A couple in love with each other and their home - 27 East


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A couple in love with each other and their home

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This 9,500-square-foot English manor-style home in North Haven sits on almost 6 acres and overlooks Noyac Bay.

This 9,500-square-foot English manor-style home in North Haven sits on almost 6 acres and overlooks Noyac Bay.

Dinah Maxwell Smith

Dinah Maxwell Smith

Work continues on the expansion to Southampton Elementary School.

Work continues on the expansion to Southampton Elementary School.

Work continues on the expansion to Southampton Elementary School.

Work continues on the expansion to Southampton Elementary School.

author on Sep 24, 2009

When Richard Demato and Harriet Sawyer talk about how they found their dream home—a nearly 6-acre property overlooking Noyac Bay in North Haven—it’s like listening to soul mates talk about how they fell passionately in love at first sight.

“The first time we saw this property it was wintertime and there was snow on the ground. We came down this long driveway, saw all these beautiful old trees and then took in the magnificent water view. We just knew,” said Mr. Demato, his voice filled with emotion and his eyes filling with tears.

“It was just meant to be,” added Ms. Sawyer, smiling at her husband.

That’s saying a lot for a couple who has traveled the globe together, and lived in several magazine spread-worthy homes during their 25 years together.

Now a respected artist, Ms. Sawyer achieved fame as a textile designer in the 1970s and early 1980s as founder of New Wave Fabrics, a boutique textile company that brought back the lost art of using printed rayon fabrics in fashion design. For her innovations, she was honored by the Fashion Institute of Technology, along with designers Calvin Klein and Norma Kamali, at a career-capping event at the United Nations in 1994.

After meeting in the 1980s, the couple founded a successful global textile and manufacturing business, which required extensive travel to Europe and the Orient.

“We probably flew six million miles between 1985 and 2002, so contrary to most people who want to travel later in their lives, we were ready to put down roots somewhere,” acknowledged Mr. Demato, who is now a licensed real estate agent with Brown Harris Stevens in Sag Harbor and president of the board of The Retreat, an East Hampton-based organization devoted to providing safety, shelter and support to victims of domestic abuse.

Although the couple had spent time antiquing in the Hamptons when they first met, they initially shied away from buying a home here because they “kept running into clients from the city.”

Instead, in 1992, the couple bought a home on one of Connecticut’s Thimble Islands—a 15,000-square-foot Tudor-style mansion on Rogers Island. The historic 1902 home, built for John J. Phelps of Phelps Dodge Copper fame, was accessible only by boat and provided the private “getaway” experience they sought.

“Harriet and I spent long weekends there, even in the dead of winter when you needed a special boat to cut through the ice,” Mr. Demato said. “It was an enchanting adventure in self-sufficiency, but after 11 years, it got tiring carting all the food and trash off the island.”

After Mr. Demato required knee and shoulder surgeries and a hip replacement, it became evident that it was time for this “very methodical” couple to start a new search for a dream home on the mainland.

“We looked at an exhausting number of homes in Watch Hill and Newport, Rhode Island, and along the coast in Montecito and Malibu, California. We even looked at Katharine Hepburn’s home in Connecticut,” he said.

“We knew exactly what we wanted, an old house on the water with no road noise,” added Ms. Sawyer. “What I really wanted, I guess, was my old house! I wish I could have just put it on a barge and moved it to another location.”

“Finally, a long-time friend said, ‘Why don’t you take a look at Sag Harbor? It’s really a special place.’ So we came out on a Friday night, had dinner at the American Hotel, and the next day went out with a realtor. We ended up buying the very first house we saw in Sag Harbor,” said Mr. Demato, laughing. “We felt at home here immediately.”

Sitting on the North Haven property they fell in love with was a 2,500 square foot ranch house from the 1950s that “was not the old house on the water” they wanted, but it was livable and had plenty of space to build a new dream home from the ground up.

“It was truly serendipitous that we found this property. We found nautical chart wallpaper in the ranch house’s bathroom, with a thumb tack noting the location of the house. Directly above it was the island we were living on in Connecticut,” Mr. Demato said, shaking his head at the irony.

The couple closed on the property on March 12, 2003 and lived in the original house until July 1, when they moved into an interim house—an 1860s Greek revival on Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton—so that construction on the new house could begin.

Since the couple already had blueprints from their Connecticut house and knew “every detail and feeling” they wanted to re-create in the new house, finding an architect for the new project—someone who could resist putting his “own mark” on the house—proved a bit challenging.

In the end, the couple relied on their own design skills, with input from Ms. Sawyer’s architect son, Jonas M. Goldberg, as well as local architect Bill Sclight who “helped pull the pieces together along the way.”

They broke ground on the 9,500-square-foot, five-bedroom, eight-bath English manor-style home in July 2003 and moved in exactly two years later. Today, they share the house with their “four-legged kids,” Rascal, an “elder” Rottweiler, and Buster, a rambunctious French bulldog.

“The home’s interior and exterior detailing was inspired by 1860s English architect Edwin Lutyens and American architects McKim, Mead and White,” noted Ms. Sawyer. “We were on site at 5:30 every morning to move the project along.”

The couple said they deliberately designed some rooms in the house to be “long and skinny with windows on two sides to take advantage of the light and all the water views. All of the bedrooms were placed toward the back of the house so that the couple (and guests, including the couple’s three grown children) could wake up to sweeping water views.

On the first floor, the home features a large 25-foot-by-40-foot “epicurean dream kitchen,” complete with a wok station and stone fireplace; a formal living room filled with works of art, a baby grand piano and Biedermeier furniture; a richly-paneled circular alcove/library; a formal dining room; paneled billiard room with fireplace and pool table; a spacious guest suite; and maid quarters.

The master suite, additional bedrooms and office space are found on the second level.

Downstairs, the basement features a fully-equipped gymnasium, movie theater and fully-stocked wine cellar. An elevator provides access to all levels.

The couple is quick to give credit where credit is due. The said that they feel very lucky to have found local tradesmen who were so skilled in their craft.

“We hired the best of the best and they really put their heart and soul into the project. Michael Delesia did all the framing and beam work. Weber and Grahn did all the HVAC work. Michael Verdi was an excellent artist who did all the interior carpentry and trim ... And Vincent Liot installed all the copper gutters, the slate roof, and offered many an aesthetic opinion,” noted Mr. Demato. “Robert Kessler, who worked on many of architect Norman Jaffe’s projects, was a master at creating the river rock fireplaces and installing all the stonework.”

Natural materials were used throughout the house, including brick, Pennsylvania river rock, stucco and copper. Reclaimed wood from an upstate lumber supplier also figured prominently into the design.

“There are seven widths of chestnut flooring throughout the house. Harriet got down on her hands and knees and sorted all the wood according to width and color,” Mr. Demato explained. “The massive beams we have in the house, including in the kitchen ceiling design, were once pilings from Baltimore Harbor and some still have seashells in them.”

The massive custom walnut front door, which is so heavy that it required steel reinforcement, took a year to build and was inspired by a McKim, Mead and White design. For the interior wood doors, now bleached a light color, the couple reclaimed doors that once resided in the tony Savoy Hotel in England.

The lighting fixtures were a whole other story in innovation and global sourcing, according to the couple.

“We fell in love with an antique lighting sconce we found on one of our travels, and it was quite an accomplishment to re-create it,” Ms. Sawyer said. “The glass came from Czechoslovakia, the brass from India, the wood from Jamaica—and it was assembled in Brooklyn! There are 61 replicas throughout the house.”

Ms. Sawyer said she is most proud of the impressive stacking three-story entry staircase, which was built on site and proved to be a design challenge which took months to complete.

As is fitting a house on the water, nautical touches can be found throughout the home—from an antique ship captain’s desk in Ms. Sawyer’s office to old ship models and an oval lighthouse-style window at the second floor staircase landing. One of the home’s most charming features is a one-of-a-kind, highly-lacquered “bunk room,” which sleeps four and looks like it got plucked right out of a pirate’s tall ship.

Since Ms. Sawyer is an artist, and spends up to five hours a day mixing colors and painting in her studio on the property, she has devoted a great deal of energy to the creation of custom interior wall colors.

“I wanted a cream color in the kitchen that looked like it had been here for many years, so the painters and I concocted something called ‘Man in the Moon Mix,’ which was a blend of seven different colors and took quite a while to achieve,” she said.

Overall, the home’s color palette integrates a pleasing mix of colors inspired by the sea, sky and earth. Ms. Sawyer also was intimately involved in the creation of the home’s seven fireplaces, including the living room’s limestone fireplace, which was inspired by a 16th century farmhouse design.

“It arrived from Mexico in 155 pieces and no diagram and Bob Kessler and I somehow figured out how to put it together,” she laughed.

Connoisseurs of fine art, the couple has amassed an impressive collection of works over the years. The home contains pieces by almost 50 local and internationally-renowned artists, including Michael Viera, Mickey Paraskevas, Daria Deshuk, Jamie Wyeth, Joaquin Vergara, Mersad Berber, Jack Gerber, Tom Mostyn, Osvaldo Salas and Matteo Lo Greco.

“We’ve been buying and selling art for years and still have our first joint purchase, ‘The Shell,’ a painting by James Del Grosso, which hangs over Harriet’s desk in her upstairs office,” Mr. Demato said.

Last month, he opened his own art gallery, Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery on Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Fans of Ms. Sawyer’s work can find some of her paintings there and Mr. Demato said a percentage of all proceeds will be donated to The Retreat.

It’s no surprise that the lush landscape outside also provides a canvas for the couple’s creative energy. Ms. Sawyer designed the extensive gardens by herself, with some assistance from designer Nick Rutherford. Joining the property’s original beech, oak and holly trees are plantings of boxwood, nesting spruces, azalea, wisteria, lavender Provence and a profusion of other colorful flowers.

The outdoor space includes covered porches, a charming outdoor dining pavilion with vintage wicker furniture, heated Gunite swimming pool, poolhouse, stone hot tub, koi pond with waterfall and sunken tennis and basketball courts.

“We love to entertain and eat outside because the sunsets are so spectacular. Sometimes it looks like the sky is on fire,” Mr. Demato said.

“This house has become a passion for us. Yes, we have collections and ‘things’ from our travels and life together, but nothing is as meaningful to us as the house itself and how it was developed,” Ms. Sawyer noted. “This was an evolutionary process from the beginning to the end. In any creative project, you have to be open to all the possibilities. Because, as we found out, the best things come out of those possibilities.”

Words spoken like a couple truly in love.

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