Every homeowner has a fantasy. For interior designer Brian Graybill and her husband, attorney Daniel Dokos, the fantasy was a 19th-century warehouse converted into a family retreat. However, no such structure existed on the waterfront property they purchased in Sag Harbor, New York. All that stood was a 1950s house with seven-foot ceilings, uncomfortably low windows, and numerous clunky additions. “We thought we could just fix it,” Graybill recalls. Instead, or rather unsurprisingly, these straightforward ambitions evolved into a total, yet backward-looking, reimagining of the house built on a concrete block foundation.
The couple discovered that the property was actually once a warehouse and was served by an elevated railway from the 1880s to the 1950s. Photos of the demolished building were unearthed at a local museum, and Graybill worked with Atlanta-based architectural firm Historical Concepts to help with the renovation. Their reinterpretation would be an exercise in adaptive reuse of fiction. “It’s unlike anything we’ve done before,” said Historical Concepts’ Andrew Koger, adding, “We first recreated a warehouse and then evolved it into housing.” . Graybill continued, “We took a true part of history but twisted it into something more fun and adventurous than the original story.”
That meant layering the house, which they dubbed Claxton House, with details that told an exaggerated but compelling story. (The name comes from a British naval officer who came to Sag Harbor during the War of 1812 and a hypothetical descendant who may have purchased the building.) Includes panels that may have been added in his 1940s. Some rooms lack crown molding, suggesting a gentleman’s dream, but a limited budget. Wooden wainscoting may have been installed as a cost-effective upgrade. The brand new chimney in the living room looks like it was built 100 years ago, and the interior walls of the storage room are the same material as the exterior siding, making it look like it was just a conveniently carved out space in a converted warehouse. His large first floor windows in this house were inspired by carriage house doors. Some of the interior design references his early 1900s Vienna Secession movement, such as the geometric tiles and decorative details.
“It’s really a stage set,” says Graybill, who is no stranger to evoking enchanting atmospheres, thanks to his experience designing bars and restaurants for the late hospitality master David Collins. “Rather than just a backdrop, he was thinking about something that was theatrical but also useful.” That is, elements that allow sunlight to penetrate deeper into the house, such as glazed interior walls. These are adaptations of kitchen features Graybill has seen in Merchant Ivory movies and shows. Upper floor, lower floor. The designer says, “I wanted the home to have a serious but not stoic atmosphere, like a series of work rooms that share light.”
Graybill’s décor is in perfect harmony with his engaging storytelling. Art that speaks to the past, ceiling fixtures and miniskirt curtains reminiscent of Eastern European cafes, shimmering floral patterns, and rich colors ranging from pale fondant to mossy tones. But Claxton House feels more refreshing than respectful. The concept is serious, but not stoic. “This was a passion project, so I was nervous and scared of how it would turn out,” Graybill explains, adding that having trusted artisans and artisans made the process much easier. “But I’m very happy.”
This story comes from advertisement’■July/August 2023 issue. Subscribe to see this Sag Harbor home in print.○AD.