By Dawn Watson
Beach style has always ruled the Hamptons. And considering that we live in a luxury waterfront community, it’s a good bet that it always will to some extent.
But, just as the waves in the ocean are in constant motion, so are the trends. What was once considered the epitome of classic Hamptons style has changed dramatically over the past few years, say the experts—Vanessa Rome of Vanessa Rome Interiors, Barbara Feldman of Barbara Feldman Design, Tamara Magel of Tamara Magel Design, Maria Greenlaw and Suzanne Caldwell of Design House, and Allison Babcock of Allison Babcock Design. In its place is an aesthetic that leans much more modern.
Practically gone are the bright blue-and-white color schemes that dominated interiors season after season. In their place are the nudes — tonal hues of the earth and subtle neutral palettes — the designers agree.
“Thankfully the blue rooms of the Hamptons have evolved into cleaner white and darker grey palettes,” says Ms. Magel, whose taste runs to sleek white with rustic grey accents for interiors.
“The combo feels beachy but hipper,” the Sag Harbor-based designer says.
Ms. Rome, who splits her time between the city and Sag Harbor, says that people used to fear more modern design before they were exposed to so many good examples of it.
“Tonal palettes are now everywhere,” she says. “My clients are less afraid of white than before. It is no longer considered ‘boring, like a hospital.’ It is now thought to be ‘crisp and clean.’
But why the shift away from brights and into neutrals? What has happened to make the so-called “classic” style transform into this more subtle palette?
Ms. Babcock, who is based in Sag Harbor, thinks it has to do with having too much of a good thing. Especially when it’s a beach house interior, there’s the need to escape and the craving to seek out a bit of peace.
“I think in today’s world everyone’s senses are constantly being stimulated; that constant stimulation seems to make people crave serene surroundings at home where they can unwind, relax and enjoy the natural beauty and light that surround us,” she says. “A refuge of sorts.”
The ladies at Design House in Southampton credit the outside world for evolving interior tastes. More specifically, they say that architecture has driven the demand.
“The signature Hamptons look has evolved in response to architectural trends, cleaner lines, less clutter, a more modern aesthetic,” they say.
It’s true that we are seeing much more transitional and modern looks on house exteriors, Ms. Feldman notes. She predicts that the architectural face of the Hamptons is shifting as well.
“Shingle-style homes were extremely popular and had a good run, and in order to maintain a visual connect the corresponding interior elements followed suit — roll-arm sofas, traditional rugs, dark floors, heavier furniture pieces,” the East Hampton-based designer says. “Now there has been a transition to a much more contemporary feeling, reflected in both the interior design and architecture. We are seeing a cleaner, more modern aesthetic.”
According to Ms. Feldman, that means that colors have lightened up and are trending towards the neutral. Beiges, whites, creamy tones and warm greys are hits because they are “comfortable, and easy to live with,” she reports. Plus, they help “bring the outside of the environment straight through into the interior.”
“In fact,” says Ms. Feldman, “Benjamin Moore is calling ‘Simply White’ the 2016 Color of the Year.”
Just because the colors are muted, doesn’t mean that rooms have to be blah, the designers agree. No matter the palette used, there’s always lots of room for tonal and textural variation.
Ms. Rome says that she likes to mix greys, greys, taupes, whites, off-whites and creams. For interest, she implements texture in the wall coverings, carpets and accessories. For pops of color, she’ll add that in the artwork and accessories, especially in kids’ rooms and play spaces.
“Of course, if my client wants color, I am not afraid to use color,” she adds.
Classic textured linens and grass cloths, clean finishes and light wood are most in demand at Design House. Greys, whites and driftwood tones, they say, adding that they never shy away from a little color on a throw pillow, lamp or piece of artwork.
Ms. Babcock says that she’s inspired by a neutral palette that borrows colors and tones from what is happening outside and in naturally occurring materials. There’s a substantial palette to draw from there, she says.
“I used an oyster shell as inspiration for a palette for a current project,” says Ms. Babcock. “If you take a close look at an oyster shell, it has a range of beautiful tones with hints of interesting blues and aborigine.”
Fabrics and finishes that work within a more modern denuded space include shearlings, jute and alpaca wool for the soft goods, says Ms. Magel, who reports that statuary marble and natural white oak are good choices for hard goods, accessories and flooring.
In today’s modern beach house, performance fabrics are where it’s at, says Ms. Babcock. They are not only stain-repellant, they also feature ultra-violet protection, which helps prevent fading, and the lighter tones are much easier to care for and maintain.
“They used to be scratchy and stiff, so clients were hesitant to use them indoors,” she says. “Now they look and feel like natural linen, chenille, and cotton so we use a lot of these for upholstery.”
Especially at a true beach house, “simple, textural and easy to maintain are at the top of the list,” says Ms. Feldman. She agrees that new technology fabrics that “look great, are mildew and stain resistant, are easily cleaned, and have a good hand, meaning they feel good to the touch. All of which are very important.”
No matter the trend — whether time-honored traditional or more modern and sexy — at the end of the day it’s all about what the client wants, all the designers agree.
“We always work with the client’s sensibility,” says the designing duo from Design House. “And advocate a mix of styles. That is truly the job of an interior designer; to create a balance of textures and finishes and styles that is tasteful and classic.”
’Tis true, says Ms. Babcock. It’s not about what’s hot right now, or even the designer’s personal taste. After all, it’s the client who has to end up living with the choices that have been made.
“Ultimately, the client should decide the palette and what they want their house to look and feel like,” she says. “Hopefully in choosing a designer, they will choose one whose style and palette align with their own aesthetic vision.”