A Streamlined Three-Bedroom Home in Springs

Joe D’Urso’s early-1970s masterwork is a study in simplicity and form.
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Using standard-issue materials and a lot of ingenuity, Joe D’Urso designed this 1972 home with a budget of about $30,000. The butterfly chairs belonged to the original owners. Photograph by David Mitchell.

Joe D’Urso’s name was not on everyone’s lips when he designed a three-bedroom house in Springs for psychiatric social workers Harry Blumenfeld and Martin Falzack in 1972. D’Urso, not yet 30, had opened his eponymous studio five years earlier, after working briefly for the visionary Ward Bennett—and it would be another couple of years before he had his star turn, designing an unsentimentally minimal studio apartment for shoe-store heir Reed Evins, which then caught the eye of Calvin Klein, who tapped the phenom to design his bachelor pad and New York menswear offices. Owned since 2014 by interior decorator Jayne Michaels and lawyer Todd Pickard, the Springs residence demonstrates a preternaturally mature philosophy of home design that prioritized discipline and unorthodox material sources.

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Cables and lally columns delineate a spiral staircase, which leads to an upper-level office and the primary bedroom. The custom cushions are by Vitanza. Photograph by David Mitchell.

For a profile in the East Hampton Star, D’Urso described his early clients as “people who had fairly low budgets and not a lot of baggage.” Blumenfeld and Falzack clearly belonged to this trailblazing group, as “[Blumenfeld] had been considering buying a builder’s model house for $30,000 until D’Urso talked him into a custom design for the same amount,” Norma Skurka wrote in a 1973 issue of The New York Times Magazine. (The median price for a home in America in 1972 was about $27,000.) Aiming for uniqueness on a budget, D’Urso composed a stepped rectilinear volume using off-the-shelf grooved plywood siding and sliding doors, with a spiral staircase topped by an eight-foot-square skylight at its core. D’Urso further demarcated the atrium-like center with crisscrossing cable draped between lally columns.

“This is a very rigorous, almost German house—nothing is left to chance,” Michaels says. “But it possesses a soul, and it is wonderful to be in.” The sun, she notes, flows through the domed skylight and infuses the interior with spirit, and the abundant sliding doors offer the ultimate in indoor-outdoor living, considering how occupants can open and shut the planes according to whim.

D’Urso’s early fame was not necessarily kind to the designer as the years went on. For each critic who celebrated his abstract, function-first approach, another claimed that he traded domestic tropes for gimmicky rubber surfaces, meat-market doors, and restaurant sinks. Some industrial affinities are on display here, such as the stairwell cabling’s marine turnbuckles and the kitchen’s butcherblock counters. But Michaels, who has admired D’Urso throughout her career, prefers to view the vocabulary as deliberately muted. “Joe’s clients are brilliant individuals for whom the changing seasons are fascinating,” she explains, adding how D’Urso proved that “a house could recede into nature.”

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A Sam Samore photograph hangs above a custom sofa in the living room. The table lamp is by Mariana Von Allesch. Photograph by David Mitchell.

Working with architect Jeff English, Michaels and Pickard replaced wall-to-wall carpeting with white oak planks and swapped a prefabricated sunroom, which had been attached to the building’s south elevation, with a 12-foot-tall volume. “It never occurred to me that you could work in that dimension,” Pickard exclaims, “although there’s no reason to feel that it’s an extension.” The residence otherwise appears almost like a time capsule that Blumenfeld and Falzack themselves had sealed and whose current owners have refrained from uncapping. “We’ve got to be stewards of this house,” Michaels recalls telling Pickard when they bought the structure. “We’ve got to maintain its integrity.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Boxed Gift.