This Quiet Painter's Cottage Is a Brimming with Flowers and Flea-Market Finds



Jakob Springs Home Tour

In 1980, when the German-born artist and landscape designer Robert Jakob and his then-partner, David White, purchased a small cottage in Springs, they hadn’t exactly stumbled upon their dream home. Dating from the early 1940s, the white cinderblock structure wasn’t much to look at, just one large room with a beamed ceiling, a small makeshift bedroom, and a bathroom. The couple had essentially bought the place on a whim.  

“We had friends here and would come out to visit, and then we decided to rent something on our own,” says Jakob. “This house was available, and as we negotiated the rental, we were also told that it was for sale. We thought, Oh, we could buy it—that might be nice. A friend lived down the road, so it seemed like a good idea. We didn’t really consider any other houses.” They paid $75,000.

Thirty-three years later, some things remain the same—foxes, raccoons, chipmunks, and deer frequently roam the property; ospreys, warblers, cardinals, and other birds fly above. Yet much has changed: The home is now on four acres rather than two (an adjacent lot was purchased later); the once-humble grounds are stunning and fragrant, brimming with flowers and specimen trees; and a renovation expanded the house, adding a basement, a lovely guest room/library, and a “tower” with a new master bedroom and bathroom. Cedar shingles now sheath the exterior, and raw pine planks replaced the concrete floors, lending more warmth. Rafters were stripped of wood, exposing iron beams. And French doors were added to three sides of the house to provide easy access to the beautifully planted grounds. (Jakob has never felt the need for air-conditioning and tends to leave the doors wide open.)

But now Jakob lives here alone. About five years ago, White, who works for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, moved out. The couple had been together for 45 years. White now lives just down the road with a new partner, yet he and Jakob remain friends and see each other often.

Although Jakob admits to longing for human companionship, he has carved out a rich life for himself—working on landscaping projects for clients on the East End and spending part of each year at his other home in Italy, in a town called Itri, south of Rome. In Springs, he is preoccupied with his vast garden—a sea of irises, roses, foxgloves, peonies, geraniums, forget-me-nots, lavender, and more. To wander through the property is to feel lost in its wild beauty. There are also dozens of varieties of shrubs and trees, including five European beech trees that were a 50th birthday gift for White. Some 20 years later, they thrive and loom large.

Jakob is philosophical about loss and change, a fact he credits in part to his years of tending the land. “This garden is hard to tame,” he says. “You can put in a few straight lines, but they get quickly erased by the way things are in nature. It keeps changing. You can control things to an extent, but then you have to let go, give up. It is a constant challenge.”

An accomplished painter who has shown at the Drawing Room in East Hampton, Jakob sees things a bit differently when it comes to his work. “One tends to want to be in control, if you make a painting or a drawing,” he says. “Yet things happen that you don’t plan for—they just sneak in. But you can erase them, fix them, paint over them. In nature it’s different, because things never stand still and you can’t do anything about them.”

When he isn’t in the garden, Jakob can be found painting or drawing in the small studio behind his house. His work varies stylistically, but he is best known for his oversize, abstracted botanicals in acrylic with arresting colors, gestural lines, and an almost violent splattering of paint—calling to mind Springs’ most famous artist resident, the late Jackson Pollock.

In his home, Jakob displays his own art and works by contemporaries he admires, including Mary Heilmann and Keith Sonnier. Otherwise, the interior is sparsely decorated and furnished. It is a weathered home with few adornments, designed for an ascetic life—one of simple pleasures. “Is it restorative being here?” says Jakob. “Yes, I believe so. I go out and look at my garden, and I can edit or add something if I wish. I feel lucky. This is my canvas, in a sense, and on the whole it’s very pleasing.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 2013 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: An Artist And His Garden.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags

Designer Spotlight

Edit Module
Christian Rae Studio
Christian Rae Studio, LLC is a multi-disciplinary design firm located in Southport, CT. Since 2010, we have delivered projects representing a broad range of type, scale, and budget considerations. Our combined technical and creative skills enable us to complete each design challenge from conception to final installation. The collaboration between architecture, interiors and lighting design is an approach that results in a holistic and integrated project that is thoughtfully tailored to each site and client.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Architect Spotlight

Nautilus Architects
Christopher Arelt’s practice, Nautilus Architects, involves collaboration and interpretation, with each design evolving in its own way in response to the site, context and client. Chris’ work is seen as a continuation of but also a response to Modernism; or, more specifically, a return to regionalism and artistry, where clients’ projects are developed with the “head, hearts and hands” of all those involved. All of our buildings explore the use of natural light, reveal the inherent beauty of the materials being used, and bring the outdoors in.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Architect Spotlight

Laura Kaehler Architects
Laura Kaehler Architects is an Award Winning Architectural Firm. Along with Laura Kaehler, AIA, we have a talented staff of 5 architects and designers who create new homes, renovations and additions and apartment renovations. Designing a smaller footprint while obtaining a "big look" with an open floor plan design, better craftsmanship and detailing and richer materials is what we call "Responsible Luxury" and is a key element of our design philosophy.

Laura Kaehler

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Builder Spotlight

Davenport Contracting
The team at Davenport Contracting has over 35 years of experience building and renovating homes. Our business model has always been based on building/renovating for a specific customer. A collaborative environment includes the client, architect, interior designer and Davenport crew. Davenport maneuvers effortlessly between custom homes, smaller renovations and property management. The team’s project management skills transfer seamlessly and the goal is to deliver your vision!


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Designer Spotlight

Fiona Leonard Interiors
Fiona Leonard Interiors, LLC is a full service design firm that specializes in making a client’s home unique and custom tailored to the owners taste and lifestyle. Projects are personally supervised from initial consultation to installation. Strong relationships with carefully selected creative artisans, highly skilled craftsmen and subcontractors ensures that your project will be in good hands. With over 20 years experience working alongside well established design professionals in Connecticut and Manhattan, Fiona Leonard Interiors, LLC was established.Fiona designs interiors with a casual elegance and timeless approach. Inherent in all her work is Fiona’s passion to combine clean lines and an artistic use of color that is comfortable for the client and reflects their personal lifestyle.

Fiona Leonard Interiors

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Architect Spotlight

Daniel Conlon Architects
Wind and weather, the ebb and flow of the tide, changing color and light define the rhythm of coastal living. This recent home embraces the idea with light-filled spaces , expansive views , cozy niches, and outdoor living environments. Landscape terraces and stonework ground the building to the site, while respecting all current building codes. Daniel Conlon Architects, based in Wilton CT, has designed numerous waterfront homes throughout the Northeast.

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module