Conni Cross climbed the stairs to the third-floor attic of the old house on Cutchogue's Main Road and experienced both love and dismay at first sight.
"I walked in, and I fell in love immediately with the structure. The ceiling, the old wood, the rafters, the wide floorboards,” says the owner of Conni Cross Design in Cutchogue. But, Cross quickly adds, "It was downhill after that.”
The attic also had exposed pipes, two old white doors lying against a wall and electrical wires haphazardly strung on the ceiling. Cross faced the challenge of transforming the space into a romantic getaway for the 2014 North Fork Designer Show House, which opens Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, to the public and runs Thursdays through Sundays until Aug. 17.
Cross looked to another love for help, her Pinterest.com boards. She hung a white hammock, attached a swing to the ceiling, covering its wooden seat with a white fur throw, and added a dangling bird cage filled with plants. A stenciled path leads from the stairs to a floating bed.
The attic is the favorite show house room for Richard Brewster. of Cutchogue, who got a sneak peek at the interior recently. "You say art is a painting or a drawing or a sculpture. But that is art, too, to go into a room and make it a showplace,” Brewster says. "It's spectacular, nothing short of spectacular.”
Brewster's wife plays the organ for the Cutchogue Presbyterian Church across the street, which owns the show house property. Until now, the 10-room house had been the home of the church's ministers.
The manse -- or clergy house -- was built in 1835 as a farmhouse. In 1852 it was moved to its current location, where it has housed the church's ministers and their families. Over the years it's been enlarged with a front porch and more bathrooms and bedrooms.
When the former minister left recently, church member Bob Tapp had an epiphany -- use the home for what he says is the first show house on the North Fork since 2005. "I was confident we could pull it off,” he says.
The church congregation paid $30,000 to paint the outside of the house and make other updates and safety improvements. Revenue from the show house -- which costs $25 a person to tour -- will go to four East End charities: Community Action Southold Town, which helps low-income town residents; Maureen's Haven, which aids the homeless; Timothy Hill Children's Ranch in Riverhead, a refuge for children in crisis; and Katinka House in Mattituck, which offers services to people older than 60.
The church -- founded in 1732 and home to 14 stained-glass windows and hand-painted organ pipes -- also will be open during show house hours. But the house is the star.
Tapp and his events committee wanted the house to project a North Fork sensibility. "We're not trying to make this ultraglamorous,” he says. The North Fork is natural, serene and unpretentious, he adds.
"Everything doesn't have to cost the Earth,” adds Christine McCabe, a former decorating editor at Family Circle magazine, who was charged with reimagining the house's front porch.
McCabe made the porch's eight new shutters herself from pieces of wood she painted and stenciled with fern leaves. She used curtains on the porch to create an intimate space, purchasing them at Ikea. "I edged them in black to make them look a little more expensive,” she says. She added a Buddha statue. "I just like how peaceful they look. Happy and peaceful and thinking.”
A FEW SURPRISES
Not all of the 17 redesigned spaces -- which include the front and back gardens -- follow that serene, natural theme. Some surprises include a 1970s bedroom and an ornate and eclectic dining room.
The bedroom has a wool rug, an old-fashioned radio, orange-glass tchotchkes and midcentury wood furniture that includes a headboard that lights up. "Everything came from tag sales,” says designer Yvonne McNab, who owns Just Me, a staging and estate-sale business.
The dining room features zebra fabrics, a tangerine console and parrot sculptures with marigold leis around their necks. "I think dining rooms should be very dramatic,” says designer Elizabeth Schlaefer, who owns The 1670 Furniture House in Southold. "I wanted it to have an edgy feel to it, as well. You want to promote lively conversation.”
The family design team of Bill, Debbie and Morgan Gildersleeve, owners of Renee's Mattituck, a clothing, home furnishings and accessories shop, had this first impression of the living room they were to redesign: "It looked like a funeral home,” says Morgan, 20, Bill and Debbie's daughter and a student at Parsons the New School for Design in Manhattan.
The long, rectangular room was covered in dark paneling; the wide-plank floor was a pumpkin color. The team decided to go with what many of their North Fork clients love: "A lot of my clients like a really casual, beachy feeling,” Debbie says. "They want clean; they don't like clutter. It's more of a laid-back lifestyle.”
The team lightened the room's colors, inspired by a sky blue-and-white painting they had in their store that they hung over the fireplace. They painted the paneling a driftwood-gray Seattle Mist from Benjamin Moore and the floor white. They added ice-blue glass tile to the fireplace surround.
In addition to three seating areas -- two with couches and one with a round table and four chairs in front of the centered fireplace -- they added driftwood accents, chrome coffee tables and crystal chandeliers in a style Morgan dubbed "modern coastal."
"The statement I'm trying to make with this room is not to be afraid to mix a little,” Debbie says. "The chrome table could be seen as modern, yet we have very cozy pillows on everything and a throw over there,” Debbie says. Adding a crystal chandelier to a beachy room -- the essence of the evolving North Fork.
North Fork Designer Show House
WHAT: A benefit for Katinka House, Maureen's Haven, Timothy Hill Children's Ranch and Community Action Southold Town
WHEN | WHERE: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, then Thursdays through Sundays through Aug. 17 at 27150 Main Rd., Cutchogue, across from the Cutchogue Presbyterian Church and next to the Village Green
INFO: $25; 631-807-7509; northforkdesignershowhouse.com
SHOW HOUSE RECOGNIZES LOCAL FOLKS
As visitors walk into the North Fork Designer Show House, they'll immediately see a photograph of North Fork natives Hallock and Clara "Cotty” Tuthill, ages 98 and 91, in what looks like a Norman Rockwell painting.
As part of the task of decorating the home's hallways, show house committee members Bob Tapp and Nick Ellis decided to spotlight 10 people they consider to be icons of the community, most of them in their 80s and 90s. Hallock, for instance, was a chicken farmer and Cutchogue Presbyterian Church member who would fix people's furniture in exchange for a donation to the church. As president of the Cutchogue Fire Department Women's Auxiliary, Cotty peeled and cut tens of thousands of potatoes for the department's annual chicken barbecue.
"We wanted to feature some of our favorite people, whom we consider icons for their small and large contributions to the community, their general loveliness and the examples they have set for younger generations,” Tapp says. "An underlying goal was to raise awareness that some of these people are homebound, lonely and would benefit from more attention by the community.”
Professional New York City photographer Jeff Cate took the photographs. They are for sale for $500 each, with proceeds going to the event. Other people featured include Tom Wickham, 75, a former Southold town supervisor who owns and operates his family's farm.