A move to the country teaches one woman lessons on building a home and finding your true self.
Like most New Yorkers, Nancy Toon was content to find a change of pace by shuttling out of the bustling city on weekends for a quiet respite in the country. It was an ideal lifestyle for Nancy, an interior designer who thrived on the energy and dynamic influence of living in a city that pulsated with creative vigor. The Hamptons, her weekend destination of choice, on the other hand, was sophistication on sand. Rural yet stylish, relaxed yet teeming with artistic history. However, after 15 years of oscillating between the two locales, Nancy decided to change things up. One weekend, she decided she didn’t want to leave.
“It was just time to make the move,” Nancy says. She immediately set to search for her new home in the country. In a few short months, she found a “charming shingled shack” in a Southampton peninsula on the Great Peconic Bay. What she and her boyfriend thought would be a sweet fixer-upper turned into quite the adventure. “I had no clue what was involved in renovating a house,” she says. The priority was to gut out a bathroom that was completely unusable. “Then I started putting in a classic Hamptons look using white painted bead board and wide-plank, dark-stained floors. The living room had no charm with mint-colored walls and rotten windows looking out onto what used to be an orchard but now had only one sad-looking pear tree left.”
Taking full advantage of life in the country, Nancy designed her gardens as a series of rooms where ambling paths lead to several gates that reveal outdoor seating areas and entertainment spaces.
Not everything was scrapped. On the advice of a friend, Nancy kept an old wood-burning stove that came with the house. “That first winter I learned how to use that stove, and it still remains there today even though all the windows have been replaced with a bank of beautiful French doors.” The dreaded mint color has been replaced too, with a mix of warm whites, which look as good in winter as they do in summer. The pear tree finally died a few years later, and Nancy decided to revamp the hill where the orchard once was and put in a black-bottom pool that looks more like a private swimming pond.
The house that Nancy built is a serene place. She prides herself in creating the kind of abode where she can entertain on a whim, relax in a casually elegant environment where she gladly tells visitors to kick their shoes off and get comfortable.
Nancy pulls her style from a variety of places not the least of which trace back to an entire childhood and young adulthood spent living in various countries as the daughter of an American ambassador. While the simple whites and neutral styles are a far cry from the opulence she encountered while living in Prague’s Petchek Palace for example, there is an air of global sophistication and attention to rich detail that is not unlike the 95-room estate she resided in as a child. Belgium, France, Italy, Greece, India. The list goes on and lives on in Nancy today as the aesthetic makes its way into her home, design studio and store a few miles away where she re-established her interiors company, Hound Hill Design, after her move.
A combination of comfy neutral sofas sparked by rich pops of intense coral throws and window panels in the living room is a prime example of Nancy’s style. A well-edited array of unique objets d’art and functional accessories represents Nancy’s penchant for finding interesting wares and making sense of them in a relaxed and livable environment. The dark wood floors provide warmth and the light walls and oversized furnishings make the best use of space.
A mix of the classic with the unexpected is the hallmark of Nancy’s personal style. In the foyer leading into the “winter dining” room a zebra-print rug adds another element of spice to an otherwise traditional beachy décor. The dining room gets its name from the fireplace that warms the area and the elegantly upholstered dining chairs that surround the pedestal table. The summer dining room on the other hand created in a sunroom surrounded by a bank of windows and made more airy with the addition of French doors offers great views of the gardens in the summer. The bedrooms retain a light summery mood all year long. The walls, painted in Farrow and Ball’s “Elephant Breath” have a soothing Gustavian feel that provides a great backdrop for reds in the winter, sandy beiges in the summer.
Nancy also has the benefit of using her home as a workshop of sorts for the store. She plays with textiles and road tests accessories and conducts trials on furniture before green-lighting them to be offered for her customers. “I can only sell what I believe to be beautiful, comfortable or practical, so I usually am experimenting with product in my own home first before it is ordered for the store,” she says.
Nancy hasn’t severed ties with city life by any means either. She still shuttles back to the city every few weeks to reconnect with design resources. However New York has to compete with the rest of the Eastern seaboard and a few spots in Europe where Nancy still goes on buying trips for vintage and antiques finds.
While there are still things to work on, renovation plans in the queue, Nancy is content with the home she’s built in the country, where the sounds of yellow cabs are replaced with those of the bird sanctuary nearby. And while she’s traveled the globe, and everywhere from the heart of the big city to the icy plains of Moscow, she’s found what fits her best.
“I honestly always loved the country and I always knew I would end up here at some point,” she says. “This suits me.”
By Jickie Torres
Photography by Jacqueline deMontravel