Designer Phillip Thomas Spruces Up a Family's Longtime Summer Home
When Janet and Michael Foster decided to renovate their early-1900s home in Bellport, Long Island, there was no hesitation about whom to call for the job. Fortunately for the Fosters, Manhattan-based interior designer Phillip Thomas is a longtime family friend. “I think we met him when he was two,” Janet Foster says with a laugh. “We’ve always talked about working together,” Thomas adds, “and this was an opportunity to make it happen.”
It seems only appropriate that the collaboration took place in the historic South Shore village where their relationship originated. Thomas, a New York native, spent his childhood summers in Bellport, just down the street from his clients’ home, a weekend retreat that they purchased in the mid-1970s. Since the Fosters’ children are around the same age as Thomas, their families have always been close.
To this day, the couple still make the drive from their home base in Wilton, Connecticut, while their children, now grown, travel east from New York City with their own families in tow. “This house has been the focal point of our family for 40 years,” explains Foster. “It’s where we all feel our happiest.”
But after decades of wear and tear, and the addition of grandchildren, the beloved home required a redesign that suited the Fosters’ present-day needs. Local architect Mary DuPree Knowles conceived a new first-floor layout, which included the addition of a family room off an expanded kitchen, plus a casual dining area featuring a wall of folding glass doors that open onto the three-acre property. On the second floor, her team raised the roof to give greater height to the bedrooms, which previously felt “claustrophobic and had small windows,” Thomas says.
For the decor, the designer took cues from Bellport’s rich history, while acknowledging the house’s former life as a multi-car garage and residence for chauffeurs. (It served several local estates before being converted into a single-family home in the early 1930s.) In the mudroom, for instance, Thomas mounted tractor seats to a bench and arranged dozens of vintage glass bottles in a cabinet, all presumed to have been discarded by the onetime resident chauffeurs and discovered when the foundation was dug for the kitchen. In the double-height entry, the designer installed a chandelier constructed from equipment once used at a now shuttered local lace mill. Upstairs, framed posters from the annual Bellport Day festival add interest to a hallway.
Other gestures to the past proliferate throughout the house, although Thomas was careful to keep them in check. In the kitchen, a pair of egg baskets and a farming yoke made into a light fixture are anchored by a decidedly modern quartzite-clad island and pared-down cabinetry. “Because the chandelier is the only antique in the room, it gets more attention,” says Thomas. “You can appreciate the history of an object more if it’s set against a simple backdrop.”
Since the Fosters share Thomas’s affinity for color, the decorator didn’t shy away from dousing the house in lively hues. He enlivened the dining room with coral chairs and upholstered the living room furniture in bright, bold fabrics. And Benjamin Moore’s Million Dollar Red is employed liberally, from several walls to the front door. “Red is a very warm and welcoming color, so this house was a particularly fitting place to use it,” says the decorator.
So fitting that everyone already feels right at home. “This is the entire family’s house, and I want my children and grandchildren to feel that way,” says Foster. “When the little ones are grown, they’ll bring their own families here. It all turned out far better than we could have dreamed—and we dreamed big.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 2018 issue of NYC&G (New York Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: American Beauty.