The Surprise Inside

A Hamptons builder erects a home to blend with his rustic Armonk neighborhood. Inside, all bets are off.



 

Homeowner Jay Bialsky would have liked to build a home where the exterior was as modern as the interior, but instead opted to build a rustic house that harmonizes with the others in his Armonk neighborhood.

You can’t always judge a house by its cover. In Armonk, for instance, there’s a stone and red-cedar house that may look quite similar to its neighboring shingle-style dwellings. But don’t be fooled. Inside is sleek and sparely furnished, with white walls and dark floors, a decidedly modern aesthetic with a loft-like feeling belying its suburban location.

The seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom home is largely bereft of traditional details such as wainscoting and fussy molding. Instead of an imposing double-height foyer, there’s an oversized kitchen with a high ceiling and wenge veneer cabinets. Forget any stuffy formal spaces: the living room-cum-family room has played host to Super Bowl parties and kids’ TV marathon. “It’s a really eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary, which is very hard to do well,” says the builder, Chris Yaroscak of Armonk-based Legacy Development Northeast LLC. His client? Jay Bialsky, a builder of luxury homes in the Hamptons.

In the sitting room, contemporary chic rules: ponyhide chairs from Italy and a wool-and-silk rug from The Rug Company helps define the look.

Building for a builder might pose as many professional challenges as, say, operating on a surgeon. Yaroscak explains that he and his partner, Joe Luppino, are committed to quality as a rule, “but we were definitely more aware of it when building for someone as particular as this client.”

The homeowner, who moved into the house in October 2006 with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs after 18 months of construction, says he would have loved to live in a house with a modern skin as well as innards, but blending into his surroundings was paramount. So he compromised. “We wanted to do something that was in keeping with the neighborhood, but also somewhat different,” says the architect, Sag Harbor-based Val Florio, who’s worked with the owner professionally for the past five years. “I feel it’s important for a designer to really get a sense of the neighborhood housing, so your design harmonizes not only with the environment [in this case, a hilly, woodsy 2.2 acres] but with the neighborhood, too.”

 

The stairway, which took nearly five months to build, snakes three stories from the basement to the second floor.

It’s beyond the rustic exterior and in the 9,800 square feet of living space where Bialsky got the opportunity to indulge his craving for contemporary living. “It’s a nice surprise, in a way,” Florio says. “It’s refreshing to come in and see there’s an entirely different feeling and flavor from the exterior. It’s very progressive.”

The Hamptons-inspired house incorporates the best design elements the homeowner has gleaned from his two decades of serving clients on the eastern end of Long Island. Take the aesthetic emphasis on typically utilitarian rooms, such as the kitchen. The lofty room, with its Cathedral ceiling, white CaesarStone counters, and pizza-ready Gaggenau oven, is the home’s epicenter. It’s the matriarch’s de facto office, as well as her cooking center. To help with this sometimes-mundane chore, there’s a 60-inch Wolf range with a pot filler, two 48-inch Sub-Zero refrigerators, and a foot-pedal-operated prep sink. Florio likens the room to the family’s Grand Central Terminal.

“We don’t live like traditional society did, where we hide from whomever is preparing food,” he says. “This kitchen is really the core of the house, central to all activity. It’s large enough not just for cooking, but for sitting, for doing homework, and for socializing. It’s really a gathering place.” When it comes to height, Florio is no newbie. He went a story further with another of his clients, singer-songwriter Billy Joel, erecting a triple-height ceiling for the music legend’s Centre Island, Long Island, kitchen. (Joel’s wife, Katie, is a professional foodie.)

The kitchen’s Cathedral ceiling, wenge cabinets, white CaeserStone counters, and sleek furniture gives it a contemporary chic.

Just beyond the kitchen soars one of the house’s most striking elements, the staircase. Snaking three stories from the basement to the second floor, the bowed banisters form an ellipsis when viewed vertically— like a canoe, as the owner puts it. Or “like a teardrop or an eye,” Yaroscak says. Bolstered by polished chrome rails, the stairway alone took nearly five months to build. “We felt the house needed a little excitement without trying too hard,” Yaroscak explains. “It makes a simple stair a piece of art.”

Another element elevated far beyond the banal is the master bathroom, a cool oasis sculpted from creamy Turkish limestone. There’s a sauna and generous shower crowned by dual Dornbracht rectangular rainheads, but the real showpiece is the titanic two-person tub, carved from a single piece of stone. Weighing about the same as a Mazda Miata, it had to be handled like a piano, hoisted and slid in place by a crane. (By contrast, the typical tub can be carried by four carpenters, says Florio, who had to reinforce the floor with steel beams to hold the behemoth.) Though the kids have their own bathrooms, not surprisingly, they flock to this one.

The living room features a Donghia sofa upholstered in terracotta fabric, windows draped in Kravet silk, and walls covered in a Japanese paper weave.

The dining room also boasts a decorative-yet-functional star: a cherry-colored Murano glass chandelier the owner picked up on a trip to Italy before the house design began. The interior designer on the job, Elena Testino, co-owner with her husband Giorgio Petracco of Casa Chic in Southampton (and sister of famed fashion photographer Mario Testino), essentially outfitted the dining room around it.

“We had to show off this beautiful red Murano glass chandelier, so we did everything in chocolate,” Testino says, pointing to the spicy brown grasscloth wallcovering from Blue Mountain, the ostrich-embossed leather chairs from Desiron, the dupioni silk curtains, and the wool and silk area rug from The Rug Company. A pair of mirrored buffets from David Hudson Wright reflects the richness.

“The room itself didn’t have much sunlight, so I thought, ‘Why fight it? Go with the dark and show off that beautiful chandelier,’ ” Testino says. The palette reflects Testino’s signature style. In her native Lima, Peru, “we don’t have exuberant vegetation because it’s a desert. Everything around us is earth tones, so I use a lot of natural tones in my interiors: chocolates, sands, ricottas, oranges.”

A red Murano glass chandelier is the focal point of the dining room, a space interior designer Elena Testino outfitted in shades of chocolate to keep the focus on the cherry-colored light fixture.

She added more earthy accoutrements to the airy living room, with its sofa upholstered in a terracotta fabric from Donghia, windows draped in buttery Kravet silk, and walls wrapped in a sand-colored Japanese paper weave. The wool and silk Odegard rug alternates tiger-like stripes of terra cotta and ginger. The look is “very sophisticated on one side and very casual on the other,” says Testino.

The patriarch has a space that’s largely for him: a men’s lounge of sorts, carved into the basement under the three-car garage. Dominated by a red-felted pool table parked on a cushy tomato-colored carpet, the clubby refuge features ebonized oak trim and Venetian plaster walls metallicized with real silver dust. Stone arches lead to a 2,500-bottle wine cellar. (The owner has been collecting for 10 years.) Glass shelves lined with liquor bottles and crystal decanters share wall space with framed, poster-sized prints of Marilyn Monroe. Purchased from Vered Gallery in East Hampton, the photos were taken for Vogue by Bert Stern six weeks before Monroe’s death as part of her fabled “Last Sitting.” (It’s evident where Monroe took a paperclip to the original negatives, scratching out those she saw as unflattering.)

The owner’s relatives and pals gather here to watch major sporting events on the flat-screen TV. Dinner guests are also known to gravitate to the tufted red-leather banquette with chrome foot rails post-dessert. “I guess it is kind of like a guys’ room,” says Florio. “Maybe because men have that sort of cave mentality, they like to go into dark, manly spaces,” he says, laughing. Talk about another unconventional component to a deceptively conservative façade.

A New York-based freelance writer, Julia Lange writes frequently about architecture and interior design.