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Captains Courageous

Designer Nick Olsen charts a course for bold color and pattern in an adventurous client’s historic Sag Harbor home

Written by Sally Finder Weepie / Produced by Tori Mellott
  • John Bessler

    Great white whale? Hmm. Lapis blue might be more interesting. Because while Michael Lorber was captivated by an old sea captain’s home in Sag Harbor, New York, he wasn’t so smitten by its ubiquitous neutrals. However, he knew just the designer to weave compelling twists into the story line of his newly purchased abode: Nick Olsen, one-time Miles Redd protégé, 2012 Traditional Home New Trad, patron of color, and proponent of pattern.

  • John Bessler

    “I wanted a lot of color, fun, and nautical flair,” says Michael, a luxury real estate broker. “I wanted a true captain’s house.”

    That he got. The house was built in 1810 by master craftsman Benjamin Glover on Captains’ Row in Sag Harbor during the town’s whaling days. It was added to and combined with a neighboring house in 1850, gaining beautiful Greek Revival-style -columns, moldings, and newels. “The house has such strong history and architecture,” Olsen says. “I was excited to work on it and to bring in Michael’s design ethos. He doesn’t shy from color and pattern—we’re a great fit that way.”

  • John Bessler

    Olsen’s infusion of color starts in the entry hall, where a decorative paint finish by artist Chris Pearson gives walls the look of sunbaked yellow bricks. “I like that yellow is a happy color but also a historical color,” the designer says.

    The thread of yellow continues on upholstered armchairs in the living room, where it pairs with hints of green (a nod to -Michael’s affinity for lettuceware) and an explosion of blue on hand-painted walls.

    “I love Bunny Mellon homes, and I was inspired by the rich blue crosshatch pattern in the dining room of her Manhattan home,” Olsen says. To suit the interior architecture of this historic home, however, Olsen dialed down the drama, bypassing flouncy draperies in favor of simple white linen shades.

  • John Bessler

    In the adjacent dining room, blue reigns once again—this time on a customized de Gournay wallpaper that celebrates the history of Sag Harbor, including its sailing ships and its synagogue, the oldest on Long Island.

    While the scene harks to the past, its hues speak to today. “We recolored the whole design from softer colors to give it high impact,” Olsen says. “It intensifies a historic notion without being overwhelming.”

  • John Bessler

    Navy-and-white-striped shades offer geometric contrast to the organic feel of the wallpaper and subtly reinforce the nautical vibe, which gets another nod in the kitchen courtesy of compass stars on the hand-painted blue-and-white floor.

  • John Bessler

    A blue-and-white pinstripe wallpaper serves as the backdrop for a tufted red leather headboard in Michael’s handsome master suite. Blue linen curtains juxtapose red doors and deep masculine dashes of red in a tapestry rug, one of numerous pieces that Michael brought in from previous homes.

  • John Bessler

    “Nick knows that I’m a sentimental person,” Michael says. “He includes things that are important to me and make me feel at home. It doesn’t feel like I just moved in here. It feels like I’ve been living in this house for 15 years.”

  • John Bessler

    Bits of Michael—via his collected pieces—and blasts of color keep right on coming on the third floor, where each guest room has its own identity. One room pairs emerald green lacquered walls with a soaring floral headboard.

  • John Bessler

    Another teams whimsical, red-and-black rope-motif wallpaper with a geometric headboard and an array of new and previously owned furnishings. “It’s a hodgepodge lodge of pieces brought together for the comfort and delight of Michael’s guests,” Olsen says.

  • John Bessler

    Among the unexpected surprises are Michael’s art pieces. “He collects all genres of art, from Lichtenstein to nautical pieces that he finds on eBay. He even has vintage needlework that sailors used to do when they were bored at sea,” Olsen says. “He has a sense of humor, personality.”

    In fact, personality shines throughout the home. “There’s something to look at in every room, but it’s not a circus house—it feels inviting,” Olsen says. “I love the mix of colors and textures, the study in contrasts. In the end, I appreciate history, but I don’t want a home to read as a museum. I want to bring it into today.”