Los Angeles-based, Manhattan-raised designer David Netto was never afraid to take chances by pushing, placating, or tricking his clients. An adventurer himself, he likes to provoke others and test their limits. Raised on the Upper East Side in the 1980s, he dropped out of Harvard’s graduate school architecture program and launched perhaps the first high-end midcentury children’s furniture line, building Richard Neutra’s famous O’Hara House in Los Angeles. After purchasing the company, he started a cross-country business. Residential design studio. No one would fault him for failing to practice the boldness he preaches.
The New York couple who asked him to reimagine their weekend home in Millbrook, a horse enclave two hours north of New York City, have long admired Netto’s witty elan. When he designed his Manhattan apartment in 2015, Netto was a little hesitant, but convinced him to hang Calder’s giant tapestry from 1975. floating circle, on the mantelpiece. Since then, Calder’s tapestry has become something of a signature for the designer.
The couple, a healthcare industry CEO and policy analyst, purchased this upstate home, a well-represented 1980s colonial mansion, in 2016. The more than 200 acres were home to local people for many years. They kept most of his furniture, along with a lot of chintz and period decorations. For several years, they treated it primarily as a cozy place for their three young children to put on their ski boots and roam around.
But then the pandemic hit, and after families were stuck there for months, they realized it was time to turn their homes into “real homes,” the policy analyst recalls. The couple wanted Elle Deco A-list designer Nett to maintain its casual, country charm while simultaneously transforming the home into a more sophisticated, pared-back retreat. They also asked him to find a way to bring in more sunlight and a sense of spaciousness.
A more pedestrian designer might have simply suggested adding unobtrusive Colonial-style wings on either side or a rectangular “great room” with a flat roof. Such changes are common. But Netto was not one to give in to the obvious. Instead, he proposed a rather avant-garde solution. It is a vast octagonal room connected to the house by a corridor-like orangery.
It wasn’t an easy sell, but the CEO was captivated by Netto’s inspiration. The Octagonal Library at Edgewater is a Neo-Palladian mansion overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York, built in 1824 and owned by the author and author in his 1960s. Gadfly Goa Vidal. His eight-sided room in this house was also an 1854 addition conceived by architect Alexander Jackson and his Davis. It remains a shocking contrast to the classical proportions of the original structure. “It took courage and I was determined to get my client to say yes,” Netto says. “We had to do something radically different.”
In fact, the new octagon is 28 feet wide and has a ceiling height of 13 feet, giving the home an awe-inspiring and playful space. The space, with its horizontal pine paneling (“We wanted it to feel like a rec room,” says Nett, “but not too Jeffersonian but not too luxurious”), is a perfect place for a family, especially on holidays. It’s a place to enjoy. The kids are playing board games in one corner, and the adults are huddled around the fireplace beneath a 1975 Calder tapestry. Star. The surrounding orangery is filled with trees in zinc planters, bringing in the outside views throughout the seasons.
Throughout the home, Netto combines fine classic furniture, such as 1790s Queen Anne-style chairs and chintz guest rooms, with contemporary pieces that add a touch of whimsy to the space. A row of French hanging lanterns has been given a completely new look with white powder coating, and in the corner an amphora stands on a pedestal made of natural rattan. Above his one of the three fireplaces hangs a mirror framed with porcupine feathers, and the end table has a spherical one by Jennifer Norcon with skirted legs and carved horns. There are stoneware lamps. “I try to interpret traditional works as sketches and outlines, keeping the allusion, but loosening the form,” Nett says. “It’s a little unfinished, but it’s about the future as much as the past. That’s how you feel young.”
This story was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR.subscribe