Your heartbeat begins to slow before you even get to Shelter Island, a small oasis of calm just a two-and-a-half hour drive from New York City.
‘You board the ferry and cross the Peconic River, and it just starts to change your perspective,’ says Ryan Mahoney, co-founder of architecture and interior design firm Workstead. ‘I don’t even know if there is a traffic light on the island,’ he adds. ‘It’s pretty quaint really, but in the best of ways.’
It’s here that Workstead – set up by three friends, Ryan, Stefanie Brechbuehler and Robert Highsmith – has transformed a traditional wooden shingle-clad 1940s cottage for New Yorkers Nick Gavin, a real estate expert, and his wife, Katrin Thormann, a German-born fashion model.
Bought in 2016, when Nick was still a confirmed bachelor, this house had always been a place to escape to, somewhere to refocus, away from the buzz of the city. But, after starting a relationship with Katrin and later welcoming their first daughter, Greta, into the world, it was clear that the retreat needed to expand to accommodate a growing family.
Workstead’s solution was a large gabled pavilion, housing a spacious new main bedroom and bathroom, connected to the original property by a glass-encased passageway. Orientated to make the most of the amazing light that graces this side of the building, as well as the unobstructed views across the island’s rolling green hills, the extension’s design is not radical, but respectful.
‘Nick was quite protective of the original house,’ says Ryan. ‘He had met Melvin, the previous homeowner, and fell in love with the place. He mentioned multiple times wanting to honour what was there and maintain its spirit.’
This measured approach has been carried through into the interiors, with Ryan and the team keeping things pared-back but beautifully crafted. They took inspiration from Nick and Katrin’s existing furniture, which included a vintage dining table by French designer Pierre Chapo – a man renowned for his work with wood.
‘There aren’t a lot of pieces,’ admits Ryan. ‘It’s pretty minimal. We wanted just a few items that work well in conversation with one another.’ That discourse now includes a wooden bed by local makers in the guest bedroom, which Ryan says reminds him of the functional style of great American designer and woodworker Donald Judd, as well as pieces by Ilse Crawford, Børge Mogensen and Pierre Jeanneret.
‘The plan was to create somewhere that was thoughtful and unfussy,’ explains Ryan of the redesign. ‘Things aren’t very complicated in this property – there is a simplicity and a focus.’
It’s a statement that is equally true of Shelter Island itself. Perhaps it is this quality that made it the perfect place for Nick and Katrin to hunker down during the worst months of the pandemic, only increasing their passion for the area. With its cosy, golden evening glow and warming wood-burning stove, this is a holiday home that deserves to be occupied in all seasons. Who knows, maybe the more relaxed pace will begin to rub off on these committed Manhattanites.
This house features in recent monograph ‘Workstead: Interiors of Beauty and Necessity’ (rizzoliusa.com, £45); workstead.com