French Canadian Francois Simard decided to put on his rollerblades and take a spin down Main Street. Breezing along the sidewalk past posh boutiques, gourmet food shops, and tiny restaurants, he was thinking not about house-hunting, but about going later that day to the beach. And then kismet paid a call.
Francois, from Montreal, explains: "I happened past a real estate office with photos of properties displayed in the window. I had never given thought to buying a house here, but for some reason one of the photos really grabbed my attention, and I decided to go inside and inquire." Still shod in rollerblades, he had to teeter up a flight of stairs to reach the office, where he was told by an agent that the property that had caught his eye consisted of two barns—the older one built roughly 160 years ago. The two buildings had been attached at some point and turned into a dwelling.
That was the good news. The bad news was that the place had been abandoned for several years, it was in disrepair, with two feet of water standing in the basement, and—to further complicate matters—it was under foreclosure. Francois was nevertheless fascinated. He bought the barns, and for the past nine years, he has never once rued the day.
It took eight months to ready the house for habitation, during which Francois replaced all existing windows and added several new ones, including a 28-foot-wide wall of glass windows and doors in the living room. "I am absolutely, totally connected to the island of Bali," he explains. (He discovered the reconfigured barns shortly after returning from a visit to that exotic island.) "And as much as possible, I wanted to create an inside-out feeling like the houses have there," he says. With the new window wall, the terrace becomes an extension of the living room, and vice versa. It’s a perfect layout for summer entertaining.
Bali-esque in feel, if not in fact, are the converted barn’s ebony-stained oak floors, dark wood beams and wainscoting, and walls washed in white. Furnishings in the living room and elsewhere are an eclectic compilation of antiques purchased on world travels, estate-sale and flea-market finds, and certain items that Francois just "happened upon" (like the barn itself) when not even looking. Examples include a pair of old post lamps that he found in a flea market in upstate New York. He turned the shapely fixtures upside down and hung them from the pergola just beyond the living room. The living room’s elegant marble-topped gilt console was plucked from a Palm Beach estate sale, and two rustic wooden stools next to one of the sofas were discovered at a Paris flea market.
Other serendipitous acquisitions are the dining room chairs. Francois spotted them while taking a tour of a furniture-manufacturing company in New Jersey. "The chairs were one-of-a-kind samples from a furniture maker in Europe," he relates. "The company I was visiting had purchased them with thoughts of putting them in a new line, but since they decided not to manufacture the chairs, they agreed to sell them to me. No two are alike, and this makes for an interesting dining room."
Hanging in the stairwell adjoining the dining room are two serigraphs, part of Francois’s large collection of works by French and Canadian artists, nicely set off by a new, but rustic-looking Adirondack-style railing.
The expansive use of fabrics (15 patterns in all) endows this tiny den with decorative distinction. The sofa, which can be used as a bed, was made to measure for the miniscule space, and the chunky chair was gleaned from a yard sale.
Although he is not an interior designer by profession, Francois—who is corporate image director for Kravet, the New York–based fabric and furniture company—is no slouch on matters of style. At the very least, he is well-schooled on the subject of fabrics—their patterns, colors, textures, and weaves—as is clearly evident in his barn abode. In one room, a tiny den off the dining room, his fondness for beautiful fabrics is revealed by the presence of no fewer than 15 colorful patterns, all of which happily, and perhaps amazingly, coexist.
Again, Francois sings the praises of the South Pacific. "In Bali, people lavish their surroundings with gorgeous, fabulously colorful fabrics," he says, "and I decided to do the same in the den. Rather than dismiss the room because of its small size, I wanted to make it special." In casbah fashion, he framed the den doorway with double sets of draperies featuring four different silk fabrics.
In contrast to the den, the statement in the living room is more about simplicity than sumptuousness. Except for the artwork and the greenery outdoors, the serene room’s only color comes from a multihued Pakistani rug that grounds a pair of face-to-face sofas covered in tone-on-tone white damask. "The rug is totally not East Hampton," says Francois, referring, no doubt, to the fact that it isn’t sea grass or sisal.
Because his house is located in the village of East Hampton, not on the beach, Francois decided to create his own view of water with the addition of a new lap pool and an adjacent guest house that he designed to mimic the shape of the main house.
With many friends and business associates, Francois has no shortage of summertime visitors, and the pool house, perched right at the water’s edge, is everyone’s favorite place to stay. Inspired by memories of a hotel he once stayed at in Bali, Francois furnished the guest house with an old, ornately carved wooden bed and topped it with a tent of mosquito netting. There is no linen closet in the room, so he stores blankets, sheets, and pillows under the bed in antique leather suitcases from China.
Because the pool house bath room is also used as a changing room for swimmers, he chose practical, water-resistant, no-slip flagstones for the floor.
With its walls padded and upholstered in a red-and-cream floral fabric, the barn's warm and inviting guest room is separated from its small bath by a draw curtain in a blue, cream, and red cotton stripe. The bath boasts an airy open shower in a red mosaic tile.
Overnight visitors who fail to get first dibs on the pool house are by no means disappointed by the digs provided them in the main house. The guest room, one of two bed rooms in the converted barn, is a delightful, très French space embraced by walls padded and upholstered in red floral fabric. Francois describes it as "cozy, warm, and quiet as can be."
Francois’s own under-the-eaves aerie is no less inviting. It features its own sitting area furnished with a pair of antique leather chairs and ottoman and an outdoor balcony from which he can survey his beautiful and very special surroundings.
Francois enjoys his bike as much as his rollerblades.
And to think that rollerblades and a real estate office is where it all started.
Photography: Barbel Miebach