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A Serene Retreat

With care and imagination, a creative couple restore their Hamptons home to its original elegance and design a garden to match
home and gardens of landscape designer Lisa Bynon and Mona Nerenberg, , owner of the beloved home goods store Bloom
A view of the house from the fern garden. Lisa used privet hedges at various heights to create garden rooms.

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.

wisteria-covered outdoor dining terrace
The wisteria arbor off the back of the house is Lisa’s favorite place. “I sit under this arbor for hours each day,” she says.
a mix of midcentury and antique furniture in a white and neutral living room decorated by Mona Nerenberg. A large garden-style arrangement of white blooms adorns an antique wood table placed in a nook created by a bay window
The couple’s living room features a Michael Dweck photograph and a monochromatic palette that makes the space feel airy and uncluttered.

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.

“I wanted something really simple that looked like it had always been there. I didn’t want it to look like a Hamptons garden that you spent a fortune on.” — Lisa Bynon
vegetable garden parterre, Lisa Bynon Hamptons garden
Raised beds offer a variety of produce and flowers throughout the growing season.

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.

In the living room, an antique mirror hangs above a mantel that’s original to the 1830 house.

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.

uncovered patio, woven outdoor furniture with blue and white striped cushions, Hamptons garden
The terrace offers sweeping views of the lawn and gardens, as well as the nature preserve beyond the property.

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.”

climbing roses, deer fence by landscape designer Lisa Bynon
David Austin roses climb the deer fence Lisa created in her vegetable garden to ward off four-legged intruders.
single white dahlia bloom in a bulbous glass bottle
She loves cutting flowers from the garden, such as this dahlia on a bedside table.

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.’ ”

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Four olive trees in wooden containers anchor the lavender garden, which is surrounded by a privet hedge.
Lisa’s deer fence provides protection, structure, and visual interest.

By Kirk Reed Forrester | Photography by Tria Giovan

Sources

  • 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

This story originally appeared in Flower magazine’s July/August 2021 issue. Find Flower in a store near you or subscribe.