Inside Designer Michelle Smith’s Long Island Home Full of Spontaneity and Surprise

Covering up a window, forgoing proper kitchen cabinetry, painting shutters to match the clapboard façades.… Such notions are, to the pearl-clutching decorate, anathema. But designer Michelle R. Smith has never been one to abide by convention. Case in point: the 1857 house that she recently transformed in Bellport, New York, a charm-filled village on the south shore of Long Island. Over a matter of weeks, this rising star updated the Greek Revival residence into an eclectic nest for her young family, cleverly challenging the rules of good taste along the way.

The four-bedroom property, though historic, had languished on the market on account of its formal interiors and outdated systems. “There was no air-conditioning, no laundry room,” she recalls. “It seemed overwhelming to a lot of people, but I was like, ‘This is the perfect project.’  ” After buying the home in late 2018, she set about tweaking the layout—adapting the kitchen as a laundry room, carving out a second upstairs bathroom, and reimagining what had been a music room as an eat-in kitchen, with freestanding worktables in lieu of cabinetry. At its center, Børge Mogensen chairs pull up to a farm table, with unexpectedly industrial fixtures shining overhead, among them a vintage pendant for film lighting. But a Nancy Meyers movie set this is not.

pBruno Widmann paintings hang above the living room's soda an auction find sheer curtains of BampJ fabric. p
Bruno Widmann paintings hang above the living room’s soda, an auction finds; sheer curtains of B&J fabric.

“I don’t like a kitchen that screams kitchen,” muses Smith, noting that a pantry and open shelving in an adjacent hallway provide ample storage. “That doesn’t work with a lot of clients, but it works for me.” Throughout the house, she relished that freedom. To add closets to a bedroom, she covered over a window with wallpapered doors. Against others’ advice, she painted the shutters in the same white as the façade. And whereas purists might have torn down an awkward addition, she thought jackpot—a playroom for her two-year-old son, Bash. “It’s really nice to not have to be so precious about things.”

That carefree vibe radiates throughout the rooms, which eschew trends in favor of comfortable furnishings, all but a handful of them repurposed from her previous house in Sag Harbor. “I barely had a mood board,” she recalls. “I would just throw things on the trays in our office.” Those included client castoffs like the Charlecote Trellis wallpaper by Hamilton Weston that lines the stair hall. Fabrics run the gamut from fine (elegantly wrinkled Christian Fischbacher silk for curtains) to fuss-free (pleasantly affordable finds from B&J for sheers and a bedspread). And artwork tends toward the abstract and inexpensive, with a $10 anonymous painting from a frame shop joining several auction finds.

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