A Design Couple Reinvents Modern Living in Their Shelter Island Abode

Bill Cummings and Bernt Heiberg share their newest design project: their home.

Photographs by Tria Giovan

Little did Bill Cummings and Bernt Heiberg know that their latest design project would become their personal oasis in a pandemic. Having transformed and flipped several different residential properties in Sag Harbor and Wainscott, each imbued with their trademark palette of Scandinavian minimalism and understated comfort, the couple decided to branch out to Shelter Island a year ago.

They first rented a small house on West Neck Creek and quickly noticed that everything on the other side of the water was bathed in light at sunset. Then a nondescript 1940s-era house became available across the way, and the pair snapped it up. The home they now call the Landing was born. “We always like to give a home a name,” explains Cummings, “and with this house, we felt like we had landed somewhere very special.”

The couple “fell in love with the water and the views,” adds Heiberg. “It reminds me of a summer home in Norway. You have more space to find your Shangri-la. And since we’re on an island, everyone looks out for one another.” The men, whose 30-year-old firm maintains offices in Manhattan and Oslo, are so smitten with Shelter Island that they’ve opened a local atelier where they sell Scandinavian antiques and accessories from such venerable dealers as Dienst + Dotter.


Photographs by Tria Giovan

Although they hail from vastly different parts of the world, each complements the other in a textbook yin-yang fashion. Cummings grew up in Colorado and San Francisco, where he earned an international business degree before turning to photography and interior design, and Heiberg got his start in his native Norway as an antiques dealer.

“Bill says he works with his brain, and I work with my heart,” Heiberg jokes, although the pair couldn’t be more in sync with a design aesthetic that’s pleasing without pretension. In other words, everyone should feel free to sit on the sofa, even Fia, their miniature long-haired Dachshund.

Most of their previous projects involved transforming older historic homes and reinventing them for modern living, but this undertaking presented new challenges. “We wanted to do an updated barn design on the water,” recalls Cummings, “and we thought we could work within the footprint of the existing house, which came with a pool and a dock.”

They started by opening up the second level to create a fluid connection between living, kitchen, and dining spaces, all unfolding onto a large deck that frames the water views, as does the nearby master suite. The lower level includes additional bedrooms and bathrooms and a media room that opens to a covered, curtained outdoor lounge area with a dreamy bathtub, spa, and steam shower, plus a row of Adirondack-style chairs for enjoying the coveted sunsets.

A vaulted ceiling, stall-like doors, and reclaimed-wood floors from upstate New York further establish the modern barn theme. “Everything is organic,” explains Cummings. “Even the colors are all natural tones. We tend to focus on texture more than colors anyhow, amplifying them by painting everything white.”

The materials, Heiberg says, are deeply considered, “from the fieldstone in the fireplace to the stuccoed walls and cast-iron switch plates.” Even more, all the whitewashed minimalism offers a fitting backdrop for the art collection Cummings inherited from his uncle, 650 pieces by prominent California artists active during the late 20th century.


Photographs by Tria Giovan

The cozy environs definitely suit the previously peripatetic pair, more so than ever given the tumultuous events of 2020. “When we do new construction,” Cummings says, “we like to create understated, more modest proportions. You can still keep things elegant and have all the bedrooms and bathrooms you want, but it doesn’t need to feel like JFK airport. There’s a newer trend toward authenticity and community, and livable homes.”

“The imperfection of perfectionism has changed,” suggests Heiberg. “People are less into having everything matchy-matchy, and they’re more daring now. Our work is more about capturing a lifestyle, so that your home reflects how you live.” True to form, Cummings and Heiberg keep not one but two powerboats at the ready when they feel like taking a spin. “Shelter Island is very much a boating community, and there are a lot of people with vintage cars, too,” says Cummings. “There’s a low-key, understated vibe that’s really special.” Perhaps proof that it’s not so much where you take off from, but where you land.

The print version of this article appeared with the headline: The Landing. 
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