Amanda & Timmie Roll Up Their Sleeves

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The beach house was built just before the turn of the 20th century, back when the Hamptons were mostly potato fields and pitch pines. William Dwight Whitney, a Sanskrit scholar and linguist, constructed the house with proceeds from his 10-volume Century Dictionary, published in 1889. For this reason, it became known as “Century House” generations ago—and we call it that to this day.

My husband Tad’s family, and an evolving generational tidal flow, have owned the house since 1915, but even as bankers have built gilded fortresses all around it, the Friends have staunchly resisted the temptation to sell. Instead, they’ve doubled down on keeping the house intact.

Well, sort of.

Photo by Amanda Hesser
Photo by Amanda Hesser

Until recently, the structure was held together with Band-Aids and kite string. The kitchen, which had remained mostly untouched for more than 50 years, was long on quirkiness and short on convenience. The refrigerator was in a hallway far away; the microwave sat on a rickety oil-cloth covered table; and there was a breakfast table smack in the middle of the work area. To open the oven, you needed to ask your father-in-law to move his chair. But it did have lots of Le Creuset and Julia Child-style pegboards for hanging cookware!

This past year, Tad, his two siblings, and their spouses decided it was time to bring the kitchen into the 21st century—without erasing its original charms. While we were at it, we’d open up the layout, add heat and A/C to the house, a couple of new bathrooms, and fix up a termite-riddled cottage on the property (more on that next year, when we’re actually finished!).

The three families pooled their money. We all live far apart, and none of us is within two hours of the house. There was also a tight deadline of eight months because we rent the house in the summer. Are you nervous yet?

An early sketch of what the new kitchen would look like.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Fabric sample selection via iPhone arrows, aka, how to make a bicoastal project work.

Photo by Timmie Friend Haskins

To streamline matters (aka, opinions and financial decisions), we designated two project managers: my sister-in-law, Timmie Friend Haskins, who has a design firm in San Francisco, T. Friend Interiors, and me.

To get the bulk of the planning done, Timmie and I spent the better part of our Christmas holiday running in and out of paint stores, and sitting in Timmie’s living room for massive brainstorming and sourcing sessions with tiles and spreadsheets. After one particularly long stretch of internet sourcing, I got so dizzy, I had to take a nap right there on the sofa.

This initial burst of work was worth it: Timmie and I were organized and ready, and we got on great. But no one told us that our foreman would go on vacation for six weeks, or that a pandemic would throw the project into disarray for months, or that we’d have permitting issues that would halt work for an additional month. In 2020, how could we have expected less?!

But we did get it done. And I’d love to give you a tour of the before and after, and all the little details that Timmie and I added. Scroll through.

The kitchen table—right in the middle of the kitchen! The dark pantry is in the back left corner. The exit hallway—which my brother-in-law had to duck to walk through—took you to a room containing the fridge, freezer, and wine fridge. I’ve cursed my way through this hallway many times when I’ve forgotten an ingredient in the fridge!

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The old kitchen was long on quirkiness, short on convenience.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Like I said: lots of Le Creuset and Julia Child-style pegboards.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The dining room with its long mahogany table and many broken chairs! On the other side of the far wall was the kitchen.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

To get to the kitchen from the dining room, you had to walk through this “butlers pantry,” which had some nice old cabinets and a sink.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The kids’ bathroom on the third floor, aka, “The Crows Nest.”

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The old guest bathroom, with wallpaper featuring clippings from The New York Observer.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Post demolition: You can see just how old the house is here. The old doors to the living room were reused for the guest bathroom and drinks pantry.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The cabinets that we’d planned to reuse were gnawed by squirrels in the garage! We removed the front framing so we could make a copy out of new fir.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

With the island in, the kitchen began to take shape.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The perimeter cabinets had to be repainted (because the original color was bumming me out), so we found two new colors and tested them against the existing tile, countertop, and island colors.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The top and bottom panels are the original paint (Farrow & Ball Borrowed Light). We went with Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone (second panel from the top, on the right). The island cabinet color is Farrow & Ball Oval Room Blue.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Paint samples for the cabinets and guest bath.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Testing the bathroom paint sample against the tile. I photographed it on every wall so Timmie could see it in every light variance.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The glamorous work of getting the toilet paper holder in just the right spot.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Frank Visconti, our heroic foreman.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Before the house and laundry room were joined.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The two structures, now united by a hallway, new side entrance, and reshaped roofline.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Move-in day is never pretty. This is my husband, Timmie’s brother Tad, helping unpack.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The countertops are porcelain by Fondovalle: they’re nonporous and less expensive than stone. The Arc pendants over the island are from Allied Maker. The Le Creuset collection has been around for decades. The grey nesting bowls are by Rosti Mepal and are available in the Food52 Shop.

Photo by James Ransom

In the old dining room, we used the sideboard for serving dinner buffet-style. Now we can use the end of the island and have all the plates close at hand.

Photo by James Ransom

Open shelving makes some people uneasy, but it gives us a chance to see so many of the old pitchers and glassware that have been in the house for so long. Rather than three long shelves, which would have been heavy-handed, Timmie had the idea to shorten the top shelf and use it to display some of the oldest pitchers. The shelves are stained fir and the brackets are from Rejuvenation.

Photo by James Ransom

Timmie picked this Kelly cement tile by Popham Design for its Matisse-like shapes and bold color. The six-burner range is by Blue Star. The crocks are Five Two.

Photo by James Ransom

The pantry: just outside the kitchen and tucked beneath the stairs. Instead of doing one set of deep shelves on the back wall, we made the back walls shelves standard-depth and kicked out shelving on the side walls. This allows you to see way more ingredients.

Photo by James Ransom

A new, second pantry for supplies, wine, dog bowls, a freezer, and a collection of old vases.

Photo by James Ransom

We had to preserve some pegboard! And we wanted to create a cozy corner so people could still hang around a table in the kitchen—one that’s a little less cramped. Timmie and I both love banquette seating, so we had this made locally. Timmie designed the table. The Shadow pendant is from Ylighting.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The drinks and breakfast nook, with a drinks fridge and ice maker beneath the counter, and glassware above. The black shelf brackets are from Rejuvenation. The shelves are stained fir. The Tesla of toasters is by Breville.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The new dining room! The built-ins in the corners are original and packed with old, pretty, and frighteningly fragile china, so we kept it in there. The oak extending table is from Oka: it gets tons of use and we swap in (and out) leaves as often as our kids change their socks. The Evan chairs are from Room & Board. There’s a long tradition of painters in the family; these citrus paintings are by Letty Pierson, a great-aunt who, along with her husband, was the second owner of the house. We’re now the fourth generation to own it. Pendant is from Ikea. Votives are from Etsy. Rug by Annie Selke.

Photo by James Ransom

Timmie unearthed this great painting by great-aunt Letty in the attic, where we also found toilet paper from the 1930s.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

More art! Tomatoes, also by great-aunt Letty.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Timmie’s mother’s still lifes painted during summers spent at the house.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The living room is no longer shut off from the kitchen! And now there’s a TV in there. 21st century, here we come!

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The new guest bathroom is painted with Farrow & Ball Inchyra. Sconces are from Rejuvenation. Mirror from CB2. Pedestal sink by Kohler. Tile is Diamond Blanco by Ann Sacks.

Photo by James Ransom

The kids’ bathroom, aka, the “Crows Nest,” finally taking shape.

Photo by Amanda Hesser


What was your favorite part of this renovation? What would you have done differently?
Tell us!



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