In Sagaponack, Tamara Magel Displays Her Winning Ways, Decorating a House for Clients Near Gibson Beach
Even though this Sagaponack house is just steps from the ocean, you won’t find any sand on the kitchen floor. Or wet beach towels in a pile next to a screen door, or flip-flops by a hose. None of the scraps of summer can be found here, because this house isn’t a part-time beach escape, but rather a year-round, sophisticated home for a couple who came to the conclusion that weekends were just not enough.
When their Westchester nest emptied, they decided to buy a traditional-style home with the elegance of an urban residence and close proximity to their beloved Gibson Beach. For the interiors, they turned to decorator Tamara Magel, a multitalented textile and fashion designer who describes her style as “organic glamour.” (The couple discovered her on the now-defunct website Decorati.) Magel’s interior design work displays the same flexibility that her tunics and dresses do, allowing the wearer to go from the beach to dinner and look great the entire time.
Such an easy equilibrium characterizes the house by Gibson Beach. Magel’s clients aren’t fond of patterns, and she argues that “people tend to get sick of patterns anyway.” So instead, she created interest with a mix of materials in every room, including linen, mohair, sisal or cowhide carpets, and the occasional fur blanket. “It’s interesting, but not overwhelming. Like metal, earth, and fire, or feng shui, the elements balance each other out.”
Magel’s deft hand with textures is apparent right from the front door. In the dining room, for example, she updated a ho-hum fireplace with black marble, while a low, seductive, substantial onyx bowl covers the majority of the organic elderwood slab-top table. Two oversize armchairs at the table’s ends contrast sharply with—and complement—a bronze porcupine ceiling fixture from Jean de Merry. A warm, nubby gray sisal rug anchors the innovative collage.
The living room demonstrates Magel’s love of glamour. The decorator claims that designing a house is similar to the way she dresses—keeping things simple and sophisticated, with pops of jewelry as accents, such as her collection of 1960s Lucite necklaces and rings. “My first instinct is to go super glam,” she admits. “But no one likes to live that way, including me.” The neutral palette—Benjamin Moore Titanium on the walls, a pale sewn cowhide carpet, and a fluffy Mongolian lambswool chair—is given a kick by a pair of cocktail tables on wheels by Silas Seandel, a Chelsea-based artist. Two vintage armchairs flank a cream-colored mantel and an Elliott Puckette abstraction above it, next to a Roman Thomas parchment-covered bar in the corner.
Magel solved a conundrum with the green silk mohair sofa, which did the job of adding much-needed color without overwhelming the room’s muted atmospherics. The fabrics she had been bringing out from the city would change hue in the dazzling East End light. “You can see blues from the ocean and greens and browns from the farmland outside, even pinks, so fabrics look a lot different in the house,” she says.
The bedrooms display even stronger experiments with complementary and contrasting textures. The bed in a guest room sports a blue fox fur from Flair in Manhattan, grass cloth on the walls, industrial iron-and-glass light fixtures, and a hand-woven, geometric Elizabeth Eakins wool rug. Another bedroom features pillows covered in a purple and deep gray Fortuny fabric, a plush shag carpet, rustic rattan chairs, and a soft coyote throw. The linen curtains here, in Jim Thompson’s Seabra print by Richard Smith, offer up the one statement-making pattern in the house. It’s a puzzling abstraction, a zebra print that on closer inspection looks like thousands of fish swimming in a shallow pool. The master dressing room is a luxurious mix, including a plush shearling ottoman, horn drawer pulls with polished nickel detail, and a pieced hide rug, ideal under bare feet.
Each room in the house bears a few pieces of carefully selected art as a finishing touch. “Artwork can change a whole room,” Magel says, “and in my opinion, art is crucial in getting to the completion stage.” A series of Hans Hofmann self-portraits lines the wall of the dining room, giving it warmth and personality, while a figure-eight charcoal by Richard Serra holds court in the living room. In the master bedroom, a group of four Sol LeWitt line drawings provides symmetry.
Art is especially meaningful to the homeowners, since they found this house on a crisp September weekend when they traveled to the Hamptons specifically to buy artwork from Robert De Niro, Sr. They never did purchase a painting, but bought the house instead. Magel, though, makes the case that perhaps the best artwork is on view 24/7 through the windows: the fields of Sagaponack, especially when the sun is setting and the moon is rising.
A version of this article appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Hamptons Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Gibson Girl.