Fourteen years ago, when landscape designer Lisa Bynon and Mona Nerenberg, owner of the beloved home goods store Bloom, were hunting for a new house outside the bustle of Sag Harbor, they almost passed by an elegant but unassuming home in the hamlet of North Sea. But Mona remembered driving by the house when she was a little girl growing up on Long Island and looked it up. Shockingly, the house was for sale, so she and Lisa jumped in the car to scout it out.
“We came, but no one was living here,” says Lisa. “I said to Mona ‘I’m sure the key is right under the mat’ and sure enough, we found the key, got in the house and walked around for an hour.”
The home, built in 1830, had not been renovated and was just what the couple wanted. “We love old houses,” says Lisa. They called the real estate agent and said they’d like to see the house. They returned the next day, took a quick cruise around, and said they’d like to buy it. “That was it,” says Lisa.
Though the house had never been renovated, its beauty had been covered up by shag carpet inside and poison ivy and tree overgrowth outside. There was no garden, a fact that Lisa set about to quickly remedy. Though overgrown, the property—3 acres surrounded by 6 acres of nature preserve—had great promise. Lisa, whose style leans toward clean lines and understated elegance, cleared the land, creating a great sweep of lawn and garden rooms separated by privet hedges.
For Mona, the interior was a similar exercise in excavation. “Originally, I wanted to take the kitchen, saw it off, and drag it out to the back to make it a guest cottage,” said Mona. “But I’m glad I didn’t do it because that would’ve been an intrusion on the house. My friend [decorator] Mark Cunningham, who helped me, laughed and said, ‘Who would spend money making their house smaller?’ ”
Mona echoed Lisa’s serene garden ambience inside the house. “I like the feeling of space,” says Mona. “I don’t like the feeling of clutter. The only thing you can never have too much of is artwork.” Fortunately, she represents the photographer Michael Dweck and has his work, among others, on the walls.
For a couple who met at Parsons (Mona was there for fashion, and Lisa for illustration), they do occasionally run into creative differences. “When we were working on the house and garden, we both had strong feelings about both, and we kind of learned that the outside is mine and the inside is hers,” said Lisa.
Mona, a near absolutist when it comes to an affinity for natural light, originally argued against any light fixtures at all. “We have a couple of lamps now, but she’s always turning them off,” laughs Lisa.
When the deer obliterated their garden, Lisa designed a fence made of 8-by-8-foot squares with an X pattern in the middle—a stylish take on a smaller deer fence she’d seen at an English estate. Mona hated the fence at first, but Lisa refused to budge. “When it comes to the outside, it’s my way or the highway!” she laughs. Now the couple grow tomatoes, basil, spinach, bok choy, beets, and kale, as well as cutting flowers like dahlias and peonies, in their protected vegetable beds.
Of all the places in the house, the most magical may be the wisteria arbor, which Lisa planted the year they moved in. Now, 14 years on, the greedy, gorgeous vine covers the arbor, lending its shade and scent to anyone sitting underneath. “I sit out here all day long,” says Lisa. “I’ll get up in the morning and send my landscaping crews off to work, go to the nursery, then I’m back here under this arbor.”
Unlike so many homeowners who seem fueled to constantly rethink, reconfigure, and reconceive their spaces, for Lisa and Mona there is pleasure in the ease of an edited-down approach.
“We really do love it the way it is,” says Lisa. “We’re grateful that we can be out here.” Each morning the couple wakes and drives to the beach for a walk along the ocean. “Every morning Mona asks, ‘Did you say you were grateful this morning?’ says Lisa, “and I always say, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
By Kirk Reed Forrester | Photography by Tria Giovan
- Garden design, Lisa Bynon of Lisa Bynon Garden Design, 631.283.3438
- Interior design, Mona Nerenberg of Bloom in Sag Harbor, 631.725.5940, and Mark Cunningham, markcunninghaminc.com
- Select art photography by Michael Dweck, represented by Mona Nerenberg at Bloom