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Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness’s Airy East Hampton Getaway is a Minimalist Dream

This was my lifelong dream,” says Deborra-lee Furness of building her family a home from scratch. “It’s like, bucket list, tick it off. I’ve done it, and I loved it.”

A six-year endeavor, from start to finish, the East Hampton project had actually been a lifetime in the making. “I had this inspiration book,” explains Furness. “I’d always stick things in it, and everyone used to give me shit. And then when I finally did the house, all my girlfriends from Australia came back, and they go, ‘Oh, my God, the book has come to life.’ ”

More than a ragtag collection of resources and tear sheets, Furness’s book had become a repository for evocative design and art moments, ones that had impressed upon her a strong mood or feeling. “I took influences from Japan, from Morocco, from all my travels over the years,” says Furness, herself an artist and designer, who also works in the film business. “I love the Aman hotels. I love zen. I love that simplistic, modern minimalism.”

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A hand-carved solid bleached walnut monolithic dining table, custom-built by Field & Co. Woodworking over the course of two years, anchors the dining area. Black chairs by Fair; resin tall-back chair by R&Y Augousti; sculptural bench by Caste. Frank Frances Studio

But before she and husband, superstar Hugh Jackman, could even begin to draft plans, they had to find the right place. “I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe. I spent years looking for a space, but then a girlfriend told me about this property,” says Furness. “We had rented down the street, so we knew the area. And it is right on the bay. The water was so still, and I loved the feeling.

“My kids were like, ‘Mom, make a decision already.’ We went to see it, and I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” she recalls. They nabbed a pair of adjoining pieces of land overlooking a sizable bluff. And while Furness was certain they wanted to conceive and execute something completely new, they still had to contend with a preexisting structure. “We now call it the Black Shack,” says Furness. “It was this little artist’s shack. It had good bones, but it was from the ’70s, and it was all stone tiles. I thought, Oh, my God, how can I transform this without pulling it down?”

At that point, Furness, book in hand, decided to collaborate with architect Viola Rouhani and interior designer Eleanor Donnelly, both of Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects. “I went to a party at Mr. [Calvin] Klein’s house,” recalls Furness of how she had made the professional connection. “He is the master of minimalism. And I just said, ‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ ”

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The house’s planar façade is punctuated by interesting cutouts for skylights and overhangs. Frank Frances Studio

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The primary bath is clad in Florim tiles that imitate marble. Bath fittings by Studio Piet Boon for Cocoon; Custom waterfall tub filler. Frank Frances Studio

Of their robust conversations, Donnelly recalls, “Part of the fun was having a client that is giving you so much. Deb was definitely a part of our design team, probably more so than any other clients I’ve ever really worked with. She weighed in on every moment and every opportunity. And that was helpful for us.” Rouhani agrees, noting that “the collaboration and the back-and-forth dialogue took on a life of its own. The end result is something that is, at the same time, completely in line with the work that we do but also very different.”

The design team first tackled the “shack,” staining the outside black and creating a cozy-chic interior with lots of wood built-ins (including bunk beds) and whitewashed floors. In the five years that the main house was materializing, the family—which includes their kids, Oscar, 21, and Ava, 16, and their dogs, a French bulldog named Dali and a poodle-terrier mix named Allegra—would hunker down there when they headed out east. Of that time, Furness recalls: “My husband would say, ‘Why are you building the big house? I love it here.’ And I would say, ‘Because it’s nine in the morning, we have two teenagers asleep in the main room, and we’re sneaking around, that’s why.’ ”

Furness had a vision. “I wanted to do a beach house that allowed for the way we wanted to live,” she says. “That’s why the design is unusual, because people usually hide the kitchen. For us, cooking is the main event. I want to be a part of the action. My kids love to cook, so that’s in the middle of the living room.”

Still, she appreciates that everyone, even close-knit relatives, likes to have time to themselves. “You can watch sports on the mezzanine—that has its own moment. And with the way I’ve set up the living room lounges, you’ve got your sit-by-the-fire moment, you’ve got your look-out-to-the-sea, pondering-your-own-navel moment. And Hugh and I are complete backgammonophiles, so the backgammon set lives there.” To accommodate additional pastimes, the home also includes a gym, an artist’s studio, and a screening room. “It’s such a magical thing,” adds Furness. “I know it’s an extravagance, but the house has got just what we need.” Jackman, who begins a star turn in the Broadway revival of The Music Man in late December, adds, “I love that we use every room, every day. Because of Deb’s design, it brings us all together. When you have time off, you want to be a unit.”

One thing the house doesn’t need is color. “The house is very monochromatic. I do not do primary colors. I can’t do primary colors,” Furness says. Nonetheless, Furness and Jackman selected a kaleidoscopic James Turrell piece to anchor a pivotal spot in their home. “You usually have to live in a space before you choose your art,” says Furness. “But I picked it during the process because I had lived in this house in my mind so much. I knew it so well.” The LED piece, which is installed in a hallway and shines into the main living area, cycles through an array of colors over its two-and-a-half-hour running time. “It reflects in the windows, and that’s the only color, really,” says Furness. “It’s so bold and over the top. It’s the heartbeat of the house.”

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Furness in the entry hall.  Frank Frances Studio

And like all living things, the home continues to evolve. Furness has turned her attention to creating a Japanese garden outside. Jackman, in awe of his wife, says, “Deb is extraordinary. I was at almost every meeting over five years. I felt I would know what it would feel like to walk in for the first time. I was wrong. The home so far exceeded my expectations. I didn’t realize what Deb created was not only beautiful but warm. Even now, when I walk in the door, it gives me a feeling of calm.”

via Architectural Digest

Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey

Joyce Rey is one of the most respected names in luxury real estate worldwide, having represented some of the most significant properties in the world.



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