Tour an Early 1960s Home with a Black Exterior and White Interiors

Designed by Andrew Geller, this groovy getaway plays all the angles.
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A pop-out window creates an interplay of light and shadow in the guest room. Photograph by David Mitchell.

Betty Reese was rocket fuel. When Raymond Loewy hired her to head public relations for his emerging design studio in 1940, Reese turned the industry talent into a household name and landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1949. During the following decade, Reese wielded enough media power that she could sign off on Loewy coverage before it went to press.

In 1955, Reese catapulted another young designer into the nation’s consciousness. After finding out that her office colleague Andrew Geller had begun moonlighting as an architect for residential clients, Reese asked the 30-year-old to create a budget-friendly summer escape for herself on a small stretch of Gibson Beach, in Sagaponack. The whimsical A-frame—at $7,000, it cost approximately the same as the first postwar Levittown houses—captured the attention of Reese’s newspaper and magazine contacts, whose coverage created a slew of commissions for her young protégé.

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The shotgun-style interior features an open living area anchored by a painted rock-walled fireplace. The sofa is from Ikea and the barstool is from West Elm. Photograph by David Mitchell.

A storm wiped out Reese’s getaway in 1962, and the following year Geller designed a new cottage that was equally small and easy to maintain. This time, though, the project was sited on five rolling acres much higher up, on the Bridgehampton moraine. It also ignited a significant shift for the architect, whose vocabulary of “basic geometries” had suddenly turned “ . . . fractured, their surfaces multifaceted or incised with flaps, fins, and slits,” Alastair Gordon writes in Beach Houses: Andrew Geller. Indeed, for the new Reese commission, Geller truncated and creased the familiar A silhouette, studding its walls with triangular windows whose shading devices are folded out from the cedar-shingled skin. The lofty interior is a stark counterpoint to the exterior’s self-reflective appearance, anchored by a central stone fireplace that channels the wooded site’s camp spirit. “While still exuberant,” Gordon continues, “the architecture feels more anxious, more defensive.”

Sag Harbor–based interior decorator John Bjørnen takes a more romantic view, calling the building a “living, breathing sculpture whose windows are like the gills of a fish, reminding Betty of the ocean.”

A recent owner, Bjørnen updated systems and employed a black-and-white palette—a throwback to the cottages of his Norwegian childhood, he says—as part of a 2011 reinvestment project completed in tandem with landscape designer Joseph Cornetta. The house then sold to hospitality entrepreneur Noah Tepperberg, who later tapped Farrell Building Company to construct a larger main residence at a higher point on the site.

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The primary bedroom includes a bed from West Elm, a nightstand from Ikea, and a vintage chrome and leather chair and ottoman from Beall & Bell. Photograph by David Mitchell.

Reese’s prized woodland gem is currently owned by psychologist Ifat Knaan-Kostman and her husband, who purchased the property in 2021. “I was blown away by it,” Knaan-Kostman recounts of her first walk-through of the structure, which the couple use as a guesthouse. Her appreciation for Geller—and for modernist preservation—has only ripened with the passing months. “The genius of the house is its ability to make a statement about the future and simultaneously to feel serenely open to light and air. To destroy beauty like this is simply wrong.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Extra Flair.