Open to the Breezes 

An illustrious fashion designer finds inspiration in Sagaponack
Beams from an old barn, brought down from Vermont, help create a traditional feeling in this contemporary house. Two standard garage doors bring air and light into the living room. This one, which faces the pool, is often left open. The table in both photos was designed by Joe Durso. Douglas Friedman Photographs

Tom Flynn, an interior designer based in East Hampton as well as Manhattan, is a hard man to catch up with. He admits to spending exhausting days both in and out of the studio, but when something strikes his imagination, he is all there. Take, for example, the 12-foot-high screen in Elie Tahari’s Sagaponack house. 

Originally a conveyer belt used to transport ice, Mr. Flynn found it “rolled up and standing in a corner of a huge old dusty barn in Vermont filled with all sorts of things for sale. The finish and patina of the oak was gorgeous, and I was intrigued.” Curious about what it was, Mr. Flynn hauled it outside and unrolled it, and then thought, “If I could get this thing to stand securely upright it could be used as a sort of antique version of a Ray and Charles Eames screen, to separate the bar and kitchen/dining area from the living room” in Mr. Tahari’s house.

Several images of the magnificent screen, which was stood on end and secured to the Tahari barn’s ceiling beams with steel cables so thin you can barely see them, are among the 150 photographs by Douglas Friedman in “The Seaside House: Living On the Water,” with text by Nick Voulgaris, which will be published by Rizzoli next month and retail for $55. Given that the East End has multiple waterfronts, and many, many remarkable estates, it is no surprise that some of the houses in the 240-page book are in our neighborhood: East Hampton, Shelter Island, Southampton, and Sagaponack. The houses range from a simple cottage in Greenport to one that can truly be called a mansion, in Newport, R.I.

Elie Tahari’s oceanfront house was a 19th-century Vermont barn, brought here and rebuilt about 15 years ago. To preserve its beams and the whole interior, the house was cloaked in a modern, shingled skin. You cannot see that it once was a barn until you get inside. Now it is an idyllic summer home filled with light, its core one large room with a 35-foot-high ceiling. The east wall is entirely glass, and two glass garage doors, one facing the pool, the other the ocean, let even more light flood in. A master suite fills the entire upstairs, and there is a two-bedroom, two-bath addition. 

Mr. Flynn is credited with the comfortable look of the interiors, and Edwina von Gal, the prominent landscape designer, with the surrounding natural-look grounds. She and her husband, the late Jay Chiat, had lived in the house before it was purchased by Mr. Tahari and his wife, Rory, a model. (They have two children and remain close after being separated.)

Mr. Flynn said he could be called a modernist, but that the interior design of the Tahari house does not have a definitive style. Instead, he said, it is more about a mood and an ease of living — “very much about coming into the house and sitting on the sofa with a wet bathing suit.” 

The house has no window or door screens to interfere with the ocean breezes, and the glass garage doors, which have to be unbolted and lifted by hand, often remain open so that people and pets can walk in and out at will. 

Mr. Voulgaris, the book’s author, keeps a sailboat in Shelter Island waters, where he spends time with his English Labrador, Charlie, when he is not in the West Village. He also is the proprietor of Kerber’s Farm in Huntington, which, similar to farms on the East End, grows organic fruits and vegetables, sells eggs from its own chickens, and baked goods it makes from scratch.

“Mr. Tahari’s home is a sanctuary,” Mr. Voulgaris writes, “a place where he and his family go to rest and relax.” 

The designer is, according to Mr. Flynn, “a very very sensitive soul with enormous appreciation for the creative process.” Mr. Voulgaris concurs:  “It’s not surprising,” he says, “that many of the designs for his fashion line are conceived at this blissful place near the sea.”

As can be seen in the living room, above, ease of living was the goal for Eli Tahari’s house. Tom Flynn, below, the interior designer, found a pair of rattan chairs from the 1940s in a Paris flea market, left, while a French red oak chair of the same vintage, right, designed by the late Maurice Pre, one of his favorite French furniture designers, came from Russ Steele Antiques in East Hampton. Eric Piasecki Photographs