Home Tour: London Calling in Water Mill
By alice liao
On his frequent business trips to London, Jack Pearson, then an executive in the fashion industry, fell in love with the city’s famed public parks and gardens. “They’re quite spectacular,” the real estate broker says of the beautifully orchestrated green spaces that draw visitors from all over the world while providing locals refuge from the bustle of urban life. The parks held a particular attraction for Pearson, an avid gardener who was living in New York City at the time and yearning for a green sanctuary of his own. “I’m from the Midwest and I used to garden with my mother,” he says. “After being in the city for 10 years, I missed having a house and a garden.”
The opportunity to make up for that loss presented itself when a 1920s cottage in Water Mill suddenly returned to the market, and a friend, knowing Pearson was in search of a weekend home, suggested he take a look. It was pretty much love at first sight. The house, a wood-shingled storybook cape set on a half-acre of what was once farmland, had many of the features Pearson desired. Located across the street from Mecox Bay, it was close to the water and, with its lush, slightly unkempt garden and walls draped in wisteria and ivy, reminded him of the estate in Howard’s End, the Anthony Hopkins-Vanessa Redgrave film that had so enchanted him. Inside the cottage, decorative details such as coffered ceilings, wainscoting, wide-plank pumpkin pine flooring, and ship-lap wall boards appealed to Pearson’s interest in architecture, his major in college. Ten minutes into the house tour, he made an offer.
That was in December 1994. Since then, much has changed in Pearson’s life. A few years after purchasing his home, he moved into it full time, abandoning the fashion business for a career in real estate (currently a broker with The Corcoran Group) and embarking on a series of expansions that transformed the property into what he calls “a compound.” Over the years, he has added a pool, integrated into the landscape with boxwood hedging and bluestone coping to resemble a water feature; a pool house that is fully equipped and winterized to double as a guest cottage; and more recently, a carriage house that is both garage and shelter for guests when it rains during outdoor parties.
All have been rendered with a fidelity to the architectural character and charm of the original house. Playing no small part in the enterprise, architect and close friend John Bjørnen, of Bjørnen Design in Sag Harbor, consulted on the main house and guest cottage and designed the interior of the carriage house. Having renovated and expanded his own cottage from the same era, Bjørnen was instrumental in making everything read as an integrated whole, Pearson says. Both the carriage house and guest cottage appear as if they’d been there for 100 years.
In the main house, the period details that first attracted Pearson have survived through numerous renovations. The coffered ceilings and ship-lapped-wood walls, painted white or in light, classic colors for a timeless look, establish a sense of continuity in the home, even in spaces that were added on later. Where rooms lacked definition, the walls are accented with black-painted interior window sashes. As Bjørnen notes, “The authenticity of the house is fluid.”
Further unifying the home, the décor is traditional yet current, elegant yet comfortable. Finishes, furnishings, and wall and floor coverings mostly tend toward pale neutrals, so as not to compete with Pearson’s extensive collection of art and antiques, prominently displayed throughout. Accessories are eclectic and, at times, unexpected. “The house is very charming, but there’s a quirk to it as you transition through the spaces,” Bjørnen says.
In the living room, for example, oversize, soft-white sofas and a sisal rug provide a fitting backdrop for bold-patterned Kuba cloth pillows, a vintage lacquered Chinese coffee table, and a pair of ebonized faux-bamboo chairs. They coexist with horned sconces that flank a mirror, a table supported on antlers, twin silver chalices, and a bright-red Asian chest. In one corner, an old wingback chair, a family heirloom, was reupholstered and paired with a “fun little taxidermy stool.”
An early remodel converted a two-car garage into a spacious eat-in kitchen, where all meals—even dinner parties—are enjoyed around a table custom-made from reclaimed pine. The majority of the finishes here are white, almost starkly so, to show off a vibrant Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe and a few select furniture pieces. According to Bjørnen, the artwork tells the color story in the room, inspiring a painted yellow antique hutch at one end of the kitchen and an old sea-foam green bench that he had cushioned. Other details, such as beadboard cabinetry and antique pendants, keep the space true to the home’s traditional roots.
There is a formal dining room, where a statue of Ganesha watches over a Biedermeier dining table and Regency sideboard, but Bjørnen notes it’s mostly used for a good game of bridge.
In contrast to the kitchen, the office is rich in color and warm in feel. A wingback chair, upholstered in a rust-toned fabric, a cherry-finished desk, and more of Pearson’s collections create a cozy environment. A wood goat head sculpture and photos of his house when he bought it and of the neighborhood in the 1920s and ’40s share space on a wall covered in tan grass cloth. “The modestly sized room is packed,” Bjørnen notes, “but [Jack] spends a lot of time there, and it gives him joy.”
Directly situated above the kitchen, the master suite has seen its share of face-lifts and remodels. Added on in the 1940s by previous homeowner and anti-Nazi crusader Ira Hirschmann, it was expanded by Pearson and, for continuity, outfitted with wooden walls and a higher coffered ceiling. A whitewashed Ralph Lauren dresser, twin custom white nightstands trimmed in black with brass accents, an oversize striped rug, and animal-print pillows furnish the space in a distinctly masculine black-and-white scheme. Black coral and other decorative accents further enliven the room.
In keeping with Pearson’s sense of hospitality, the house has three guest bedrooms, each with a different, albeit muted, color scheme, ranging from soft and deep blue to silver and gray and sage green. For large-scale entertaining, the original kitchen has been turned into a butler’s pantry and bar with silver accessories.
Of course, Pearson’s pride and joy is his garden, which, through a collaboration with a friend, has blossomed into a sprawling composition of sculpted greenery, vivid and varied flora, intimate vignettes, and winding paths. He tends to it daily, regardless of the time of year. “It’s my solace,” Pearson says. “It makes me happy.”
Photography by costas picadas