Hamptons Hideaway

When in need of rest and relaxation, Atlanta shopkeepers Phoebe and Jim Howard escape to the simple pleasures of Long Island

As the owners of the popular Mrs. Howard and Max & Company showrooms at The Galleries of Peachtree Hills (with additional outposts in Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach, Florida, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina), Jim and Phoebe Howard are no strangers to hard work. Shuttling among the stores and juggling design clients near and far, the two are almost always on the go. But when it comes to relaxing—which can often prove to be elusive—this husband-and-wife decorating duo takes their down time just as seriously as their design projects, which currently include houses from Oxford, Mississippi, to Athens, Greece. But for a couple whose design prowess has cut a broad swath south of the Mason-Dixon line, the two eschewed traditional mountain and beach resorts for something a bit unexpected.

“I Googled ‘paradise’ and East Hampton was at the top of the list,” Jim jokingly says of the Long Island enclave that is as well-known for its lush potato fields as it is for celebrity sightings. As long-time vacationers to the village, the two eventually settled on a property there to buy. But they soon realized that the design of this home called for something different than their other residences, including a pied-à-terre in Atlanta and a house in Jacksonville.

After a complete renovation—it’s essentially a new house, the two say—the home now serves a number of functions. It was decorated to be a year-round residence, not a beach escape. And it works well for the two of them or the whole Howard brood.
“My favorite thing about the house is that it has big rooms that are great for large groups, and then it has little spaces for privacy,” says Phoebe. “That’s how a vacation house should be designed. We have four kids, three of whom are married and one has a baby, so every person needs to be able escape within the house.”

For Jim, getting the design just right was a serious endeavor although he, like Phoebe, is a firm believer that classic design doesn’t have to be study. “I don’t care a thing about whether or not you own a ‘rarified French table’ or a Jansen chair,” says Jim. “I have this sort of magpie approach to tradition and suitability; Phoebe calls me the nutty professor. Design should be seductive but it should also be authentic and principled. I am not the ‘swan of style’ but mixing good taste with a little audacity, and the manipulation of traditional forms, is relevant and cool. Today we have the Internet, modern conveniences and indoor toilets, but everyone still wants atmosphere!” And when it comes to atmosphere, this East Hampton house delivers. Seriously.