A Designer’s Own Home

Joe Nahem’s Amagansett retreat is filled with personality — and artwork
A two-story stone fireplace divides the living room. The art is by Dirk Skreber, left wall, George Condo, fireplace, and Herman Bas, right wall. The coffee table, left foreground, is by George Nakashima. Vintage American armchairs covered in linen, below, are beneath a Massimo Vitali photograph in the master bedroom.

Joe Nahem of Fox-Nahem Associates and Jeff Fields, his partner in life as well as work, welcomed a visitor to their modest house on Further Lane, Amagansett, recently and said they had gone from living in “a crappy little nothing house, which we were fine with at the time” to one with unique personality in keeping with the firm, which is on Elle Décor’s A List and is one of Architectural Digest’s “AD 100.”   

They might have mentioned, but didn’t, that among the clients who relish the Fox-Nahem approach are Robert Downey Jr., the actor, and his wife, the producer Susan Downey, who asked Mr. Nahem to design their Malibu residence and do what he could to make their traditional but somewhat spectacular house off Main Street in East Hampton Village more livable for themselves and their children.     

The house contains a windmill, was used in Sidney Lumet’s 1992 film “Deathtrap,” and with the couple is featured on the cover of the December issue of Architectural Digest. 

 Mr. Nahem and Mr. Fields, who have worked together for the last 12 years and been together for 30, qualify as longtime, part-time residents of Further Lane, having rented there for six years before buying a house of their own near the ocean. “It hadn’t been touched for 20 years. It was one story, and when we bought it, we would climb up on the roof and say, ‘One day this will be our view,’ ” Mr. Nahem said. 

Six years of renovations followed, but eventually they decided to tear down the house and start over. Working with the architect Steve Chrostowski, they designed a three-level dwelling of more than 5,000 square feet with a pool, pool house, extensive decks, and, yes, an ocean view.

The living room has a high ceiling. A two-story, stacked-stone fireplace open on both sides divides it. The designers realized their dream view by adding a second story for the master bedroom and bath.

A guest room that has its own garden is on the lower level of the house, as well as a sauna and gym, which “has become our second den,” Mr. Nahem said. A pool and pool house with a kitchenette and a large cabana with a fireplace are on the ocean side of the property, which is surrounded by conserved land that has become a bird sanctuary.

Even though every space has a unique look, Mr. Nahem said “the goal was to have everything blend. We didn’t want it to look like a show house. The house has a lot of personality. Many clients we work with don’t want this much personality. But we like the look to be entertaining.”

“We like it very modern but with natural materials,” Mr. Fields said. ‘It’s not slick, but it’s not overly country.” 

To say materials are important is an understatement. No drywall is used and the doors and windows are mahogany. Heavy stone tiles in the entrance foyer were shipped from a French chateau, and the living room flooring is wood that was reclaimed and re-milled.

“As designers, one of the joys is all the artisans we get to meet,” Mr. Nahem said, pointing to an elaborate chandelier by the glass artist Jeff Zimmerman in the dining room. It hangs above a table created by Based Upon, two English designers. Resin was poured over layers of metal to create the table’s translucent surface, which evokes a clear, shallow pond.

As for the kitchen, Mr. Nahem said the old house had had one that “was a nice size, but we wanted to make it into a sort of den. We live here. We hardly go to the other side of the house over the weekends.” A counter in the kitchen is made from two book-matched pieces of black walnut designed by Mira Nakashima, who took over the New Hope, Pa., studio that had been used by her father, the renowned furniture designer George Nakashima, after his death.

Mr. Nahem and Mr. Fields chose all the materials and fixtures personally. “The interesting thing is, when you’re building your own house you have to remember that you’re not your client. They’re at a different level. But at the same time, you have to practice what you preach. You can’t tell clients, ‘This is the hardware you need, but I’m going to go buy Home Depot hardware for myself,’ ” Mr. Nahem said.

The house is one of five that will be on the East Hampton Historical Society’s annual house and garden tour, which will take place Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

“We’ve been asked for many years to be part of the tour, and the only reason we haven’t done it before is that it’s on Thanksgiving weekend, which is the only time our two families converge. And everybody’s a slob,” Mr. Nahem said. “But this year we only have one family, so we figured we can control it and get everybody up and out of bed.”

For those who wish a broader view of Mr. Nahem’s work, “Fox-Nahem: The Design Vision of Joe Nahem,” written by Anthony Iannacci with a foreword by Mr. Downey, has just been published by Abrams. The book features 15 of the designer’s projects.

Vintage reed armchairs, a Moroccan wool rug, a bench by the French designer Alexandre Loge, French floor lamps, and a painting by Aya Takano, a Japanese manga artist, also enliven the living room, as does Josie, a Jack Russell terrier.
The kitchen has its own den, left, with a Shaker wood-burning stove, vintage Scandinavian rug, and Milo Baughman tub chairs. The black walnut counter in the cooking area, right, was made by Mira Nakashima.