Surf’s Up: A beach house in The Hamptons

A beach house in The Hamptons becomes an ode to the Australian summer from an expat who audaciously kicked out the rental furnishings and brought in his own surf aesthetic.

A summer beach rental can mean dealing with dilapidated furniture, questionable decor and shoddy taste. That is, unless you’re Richard Christiansen, Australian founder of hip Manhattan advertising agency Chandelier Creative, who rented a home in Montauk in New York’s East Hampton, and moved all of the owners’ furniture out and all of his own furniture in (after meticulously photographing each item, wrapping the home’s contents in bubble wrap and placing everything in storage).

He also replanted the entire garden, not to mention moving his colony of bees in to make his own honey. His parents are beekeepers, hence his innate love of the little fellas. “I’m the guy who furnishes and landscapes a rental,” laughs Christiansen, who grew up in Duranbah on the far north New South Wales coast. “I was so panicked the owners would find out.” They did, but more on that later.

Since moving to New York 11 years ago, Christiansen’s own beach holidays had been rare until a trip home to Australia brought on something of an epiphany. “I loved the physicality of Australia, of being in nature,” he says. “I lived in New York for so long and I’d never set foot outside the city.” He returned to New York and drove out to Montauk the next day, spotting the cedar A-frame, built in the 1950s and owned by a couple who had raised two generations there. “It was perfect,” he recalls. “It’s a big property, really unpretentious and hadn’t been touched in 30 years. It’s not your typical Montauk house, which can be quite stuffy.”

Stylistically, Christiansen thought the house had to be “hyper-colour, to inspire the senses, and it had to be vintage.” His design aesthetic began “with patterns and rugs”. He took a buying trip to Hawaii, where he scoured for antique Hawaiian fabric and vintage surf art. Further buying trips to the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Los Angeles and auctions in New York, New Jersey and Palm Springs unearthed everything from vintage crockery (“I’ve been collecting fish-shaped plates”) to the lime-green Chesterfield sofa in the living area.

Christiansen says the property’s basic three-bedroom, living room, kitchen, hallway and laundry configuration – along with its pine walls and floors – resembled an Australian beach shack. “It was very down to earth, very democratic,” he says. “I wanted it to be my ode to an Australian summer.” Given its modest size, the large deck became the home’s centrepoint. During the summer, Christiansen hosts up to 50 people for outdoor dinner parties, usually followed by a movie (he has a large screen hanging from one of the trees). “We join picnic tables together and we’ll cook, and have really nice china, but it’s still casual. Then we’ll watch a film.” To accommodate his guests, there are antique Swedish bunk beds in the guest bedrooms as well as hand-painted teepees, which he and his team constructed, on the lawn.

Inspired by Camp David – the country retreat of every American president since 1942 – he wanted to create something of a compound for his own staff. For his 40 employees (many of whom are hardcore surfers), the home is an extension of the office. “It’s a lovely retreat we can go to, but where we can still be creative and productive,” he says. It’s also a destination for clients. “I have some fairly serious clients, so the house has to feel like me and the company – it has to have a bit of a wink.” Indeed, it does. The sheets and pillows are embroidered with slogans and there are pick-up lines written on bathroom mirrors: Hey, I lost my number – can I have yours? “I did that to make people feel good about themselves,” he says.


And what did he do at the end of summer, when he had to move all his furniture out and haul the original back in? Fortunately, he didn’t have to move a thing. The owners discovered what Christiansen had done with the house (they spotted a piece in the New York Times on how he had constructed something of a Disneyland for his staff) but were so thrilled that he’d shown such a passion for the home that they offered to sell him the property. “It’s funny, I was so scared they’d find out but when they did, it’s what pulled on their heartstrings to let me buy it,” he says. Sometimes it pays to be audacious.

This story appears in Vogue Living May/June 2012, on news stands and Zinio now.

Producer: Megan Morton
Writer: Tiffany Bakker
Photographer: Jason Busch

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Comments
9 Responses to “Surf’s Up: A beach house in The Hamptons”
  1. This looks amazing! I love the idea of an outside movie night.

  2. Wow! I’m amazed by the beautiful scenario of the pictures and I really feel to surf now….awesome!

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