and dark wood. A maestro with color, she confidently mixes light blue and indigo with varing shades of brown, and she welcomes unusual accent punches: The black lampshade and bronze sconces in the stair hall are unexpected in a beach house. “If you put any other color there, it wouldn’t have grounded the composition,” says Nunnerley. A blue-gray in the kitchen and sitting room also has a unifying effect, and yet the clients were at first resistant to the shade. “I had to fight tooth and nail,” says Nunnerley. “I said, ‘It’s going to give it definition, it’s going to flow into other rooms.’”
Now, of course, the clients love it. “They called to say, ‘I cannot tell you how much we’re enjoying the house, because it’s so easy to run.’ I think it’s because all the rooms function well—they flow,” says Nunnerley. “It’s a house to be barefoot and happy in. Each room gels with the other. It’s like a riff. It’s like jazz.”