Decorator Timothy Whealon Applies His Classic Sensibility to a Modernist, Glass-walled Getaway in Southampton
"The inspiration came from the architecture and the views,” Timothy Whealon says of the modernist, glass-walled house he decorated for a young family in Southampton. But while the open floor plan and light-flooded rooms provided an ample canvas for the New York–based designer to create airy, crisp interiors that complement the house’s clean lines and staggering vistas, the project was also a bit of a departure for him. Whealon, whose thoughtful designs include everything from an antiques-filled 19th-century townhouse to a villa in Monaco, is best known for his updated spin on classicism. “I’d done modern things before, but really didn’t have anything in my portfolio to show the clients,” he recalls. “I had to convince them that I’m a bit of a chameleon.”
Whealon’s first order of business: defining the space, a series of interconnected rooms that flow into one another. “It took a few meetings with the clients to get a sense of the layout,” he says. “I knew I wanted to unify the rooms, and I wanted them to feel updated and fresh overall.” He approached the task with a subtle hand, tying everything together with creamy carpeting and bleaching, staining, and handpainting floors a grayish green. He amplified the floor-to-ceiling windows by painting the frames in a gunmetal finish that makes them stand out, adding structure to the rooms and further enhancing the views.
“In any project I do, it’s really important that colors speak to each other and flow,” says Whealon, “but it was even more crucial in this house because the rooms really relate to one another.” Taking cues from the vibrant greenery outside, Whealon conjured up a soothing palette of creams and greiges with touches of green, aubergine, and black woven throughout. To “add a bit of levity and fun,” he played with pattern and texture, such as the Neisha Crosland organic sea-inspired prints and Josef Frank botanicals that reference the house’s beachy setting and the towering cryptomeria pines encircling it.
Despite the opportunities to have a little fun, however, Whealon knew he had to deliver a home that was chic, practical, and able to withstand the demands of a family with four young children. “I really had to think about how the rooms would be used,” he says. Case in point: An upper-level living room morphed into the family’s den, with low-slung furniture including a nubby sectional upholstered in fabric that can be easily zipped off and washed; a lower living area, on the other hand, is more formal, with straight-edged seating pieces, a games table, and a grand piano. In the dining room, a virtually indestructible high-gloss lacquered table and faux-leather-upholstered chairs elevate the space from family gathering spot to an elegant oasis for entertaining. (Whealon designed the table with an extension so that it can seat up to 14.)
A former management trainee at Sotheby’s, Whealon cast his discriminating eye on a host of statement-making art and accessories to finish off the look. A photograph of peeling, crackling paint serves as a vantage point in the den, while a densely layered, brightly hued canvas in the formal living room adds a pop of almost tactile color. “The artwork brings a lot of life to the house, and my clients really enjoy it, even though they didn’t initially notice the void,” Whealon reports. “Now that it’s up on the walls, they see how it brings everything together in the house and completes it.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 2015 issue of Hamptons Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Light & Airy.