The ultra-creative Robert McKinley designs a vivacious beach house - inside and out - in Montauk.
A custom dining table, designed by Robert McKinley, anchors the airy vaulted dining area overlooking the sea.
“In anything creative, we always have to think like a child without boundaries,” says interior designer Robert McKinley of his approach to his work. Given this refreshingly unpretentious point of view, it’s easy to see why the New York City-based visionary has become known for the playfully chic spaces he designs for residential clients and super-stylish hospitality venues, such as The Hall hotel in Miami Beach, Sant Ambroeus in Palm Beach, GoldBar in New York, and both Ruschmeyer’s and The Surf Lodge in Montauk. And when tapped by the owner of this oceanside Montauk dwelling to remake the home inside and out, the designer was free to pull out all the stops in creating a retreat that artfully demonstrates his talent for crafting whimsically sophisticated spaces for living.
Originally built in the 1960s, the house sits high on a bluff with spectacular 180-degree views of the beach and the Atlantic. Working with OI Architecture + Design out of Brooklyn as project architect, McKinley and his team started by introducing as many windows as possible on the south side of the house to take advantage of the waterfront istas. “We also made sure that the exterior decks connected to one another and made the indoor and outdoor transition as easy as possible,” he adds.
Sitting high on a bluff, the house was renovated to include as many windows on the south side as possible to take advantage of the view. A funky spiral stair connects exterior decks on different levels.
On the interiors, the design team had the luxury of starting from scratch to create spaces that blend the owner’s taste with his lifestyle. “It is the home of a single man with kids in high school and college, and he wanted to make sure the house felt comfortable, approachable, and very connected to the ocean and the beach,” says McKinley. “We did a full gut renovation down to the studs,” says the designer, who ultimately transformed the 4,100-square-foot, fivebedroom, four-bath vacation house into a welcoming year-round getaway.
An art collector who loves fishing and everything that has to do with the ocean, the owner also uses the home for entertaining, dinner parties, and beach hangouts. As such, says McKinley, “we worked hand-in-hand with him to present lots of different finishes, materials, and textiles that would be casual enough for the beach, yet still sophisticated and high-quality.” With broad license to create inviting interior spaces, the designers riffed off the “beach modernist” aesthetic favored by the client by combining retro midcentury pieces, such as some wonderful French sconces and hanging Noguchi pendant lamps, with custom elements of their own design—notably a plush sectional sofa with a built-in bookcase in the living room, the ribbed wooden front door, and a white-oak double bed with a leather inlay headboard, all of them crafted locally in New York.
A gorgeous custom bed with an organic wooden headboard designed by Robert McKinley stands as a centerpiece in the master bedroom.
Works from the owner’s substantial art collection— including an Alexander Calder tapestry, a Nicholas Weber oil painting, a Matthew Satz piece, and a stunning Jill Platner hanging sculpture in the living room—inject the rooms with extra shots of personality, while finely crafted millwork and details add to the sense of quality. “I designed most of the brass hardware in the house and had it produced at a very old foundry in Paris,” says McKinley. “We wanted to use very high quality Barber Wilson & Co. fittings and finishes that felt good when you used them and touched them,” he adds. The master bathroom’s hand-carved marble double sink, which was manufactured in Italy, is another a standout custom piece. The owner’s only request for the master bath, says the designer, was to make it “very special”—a feat he managed to pulled off here and throughout the house with characteristic flair. robertmckinley.com