Photographs by Francesco Lagnese
Written by Amy Elbert
Produced by Pamela Abrahams
You have to wonder if life isn’t charmed for Patricia and Jeffrey Fisher, a New York couple who live on a street that sounds straight out of a Beatrix Potter book. And with its gardens of nodding hydrangea blooms and clambering clematis vines, their summer cottage on Pudding Hill Lane even looks like a Beatrix Potter illustration. (Relax, Peter; there’s no crabby Mr. McGregor in sight—just a sweet English springer spaniel named Baxter, who is too old to chase rabbits.)
The tale begins in 2007, several years after the two Manhattanites were married. Jeffrey already owned the quirky 1920s-era cottage in “one of the prettiest areas of East Hampton” just blocks from the beach, Patricia says. “It was a beautiful house, but it lacked windows and was rather dark. And it didn’t have good flow. There was no foyer, so when you entered the house you ran right into the staircase,” she explains. Then there were the too-small kitchen (impossible to entertain), old bathrooms (enough said), no air-conditioning, and a miserable heating system. (Patricia resorted to wearing her coat indoors a few winter evenings.)
A New York City interior designer and former art dealer, Patricia had the ability to see what needed to be done. She drew plans that called for tearing out the old living room stairs and adding a two-level foyer with a new staircase, building a kitchen addition on the rear of the house, updating the baths and the mechanical systems, and landscaping the yard.
Now here’s the “charmed” part of the story. The Fishers were able to do all this work in three and a half months. Jeffrey had recently sold his business, so he was able to act as general contractor. With Patricia’s skills and experience as a professional designer, an architect was needed only to sign off on plans for city permits.
Jeffrey lived in the house during construction (in a guest wing that wasn’t being remodeled) and figures they saved more than a third of the total cost by his acting as contractor and being able to hire workers when he needed them.
Patricia would join Jeffrey every Thursday night and review upcoming work with the carpenters. “I’d go over details like molding profiles and other things they would be doing in the week ahead, so I was able to stay one step ahead of them,” she says.
Not everything went smoothly all the time. (This is real life, after all.) Floor joists were rotten, so the original wood floors had to be replaced. But Patricia found new French oak floors that are treated and distressed to look old. “The floors are amazing. They really make the house,” Patricia says. “Because the floors look so authentic, people often ask which barn the wood was salvaged from.”
The front of the house got a makeover with the 16x11-foot foyer addition that incorporates a gracious new wood-paneled stairway. Removing the old stairway from the living room and adding windows to the room transformed what had been an unappealing and dark room into one of the couple’s most lived-in spaces. French doors open to a porch on one side and a brick patio on another—outdoor spaces where they frequently entertain.
Patricia specified moldings and trims that were in keeping with the style and scale of the original house. “They always used plinth blocks [at the base of doors], so we used those here. They’re nice punctuation points at every doorway,” she says. Beadboard ceilings, wainscoting, and other details embellish throughout the house.
In the living room, a simple sisal rug defines the conversation area, with sofas and chairs circling an old French cherry library
table. Patricia and Jeffrey bought the table several years ago, then shortened its legs to make it coffee-table height.
Patricia designed much of the upholstered furniture herself, conscious of the generous scale of the rooms. “I wanted to maintain the East Hampton cottage feel, but at the same time I wanted to bring it up-to-date and make it feel cleaner and airier.”
Whitewashed woods, sand-colored linen fabrics, and sky blue accents speak to the seaside setting. Patricia is frugal with pattern to keep the mood serene and sophisticated, preferring to play with textures, such as the diamond grid of the sisal rug and a plushy tufted armless chair she designed for the living room. “The wood trim on the chair adds a sculptural element to the room,” she notes. Two shapely 1800s Swedish grandfather clocks—one in the living room and another in the breezeway—play a similar sculptural role and introduce Patricia’s fondness for Gustavian antiques with sun-bleached “greige” finishes. “Those gray-green seafoam colors and blues permeate the whole sensibility of the house,” she says. “Everything is restrained, like you put gauze over the colors.”
A decorative faux finisher gave a pair of black-framed mirrors and bedside lamps the Swedish look, painting them gray-green- tinted ivory and distressing them for an aged look. “It became a joke between us,” Patricia recalls. “I’d bring something to the painter, and he’d say, ‘So, do you want to Swedish this up?’”
The former kitchen was converted into one of the house’s quirky spaces: a pantry/bar/office off the living and dining rooms. “Everyone collects in the bar area when we entertain,” she says
The dining room, which had been two small rooms, is painted a dark gray and is now large enough to host candlelit dinners at a round antique table. “It’s the only dark color I used in the house. Because it was the dining room, I thought I’d give it a little drama.”
A new 20x16-foot kitchen that opens to the brick patio encourages the Fishers’ guests to help with food prep and spill out onto the patio to dine. “Those doors in the kitchen and the living room are all open all the time in the summer,” Patricia says.
The existing porch was extended a few feet as well, and cottage-style wicker chairs offer cushy views of the gardens and swimming pool in back. “In the summer, the gardens surrounding the house are all in bloom, so it’s really beautiful.”
Peter Rabbit just has to be sleeping under those bushes.
Interior designer: Patricia Fisher, Patricia Fisher Design, 1111 Park Ave., 11C, New York, NY 10128; 917/324-0586, patriciafisher.com