Jamie Drake, Drake Design Associates, 315 E. 62nd St., New York, NY 10021; 212/754-3099, drakedesignassociates.com.
Photographs by John Bessler
Written and produced by Jenny Bradley
Arnie and Elizabeth Lizan like to color outside the lines--a predisposition evident the moment you step inside their stately Greek Revival home in Bellport, New York. While the exterior may seem formal and restrained, the interiors are more Picasso than predictable.
Unexpected moments abound. Contemporary pieces from artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein hang above intricately carved marble mantels typically crowned with works by William Glackens or Thomas Sully. Where one would anti-cipate the banal, bold color reveals itself. Even the "front" stairway refuses to conform and, instead, resides at the rear of the house--a nod to the home's original orientation toward Bellport Bay to welcome guests arriving by boat.
Built in 1838 and at one time dilapidated and nearly demolished, the handsome structure now radiates graciousness and informality. The exterior may express grandeur, but inside, formal attire is not required. In fact, it's heartily discouraged.
"I've always wanted to be like the old woman in the shoe," laughs Elizabeth. "This house really satisfies that need. We invite people for a week, and we keep them for two. I'm so happy we were able to bring it to life. It's just a happy house."
While traditional architecture is honored, the couple's love for art takes center stage. Since their serendipitous encounter on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1992, their lives have revolved around that passion. Art consultants (Lizan Tops Contemporary is based in New York City), they sold their art gallery in East Hampton in 2004 and relocated.
"We wanted something less trendy than the Hamptons. Bellport is so untrendy that it's difficult to find a good espresso," jokes Elizabeth. "It has an idyllic New England feel."
But while they fell head-over-heels for Bellport and this Greek Revival home, they had one concern--pairing a contemporary art collection with classic 19th-century architecture. The solution? Pick up the phone and call New York designer and close friend Jamie Drake, a man who knows a thing or two about historic homes but has a Picasso-worthy trick or two up his sleeve as well--not to mention an eclectic roster of clients ranging from Madonna to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Jamie has a flamboyant, colorful side," says Elizabeth. "We wanted to take a traditional house and add something contemporary and edgy. He was the perfect person to do that." Perfect, because he's also not a stay-inside-the-lines kind of guy.
"Arnie and Elizabeth were immediately seduced by the house. We all were," says Drake."It has fabulous proportions and a charming sequence of rooms. I wanted to create spaces that had the period ambience and yet were strong enough to accept some oftentimes shockingly contemporary art."
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the library, where a Lichtenstein painting--at home among the otherwise ultra traditional decor--resides above a black marble mantel original to the house. Across the room, Andy Warhol's tribute to Marilyn Monroe peers seductively over the bar amidst sumptuous swags and a menagerie of antiques. Although purchased after the completion of the house, both works of art are perfect foils for the library's bright Prussian blue walls that are based on a 19th-century Federal color but intensified for drama à la Drake. "As art dealers, we love color," notes Arnie. "Jamie just pushed us toward bolder choices."
In the front parlor--accessible to the library through pocket doors--Drake used a slightly deeper blue to complement the library and allow the room to hold its own in the company of two powerful pieces. One, an ornate mirror, was purchased by the home's original owner and deeded with the property. The second, Flumequine by artist Damien Hirst, is flanked by a pair of 18th-century Italian chairs dressed in delicate floral fabric.
"We love that each room is historically correct, yet has some quirkiness," notes Arnie. "We bought a historic home and wanted to maintain that tradition and history, yet incorporate our love of color and contemporary art."
There's more to this home than enviable bone structure and an astonishing art collection. The women of the house have a history of involvement. Sarah Birdsall, who lived here until 1940, was a vigorous supporter of women's suffrage and was active in the Bellport Village Improvement Society, successfully fighting to keep Montauk Highway from invading Bellport.
In keeping with that philanthropic heritage, Drake employed artisans from Alpha Workshops (a nonprofit organization that trains individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the decorative arts) to create several hand-painted wall coverings and faux marble finishes for the kitchen and dining room.
"We wanted the kitchen to feel back-of-house and front-of-house at the same time," Drake says. "The eggshell crackle wall covering gives the sense of patina, while the faux-painted marble floor relates to the wainscoting in the dining room."
The dining room's icy blue palette and Greek Key molding were inspired by one of the designer's most well-known projects--Gracie Mansion, official residence of the mayor of New York City. A 19th-century mantel, marbleized wainscoting, and shimmering chandelier create a formal environment, despite the fact that most of the entertaining here involves bare feet hiding under the lavish folds of the silk table skirts.
Upstairs, Arnie and Elizabeth can't quite commit to a master bedroom--they move from one bedroom to the next, depending on their mood. A favorite at the moment is a strikingly offbeat bedroom tucked under the eaves on the third floor. "It's dreamlike," says Drake. "We covered the walls and ceiling with a lavender grasscloth."
On the second floor, lavender hues are continued in a guest room that overlooks the back garden and pool, while green window treatments and upholstery temper the hummingbird-flecked wallpaper. Out the window is yet another nod to the quirky nature of this historic home. At the end of the pool sits a post office-turned-pool house--an addition by a previous owner whose great-aunt was a postmaster.
Embellished with a cluster of crimson roses, it's a reminder of this home's lineage and refusal to play by the rules--the perfect residence for a couple searching for a charming, small-town abode. "Sometimes things are just meant to be," says Elizabeth. "I feel that this house, and Bellport, found us."