With mementos, photographs, art and vintage objects, photographer Ben Watts infuses his Montauk summer house with an English accent.
A quintet of bathing beauties shot by Watts and mounted on skateboards adorn a wall in the main house
Step inside the Montauk house of photographer Ben Watts, and it readily becomes clear that his is a home well loved. In fact, it’s been that way from the start. “I had been looking around in upstate New York and put down a deposit on a house I’d found there, but the seller suddenly took it off the market,” recalls Watts of his initial search for a getaway home, 20 years ago. “I was never convinced it was the right area for me, so I started looking in Montauk because I love the beach,” he says. “There’s something to be said for the phrase ‘curbside appeal,’ because as soon as I found this place on East Lake Drive, the house really spoke for itself. It was kind of like love at first sight.”
A sculpture/collage Ben Watts created for an elephant charity adds color to the grounds
Beyond his instant attraction to the Cape Cod-style house, Watts could check off a few other boxes that made it more appealing. “Back then, it was a lot of money for me; it was as much as my apartment in the city, but the price and condition of the house suited me—it was a good starter house,” he recalls. So he bought it on the spot and quickly settled in with some basic furnishings and few alterations.
Photos by Watts and others brighten a guest house stairwell
Over time, Watts’ commitment to the house has never wavered, but it hasn’t been blind. He easily identified areas that could benefit from improvement and, as circumstances allowed, he gradually tackled them. “The house has a lot of charm, a lot of personality, but I rebuilt it twice,” he admits. “It was an old fisherman’s cottage with good bones, but eventually I heightened the pitch of the roof, added new wooden shingles and expanded the dormers outside,” he explains. “I also exposed the beams, refinished some walls with reclaimed wood and took out other walls to make more livable space inside.” He also installed a pool and built a pool house, added an Airstream and a treehouse (which serve as de facto clubhouses for his 9-year-old daughter and her friends) and bought the house next door, converting it into a guest house.
Chairs from a Bowery restaurant-supply store next to an outdoor fireplace by the pool house
As his house evolved and the property began taking shape as a veritable compound, Watts teamed up with designer Staci Dover five years ago to help him redefine the furniture scheme to suit the improved interiors and redo the guest house. A photographer of celebrities, fashion and numerous clothing brands, Watts possesses an intuitive sense of style. “I wanted a warm beachy feeling,” he says of the initial vision for the interiors he shared with the designer. And given his upbringing in a creative household in England—his father was a sound engineer for the British band Pink Floyd, his mother was a wardrobe stylist, and his sister is the actor Naomi Watts—he naturally lives an artful life and came equipped with a few choice antiques, Union Jack accoutrements, English paraphernalia and substantial works of art by contemporary artists like Peter Beard and Damien Hirst. So he worked with Dover to “start from scratch” and furnish the house with classic pieces that would stand the test of time, then pepped it up with his own art and accents. “I have a lot of bits and pieces, including graffiti art, as well as a base of my own photographs,” he says, “so I wanted the house to have an urban, energetic quality, too.”
A Damien Hirst skull looms over the main house’s otherwise sunny living room
Regularly traveling for photo shoots around the world—often with his girlfriend, Gabriela Langone, a stylist who often works with him—Watts sees his Hamptons house as a relaxed counterpoint to his hectic life and the city apartment he shares with Langone in Chelsea. It’s also a place where the pair frequently play host to a significant crowd of family and friends. “My sister has a place in Amagansett and often comes and stays in the guest house with her kids,” says Watts. “I also have many friends and extended family who visit, so a lot of people flow through.” Layered with plenty of family-friendly elements—including a custom massive communal table on the lawn that seats 25 and a finished basement complete with a video game station and a foosball table—it’s no surprise that Watts’ home is as beloved a retreat for his relatives and friends as it is for himself.