Welcome to Real-Life Renos, where we’re pulling back the curtains to the home renos we just can’t get enough of. Tag along as our favorite designers, chefs, and cookbook authors welcome us inside their spaces and share the behind-the-scenes stories behind their transformations. We’ll explore their takes on sustainable living, how they express their identities through design, how they create beautiful spaces that center around accessibility—and so much more.
The beach house was built just before the turn of the 20th century, back when the Hamptons were mostly potato fields and pitch pines. William Dwight Whitney, a Sanskrit scholar and linguist, constructed the house with proceeds from his 10-volume Century Dictionary, published in 1889. For this reason, it became known as “Century House” generations ago—and we call it that to this day.
My husband Tad’s family, and an evolving generational tidal flow, have owned the house since 1915, but even as bankers have built gilded fortresses all around it, the Friends have staunchly resisted the temptation to sell. Instead, they’ve doubled down on keeping the house intact.
Well, sort of.
Until recently, the structure was held together with Band-Aids and kite string. The kitchen, which had remained mostly untouched for more than 50 years, was long on quirkiness and short on convenience. The refrigerator was in a hallway far away; the microwave sat on a rickety oil-cloth covered table; and there was a breakfast table smack in the middle of the work area. To open the oven, you needed to ask your father-in-law to move his chair. But it did have lots of Le Creuset and Julia Child-style pegboards for hanging cookware!
This past year, Tad, his two siblings, and their spouses decided it was time to bring the kitchen into the 21st century—without erasing its original charms. While we were at it, we’d open up the layout, add heat and A/C to the house, a couple of new bathrooms, and fix up a termite-riddled cottage on the property (more on that next year, when we’re actually finished!).
The three families pooled their money. We all live far apart, and none of us is within two hours of the house. There was also a tight deadline of eight months because we rent the house in the summer. Are you nervous yet?
To streamline matters (aka, opinions and financial decisions), we designated two project managers: my sister-in-law, Timmie Friend Haskins, who has a design firm in San Francisco, T. Friend Interiors, and me.
To get the bulk of the planning done, Timmie and I spent the better part of our Christmas holiday running in and out of paint stores, and sitting in Timmie’s living room for massive brainstorming and sourcing sessions with tiles and spreadsheets. After one particularly long stretch of internet sourcing, I got so dizzy, I had to take a nap right there on the sofa.
This initial burst of work was worth it: Timmie and I were organized and ready, and we got on great. But no one told us that our foreman would go on vacation for six weeks, or that a pandemic would throw the project into disarray for months, or that we’d have permitting issues that would halt work for an additional month. In 2020, how could we have expected less?!
But we did get it done. And I’d love to give you a tour of the before and after, and all the little details that Timmie and I added. Scroll through.