Tour a Fashion Designer's Historic Shelter Island Farmhouse
While working full-time as a fashion designer in New York, Sylvia Hommert imagined she would always be “an urban mom.” But she began to have a change of heart as her son, Lukas, got older and the family started spending weekends at their Shelter Island home, which they purchased in 2007. Rather than having to schedule outdoor time, she and her husband, Andreas, could simply open the front door and let Lukas run free.
A plan was hatched for a permanent move to the Hamptons, where Hommert could indulge her passion for making art. Acclaimed for her shimmery, abstract canvases of incised wax and resin, she has been recognized internationally with solo exhibitions in Paris and Uruguay and recently participated in an artist-in-residence program in Beijing. She is also exhibiting her work this summer with Boltax Gallery at artMRKT Hamptons, as well as at Robert Wilson’s annual Watermill Center benefit and the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America Cocktails at Sunset fund-raiser.
Hommert’s studio is located above the garage, just steps from the 120-year-old farmhouse that she and her family now call home. The original 1,500-square-foot structure, built in the 1890s on 1.2 acres, has undergone a thoughtful renovation, with a beautifully designed addition that has doubled their living space. Although the couple had always appreciated the farmhouse just as it was, once they decided to live there year-round, they realized that more room was necessary—particularly with the arrival of Lukas’s sister, Bianca. Still, Hommert felt strongly that the house’s original character should remain intact. “It was charming, and situated on land that was oddly shaped, with hidden corners,” she says. “We explained to our architects that we needed to use the space wisely, without taking away from its allure.”
Collaborating with Steven Schappacher and Rhea White of SchappacherWhite Architecture D.P.C., the Hommerts spent nearly three years renovating. Today the gallery-like white walls showcase an extensive and ever-evolving collection of artwork by friends and colleagues such as Pilar Olaverri, Brad Fisher, James Nares, and Ross Bleckner, as well as family photos and children’s projects made by Lukas and Bianca. Airy breezeways and high-beamed ceilings crafted from planks of reclaimed mushroom wood connect formerly cramped rooms, allowing light to enter during all seasons of the year.
“The original home had scale issues and was just too small for their needs,” Schappacher says of the project. “We had to consider space for the family, their work, and their tremendous and constantly changing art collection.” Plus, he adds, “Sylvia is a people collector. She and Andreas love to entertain. She draws inspiration from their friends and guests, as they do from her, so it was important to design a space that would provide a number of possibilities.”
Andreas, who works in finance, is a passionate chef. “He can make a beautiful meal, and I can set a beautiful table,” Hommert says. “We like pockets of space to serve as various destinations for our guests. We enjoy nomadic entertaining.” A kitchen was designed with Andreas’s cooking needs in mind—including cabinets that require a stepladder for the diminutive Sylvia, as her husband stands well above six feet tall. An additional culinary playground was created in the backyard: The fireplace lights up an expansive wisteria-draped pergola that houses a large table, which Andreas made with leftover planks from the renovation. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs are harvested from the family’s garden. And close at hand are an Argentinean barbecue, a Tuscan pizza oven, and a traditional smoker, waiting to be fired up for the next big dinner party or holiday feast.
Nearby, a large woodpile commands the eye and is almost an art installation in itself (Andreas is a neatnik), fueling the fires that the family enjoys together most evenings. An inviting guest cottage, arrayed with gauzy white curtains that flutter in the summer breeze, looks onto a seductive pool. Aside from dedicated areas for entertaining and relaxing, the home also offers an abundance of spaces for creative pursuits: Hommert jokingly refers to the wraparound porch as her “office,” though her loft-like studio is still “my favorite room. I usually work while my kids are at school or asleep, and if I’m on deadline, they’ll come hang out with me there. Often they pick up a blank canvas and just work away. I really love it when we’re all creating together.”
Living and working as an artist on Shelter Island has kept this former city girl stimulated and busy, even though she’s separated from New York’s hustle and bustle by nearly 100 miles and a ferry ride. “It’s still fun to visit the city as a guest,” she says, “but it’s always really nice to come home.”
A version of this article appeared in the July 1 2013 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Shelter and Sky.