From White to Black: A Trending Palette

‘The Little Ranch House That Could’
The dog, Bertie, just happens to be black and white, in keeping with the interior of what had been a 1960s ranch house.

Russ Patrick was not buying his architect’s pitch to blacken the exterior of the small ranch house in Sag Harbor that he and his wife, Chris, were rebuilding. But that was two years ago. Today, they are not only advocates but veritable poster children for private houses with black exteriors, which seem to be cropping up on the South Fork.

What traditionally would have been considered too gloomy for a house in a beach town, siding in varying shades of charcoal and black are more recently referred to in architectural parlance as “authoritative,” “bold,” and “dramatic.” 

One thing for sure: Black is popular. Around the East End, houses belonging to boldface names — Calvin Klein, Madonna, and Jonathan Adler and Simon Doonan — have gone over to the dark side.

“Chris and Russ just aren’t white house kind of people,” said Angela Inzerillo, the Sag Harbor architect who designed the Patricks’ house and suggested the black exterior. “They had all this chic, modern furniture from their old house that was in the grey, black, and white palette, so it became clear that the inside should be reflected on the outside.”

Capitalizing on the Sag Harbor real estate boom in 2015, they sold their sprawling, historic “captain’s” house with seven fireplaces and bought a “typical 1960s ranch house that was about 1,200-square-feet with closet-sized rooms,” Ms. Patrick said. “The kids had grown up and moved out.”

The couple downsized, or “right-sized‚“ as it might more appropriately be termed. “We lived in a house with endless rooms and we only used two of them,” said Mr. Patrick, a graphic artist during the golden 1970s advertising and design era. The couple have been full-time residents on the East End for the last 10 years and at one point owned an art gallery on Main Street in Sag Harbor. 

Ms. Inzerillo said it was definitely a trend “for empty-nesters to move from 4,000-square-feet to 2,000.” She explained that her job was to make a smaller space as comfortable as an older, larger one. Indeed, residential architecture is a concrete expression of private life, she said, adding that regardless of square footage, a well-designed house will always make a visitor aware of the inhabitants’ creativity, thoughts, lifestyle, and emotions. In fitting the Patricks’ artistic and creative sensibilities into a tiny, two-bedroom house, adaptability was key, she said.

The architect tore down about 95 percent of the structure, while more or less retaining its footprint. She pushed a wall out a few feet into the garden, and added more livable space in the basement, which now has a sleek media room, an office nook, a full bathroom, a wet bar, and a sitting area. The latter is perhaps the only wasted space — a dark corner occupied by a long upholstered bench that in another time would have been recognized as a fainting couch.

On the ground floor, open plan living, dining, and kitchen areas are dramatized by a cathedral ceiling, which creates a bright, aerie atmosphere. “It has a resort-y feel,” Ms. Patrick said. An ingenious, rotating wood-burning stove stands guard in the center of the space, allowing views of the flames from all corners. 

Sleek white cabinetry offers plenty of storage for the couple’s possessions. “I got rid of so much stuff, but actually, we have more storage here than we did in that big house because this is so cleverly designed,” Ms. Patrick said. In other words, every square inch of the pint-sized house is valuable and in use.

But it is the black exterior that seems to separate their house from the other modest dwellings in the 1940s community off Long Beach Road, about two miles from Sag Harbor’s retail shops. “You could buy a plot of land here for $300 in 1940s,” Mr. Patrick said with a smile.

Technically, the exterior is not as black as others on the East End. The Benjamin Moore paint used is called Raccoon Fur. Ms. Inzerillo said the name was an accurate description of the color: a smudgy gray hue, like the black-and-white blur one might see when a raccoon scurries across the road.

Ms. Inzerillo’s penchant for black exteriors is clearly not accidental. In her 17 years as an architect, she has worked for Blaze Makoid, one of the East End’s better-known architects, whose home in Sag Harbor is a 2,900-square-foot modern structure with a black exterior. Mr. Makoid once explained that the exterior was inspired by the Japanese siding technique called Shou Sugi Ban, which blackens and seals wood by burning it.

Perhaps even more influential was Ms. Inzerillo’s time employed by the Manhattan and Hamptons architect Mark Zeff, who, in addition to building his own spacious black barn in East Hampton, has created an empire based on his trademarked “Black Barn” lifestyle brand, which includes the Black Barn restaurant off Madison Square Park in New York City, a coffee-table book of the same name, and the Black Barn shop, a home-goods store in Brooklyn. “Black is an attention-grabber, a wonderful game-changer,” Mr. Zeff says in his book.

One of the side benefits of a black house, the Patricks’ have noticed, is that the  foliage around it turns a bright emerald green. “Everything just popped,” Ms. Patrick said. The late Jack deLashmet, a renowned landscape architect and garden designer, helped create a low-maintenance miniature oasis for the Patricks, with a small garden off the dining area, black outdoor furniture, and a black fire pit. The Patricks liken it to “a secret place,” and use it even in winter.

Shortly after the couple moved into their new home in November 2016, they threw a housewarming party. As a gift for the couple, whom Ms. Inzerillo called “dream clients,” she wrote and illustrated a small handmade book. It is titled “The Little Ranch House That Could.”
Correction: In the original version of this article, the name of the the Sag Harbor architect who designed the Patricks’ house was misspelled. She is Angela Inzerillo.

Chris and Russ Patrick enjoy their surroundings.
Above and below: The exterior of “The Little Ranch House That Could” proves the black theme, making it unique in a Sag Harbor enclave that was developed in the 1940s.
Inside, it’s black and white all over. Most of the couple’s furniture came from their former 4,000-square-foot house.
The Patricks call the dark patio off the dining room, designed by the late Jack deLashmet, their secret garden.
A floor-to-ceiling mirror helps create an illusion of endless space in the dining area, with a black table and chairs.