At Home in Montauk
As two creatives prepare to part with their striking Long Island hideaway, they’re seeking similar design-centric aesthetes who can appreciate its shapely charms.
Images: Regan Wood
When Paul Bennett and Jim Cooper first set eyes on their contemporary retreat at 29 South Davis Avenue over a decade ago, they made an offer on the spot. The house was — and still is — wildly different than the shingle-sided properties so common to the Montauk area they loved, with geometric eccentricities that particularly appealed to the design-minded couple. Architecturally, the house boasts unusual triangular windows, exaggerated angular ceilings, and not a single right angle — save for the rectangular pool out back, off-set with a massive asymmetric deck. For Paul, the chief creative officer of the global design company Ideo, and Jim, a writer and photographer, this was love at first sight.
“I always describe the houses we love as ‘pound dogs’ — a bit of a mashup, a bit wonky, but with real soul,” says Paul. “Those are the magical spaces. The house has everything: weirdness and volume, presence and privacy.” After joking that the architecture reminded them of the fortress-like sandcrawler vehicles from Star Wars, the duo lovingly dubbed their new weekend escape the “Death Star.” Between the two and their many friends and frequent guests, the moniker stuck.
Fast-forward 12 years, and while Paul and Jim still adore their grounded Star Wars spaceship, the pair were inspired by the sweeping agriculture of Sweden to look for a new weekend retreat with more land — which they found in spades within upstate New York. “We want to shift gears, so it’s time to sail the Death Star off into someone else’s orbit,” laughs Paul. The couple recently joined forces with Compass agent Evan Kulman to seek out the next owners of their unconventional dwelling.
What do you love the most about this house, and about the area of Montauk you’re located in?
Paul: The exhalation quality of this house is really high. It’s our sanctuary. There’s no scene, no drama, nobody knows we’re there, no one’s ever heard of the house or seen it — in fact, you can’t see it from the road, it’s down a driveway. We do have one neighbor, though you can’t see them. It’s the benefit of being off the beaten path, you literally are away from everyone and everywhere else.
I also think the house is solid as a rock. Through thick and thin, through fall and winter weather, this house feels rooted and secure. This house feels permanent.
Not only is the house itself dramatic, your interior design follows suit. How would you describe your decor?
Paul: Our style is a travelogue in interior design form. We have a go-to palette— black and white, so everything works together — and we bring things back from all over the world. I travel constantly for work, and we travel often together, so now we try to get one or two really great things from everywhere we go. Because the house allows it, we choose big, clunky, weird baubles which fits with the vernacular. There’s baskets and wooden pieces from Rwanda and the Congo, cod fish from Iceland, a screen from Japan. And then there’s a bunch of crafts in the house that I’ve made myself.
Tell us about your liberal use of black throughout the house — it’s quite the daring design decision.
Paul: We’d initially painted everything white, and it stayed like that for quite awhile. But we’ve spent a lot of time in Iceland and at one point we’d rented an all-black house — black walls, black interiors, a black roof, the whole nine yards — and it was really inspiring. We came back and I said to our decorator, ‘Deep breath: we’re going to paint the house black.’ So we painted the house, then we painted the deck, then we painted a fireplace, a wall, a whole bathroom, and so on. And then it just really embodied the Death Star.
When I first told my mum we were painting the house black she said, ‘oh, you’ll make it look really small.’ But the opposite happened and it looks much bigger. Black brings out infinite space. And we get peninsula light in Montauk, this parabolic light which is absolutely beautiful — so the house doesn’t feel dark.
Once we painted it black we completely fell in love with it all over again because all of its craziness suddenly held together. The color exemplified the architecture, all these different juxtapositions, and really emphasized its specialness. It’s as if the house was blond for years and suddenly became a brunette and showed up in a whole different way.
How did you meet your Compass agent, Evan Kulman, and what made you decide to work with him?
Paul: I sat next to this very social guy in SoulCycle — Evan — who knew everybody and who made such an effort to talk to me. Soon I started tagging him on all my rides and vice versa, and we became friends. I eventually asked what he did, and he told me about Compass. And I have very strong opinions about realtors and realty companies — you have to know how to talk to people, you have to know how to talk to the right people. We needed to be with people who knew how to target niche markets smartly. And I think Compass does that better than anybody. It’s a modern company that understands marketing and optimizes social media.
So we didn’t even talk to anybody else other than Evan. I thought, ‘A, this guy loves SoulCycle, B, he’s really social, C, he works for an organization that leverages all those things, and D, he loved all the quirks of the house.’ The first time we brought him over he understood the house right away, which to us was incredibly important.
What sort of advice or suggestions has Evan offered throughout the process?
Paul: Evan’s been incredibly reassuring. He’s helped us stay calm and manifest positivity throughout a normally stressful experience.
We’d also asked Evan if we should take out all of our stuff, and he’d said no, that it was going to speak to somebody in a very specific way. We agreed, as we’ve rented the house in the past — a few years ago to a fashion editor, for instance — and the reason she connected with the house was because of our style.
Working with Evan, we found someone who appreciates the house’s weirdness and funk the way we do, and it’s now under contract!
What’s next for you and Jim?
Paul: We’ve bought our new place, a farmhouse with a barn. And yes, we’re painting it black and white.