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Behind the Scenes of Justin Portman's Montauk Home Redesign with Designer Staci Dover

By Jean Nayar | August 5, 2018 | Home & Real Estate Feature

Staci Dover’s redesign of Justin Portman’s Montauk home embraces nature and its sunny disposition.

justin-portman.jpgAfter a redesign and relocation, the pool at Justin Portman’s Montauk getaway is now oriented toward the property’s best aspect: the view of the lake beyond.

He told me he wanted a ‘stealth house,’” says designer Staci Dover, recalling the wish list she discussed with Justin Portman when he tapped her to redesign his home in Montauk. Transforming a tired early-’80s hybrid A-frame into a discreet, hypercool getaway with futuristic intonations may seem like a tall order, but by working closely with her globe-trotting friend and client, the designer managed to pull off the feat with surprising style.

justin-portman-2.jpgNew rooftop and midlevel decks assist an indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

Portman purchased the property two years ago as an under-the-radar retreat for himself and his three children after splitting from his Russian supermodel wife, Natalia Vodianova. Its location atop a hill on a grassy, tree-filled lot overlooking Lake Montauk was dreamy, but the oddly configured house left much to be desired. Its poor design completely ignored the home’s primary appeal—incredible sunset views across the water. “The whole point of the house is its location; the sunsets are magical,” says Dover. So she and Portman readily agreed that the first step would be to strip the house to its studs—inside and out—and revamp its orientation and layout to maximize its No. 1 asset.

justin-portman-4.jpgIn the relaxed living area, a rustic table atop a Beni Ourain rug from Morocco sets off a collection of pottery from Uruguay displayed in an inset niche.

After removing the home’s dated skin, Dover and Portman worked with architect Robert Young and his engineering team to transform some parts of the structural shell while preserving others. Flanked by two peaked wings (“We call them bat wings,” says Dover), the squat central portion of the house was completely altered by removing its gabled roof, raising its interior volume and topping it with a flat roof terrace overlooking the lake. “We wanted to expand ceiling heights and open the interiors to the view, allowing as much light into the house as possible while creating an inside-outside connection to the living space,” says Portman.

justin-portman-3.jpgA work by Hamptons artist Steve Miller enlivens a corner of the home.

They also decided to remove the walls blocking out the surrounding scenery and replace them with massive glass windows and doors on both sides of the house to bring in views and light. Leaving the “bat wings” intact, they clad the home in cedar siding and stained it a smoky, almost black tone. “I’m inspired by Japanese culture and the clean lines and simplicity of Japanese design,” says Dover of her simple vision for the exterior. “We wanted to clean it up and let nature, including the water and natural sea grasses around the house and the surrounding environment of Montauk, do the rest.”

justin-portman-6.jpgAn African rug and a rattan light fixture encased in netting give a bedroom a tribal air.

Inside, the accent is on easy living and light. While the low-key, wabi-sabi spirit of the exterior extends to the living spaces inside, where floors were covered with reclaimed wood from a 200-year-old farmhouse and walls were enriched with honed plaster, the interiors contrast with the shadowy shell and brim with a rustic, beachy sense of airiness, light and soul. “I live half the year in South America in Uruguay, and the other half traveling,” says Portman, who just returned from Africa. “Staci visited my seaside house in Uruguay and wanted to create a similar ambiance here.”

justin-portman-5.jpgA flatweave rug adds earthy texture and indigo color to a renovated bathroom.

By synthesizing comfy slipcovered sofas and daybeds from Restoration Hardware with vintage light fixtures, art and such objects as tribal cloths and mystical vases from Portman’s travels, the designer defined spaces that weave together strands of Portman’s multifaceted interests and reflect his nuanced personality. “He’s so down to earth and loves nature and traveling,” says Dover. “So we took influences from other cultures and interpreted them within the context of a relaxed lifestyle,” she says. The restrained, unpretentious warmth of the interiors also places the emphasis firmly on comfort. “We wanted the interiors to be clean, simple and open without the design dictating or interrupting the life that’s lived there,” she adds. “We wanted to make it an easygoing place where Justin and his friends and his children can celebrate life, just looking at the sun and stars.”