Photographs by John Bessler
Written by Amy Elbert
Produced by Eleanor Roper
Houses do have voices. Maybe they’re not audible to all, but designer Eric Cohler clearly was listening when he reverently renovated an architecturally significant Long Island home. The glass-and-masonry International Style house was designed by the late modernist architect Edward Durell Stone for A. Conger Goodyear, a highly regarded art collector and founder and first president of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
“I felt like I was channeling A. Conger Goodyear,” Eric says of his four-year renovation. While the structure was “nearly derelict” after sitting vacant for a half century (inside were bird and animal droppings, termites, and a collapsed roof), Eric heard the echoes of its glamorous past.
There were cocktail parties attended by famous artists in the glass-walled, cylindrical dining room. After supper, the dining table—mounted on a motorized post—was lowered to floor level to allow for dancing. French doors opened the house to multiple terraces and a swimming pool, with views of Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, and the glittering night lights of New York City.
Architect Stone designed the low, flat-roofed house as a weekend retreat for Goodyear, with deep eaves that shaded the art within from direct sunlight. The two men had met when Stone was helping design the first permanent home for MoMA.
While much of the 6,000-square-foot house spoke of art and glamour, the kitchen’s voice was hardly inspiring. “The kitchen was very tight and dark. It was originally designed for the way families lived then, with a butler and staff who took care of the house,” Eric says.
The working area of the kitchen was surrounded by a cluster of small rooms, including a butler’s pantry, laundry room, maid’s quarters, a narrow basement stairway, and two powder rooms (“his" and "hers” for Goodyear’s large dinner parties).
The kitchen had been updated in the ’60s, but the yellow metal cabinets were badly rusted, and the terra-cotta floor tiles (installed over black linoleum) were loose. “The metal cabinets and other fixtures weren’t original to the house, so we didn’t keep them,” Eric says. “My goal was to bring the home into the 21st century—to make a functional kitchen designed for the way families live today—but still make it look like it could have been built in the ’30s,” he says.
That meant blowing out walls where structurally possible and eliminating outdated rooms to gain square footage for the kitchen. The former servants’ quarters were converted into a sunny breakfast room and a walk-in storage pantry. The his-and-her powder rooms were decommissioned, and that space was integrated into the kitchen and used for a redesigned stairway to the lower level.
“Now everything circulates and is open, so people in the kitchen can talk to someone in the breakfast room or butler’s pantry,” Eric says. The new stairway gives access to the formerly unfinished basement. After hauling away a behemoth original furnace from that level, Eric installed hand-scraped maple floors, creating new living space.
To introduce natural light, the designer added a large rectangular skylight in the kitchen, a round skylight above the new stairs, and French doors in the breakfast room that go to a landscaped courtyard (formerly a parking lot for staff and delivery trucks). Three original steel-framed windows on the sink wall were stripped and restored, and all new windows and doors were custom made to replicate the originals—down to the hardware.
Eric grounded the kitchen with a black-and-white checkerboard floor. The classic floor pattern is typical of those used in midcentury homes, the designer notes, and repeats the grid motif that architect Stone used throughout the property.
An original cabinet in the butler’s pantry inspired Eric’s cabinetry choice for the kitchen. The walnut and macassar ebony veneer cabinets are accented with inset mirrored strips and polished nickel hardware. “They looked like something you would have seen in a well-built Bauhaus building back in the ’30s—contemporary with a little dash of glamour,” Eric says. “I could just imagine a black-and-white movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in the kitchen.”
The original butler’s pantry piece that inspired the cabinetry choice was restored and installed in the master bath. To add variety and avoid overwhelming the kitchen space with dark surfaces, a bow-front dresser and a few other cabinets were painted dove gray.
For the countertops the designer chose a white Danby marble that also seemed period appropriate, although he concedes that builders in the ’30s and ’40s didn’t generally use marble in kitchens. “That was one concession to the 21st century,” he says. “We loved the marble look and found stone that looked aged--—like it could be 70 years old.”
In keeping with today’s kitchen as a social hub, Eric furnished the space with comfortable seating. Bar stools upholstered in easy-care indoor-outdoor fabrics pull up to a breakfast bar separating the work area from the breakfast room.
A settee covered in a charcoal fabric serves as a cozy banquette behind the custom-designed pedestal table. Spills can be easily wiped clean with soap and water, making the furniture virtually indestructible. Above the table hangs a lantern light fixture that Eric designed—again channeling Stone’s geometric motifs.
In the circular, glass-walled dining room, slipcovered skirted dining chairs surround the round table. The simple linear shapes of the chairs are in tune with the room’s modern influences, and casters on the feet allow for easy movement across the stone floor.
The original wood dining table top was too water-damaged to restore, so Eric had a walnut top custom-made and mounted on the existing post. The motorized lift was a casualty of years of neglect. “The motor was burned out, but the wires are still there,” he says, leaving the job for a future dance-loving homeowner.
While light-blocking draperies weren’t required, thanks to the architect’s deep overhangs, Eric had soft sheers fashioned from fabric to gently filter the sun and provide privacy in the exposed dining room.
Most rooms in the house have at least one wall of glass, and Eric landscaped the five acres of surrounding grounds to make the most of the views. He designed and had built several modern kinetic sculptures, added groves of trees, and furnished terraces with plush all-weather armchairs and sofas.
“I had the exterior finished in the first six months. That was the first thing I did,” Eric says. “I wanted to drive up and feel I had
arrived at this beautiful structure that had finally had its due. It was in the sun again, alive, no longer a static object but kinetic. It now moves with its environment.”
A house with a voice that is ready to be heard from again.
Interior Designer: Eric Cohler, Eric Cohler Design, 95 Fifth Avenue, Sixth Floor, New York, NY 10003, 212/737-8600, ext. 28; ericcohler.com.
Architect: Edward Durell Stone
Plumbing, electric, refinishing: Stephen Fanuka, Fanuka Inc., 718/353-4518, fanuka.com.
Sponsors: Armstrong World Industries, Inc. 800/233-3823, armstrong.com.
Circa Lighting, 877/762-2323, circalighting.com.
Lee Industries, 800/892-7150, leeindustries.com.
Sunbrella, 336/227-6211, sunbrella.com.