Manhattanites Jennifer and Derrick Miller wanted a weekend home where their future children "could feel the grass under their toes and see the stars in the sky," says Jennifer, who enjoyed the same pastoral pleasures growing up in Fredericksburg, Texas (population: 11,382). Fortunately, a serendipitous run-in with a saltbox-style beach house on Long Island’s scenic North Fork seemed written in the same country-sky stars.
"We fell in love with the property immediately," says Jennifer, noting the real estate agent introduced them to the 1,000-square-foot charmer via the back door. "When we exited through the front we saw an exterior plaque that read 'The Miller.'"
Turns out the home once belonged to the town miller, Lazarus Manley, and had since been deemed a historic landmark. "That sealed it," says Jennifer. As soon as "The Miller" belonged to the Millers, Jennifer, a classically trained architect who owns interior design firm , set out on a mostly cosmetic refresh.
"It wasn’t our style, and it left rooms feeling cramped," she says. The designer spent three years coating nearly every surface—save rustic unpainted paneling salvaged from a Naval ship!—with Super White, a crisp and sophisticated "true white" by Benjamin Moore. "I remember being down on my hands and knees at midnight, painting the living room with a flashlight strapped to my head," says Jennifer, who also used a soft gray trim color for subtle contrast.
Ten years—and two children—after they first laid eyes on "The Miller," Jennifer and Derrick can finally shift their focus outward, to the picturesque, picket fence-lined lawn, and upward, to the country night sky, happily stargazing alongside two lucky little Manhattanites who are no doubt learning to appreciate the casual, carefree joys of country life.
With square footage at a premium, Jennifer utilizes wall space throughout the home to showcase found favorites, including seascapes, still lifes, and oil portraits. A neutral Belgian linen sofa—a relaxed contrast to their taut leather Chesterfield back in Manhattan—allows the art above it to shine. Supporting small-space players include a task light, folding table, and tufted ottoman, which provides more seating in a pinch.
Salvaged from a ship, the home’s enviable exposed wood—seen on the beams, kitchen wall, and elsewhere—gives a nod to the home’s waterside setting. So Jennifer left it intact and rounded out the room with understated (and budget-friendly) updates.
First up: repainting the orange-y wood lower cabinets, installing simple stainless-steel shelves, and swapping faux granite countertops with butcher block from Ikea. A brass pendant (salvaged from a shipyard!) anchors the space, and a landscape oil painting above the sink offers a makeshift view.
An avid collector, Jennifer stores pieces in plain sight in a glass-encased living room-cabinet. She found the large Champagne bottle at a garage sale
Jennifer accessorized the adorably narrow 28-inch-wide hearth with equally scaled-down topiaries and candlesticks. An oil portrait dubbed "Grandpa Miller" (no relation!) looks on in approval.
Elsie the Wild Boar, one of the couple’s first purchases for the house, presides over Jennifer daughter's Tallulah’s impromptu piano performances.
Jennifer and Derrick initially claimed the suite upstairs, but eventually migrated to the "makeshift master" downstairs since it offers easier late-night access to the pea gravel patio after the kids are put to bed. White linens atop a white iron bed reinforce the home’s airy aesthetic, as does (look closely!) a Lucite nightstand.
Although Jennifer prefers vintage furniture, she finds that antique beds tend to be too small—especially when there are two children to cozy up with. In the kids’ suite upstairs (where Mom and Dad also stay when hosting house-guests), a complements the steep-pitched ceiling.
Tallulah’s corner includes a darling dress rack (the home has minimal closet space) and art featuring a French bulldog. "We’re just drawn to French bulldogs—oil paintings, prints, watercolors," says Jennifer. "Everyone asks where ours is, and we don’t even have one!"
To maximize every inch of the 1-acre lot, the family converted a dilapidated backyard shed with Western-style siding into a shingled multi-use space, which has been utilized as an office, art studio, guest quarters, and playroom.