The model and style icon transformed an 18th-century home on the East End and the results are stunning.
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When you’re blessed with good bones, beauty comes naturally. We could be talking about model Carolyn Murphy, who arguably won the genetic lottery in the looks category, but we’re talking about her 18th-century home on Long Island. After a recent renovation, its original timber frame has become a spare yet striking space with wideplank pine floors and creamy plaster walls. And within sight of meeting Murphy, we know exactly where it got its style. Far from a fashion show or photo shoot, she stands barefoot and bare-faced, wearing old Levi’s and a T-shirt, looking radiant.
Murphy first saw the house in the summer of 2016 and instantly fell in love with it. “My mind went creatively wild,” she recalls. “I was already painting and rearranging it.” The elderly owner shared the special qualities of the place and that it had been in her family for nearly 50 years. The only problem: Murphy wasn’t in the position to buy it and reluctantly had to walk away. The following spring, when she and her daughter Dylan, now 17, were in the area again, Dylan saw that the home was still on the market, and the owner remembered them when they drove up: “She had tears in her eyes and said, ‘I knew you’d come back!’ It was like a love story.”
At the same time, the home, which actually comprises two 18th-century houses joined in 1987, needed work. The opposite of Murphy’s illuminated and pared-down aesthetic, “it was done in chintz and toile and painted in ‘Americana’ colors—dark red, blue, mustard, and olive,” she explains. The windows, stairs, and floors were stenciled in deep shades, and the master bath had an ’80s Jacuzzi–style tub. What the place needed, she realized, was a major make-under—the domestic equivalent of good jeans and a T-shirt.
By nature, Murphy was up for the task: A lover of home design since she was a kid, she used to get in trouble for redecorating while her parents were out. “Some people like shopping for clothes; I like shopping for lamps,” she says. Her eye for style also caught the attention of Shinola, which named her women’s design director in 2014. She soon hired a contractor and oversaw the renovation. Step one was silencing the cacophony of wall colors: “There is nothing white paint can’t cure.” Next came a dumpster, which got filled with plastic shower stalls, dated vanities, and lowhanging cabinets from a guest room. “When friends stayed over, they’d wake up and immediately hit their heads,” she says.
She also took pains to preserve many historic elements, from antique doorknobs and light fixtures to original woodwork—and enjoyed every minute of it. “This stage of my life is about continuing to do what I love: being a mother, modeling, exploring the world, and finding ways to be creative,” says Murphy. “This balance is something I was longing for.”
Photo above: Not just a face for Estée Lauder, Carolyn Murphy is an avid cook, surfer, gardener, environmentalist, and artist. Here, she stands in the doorway of the art studio behind her weekend home, in a dress by Ulla Johnson.
The kitchen renovation was a labor of love for Murphy, who wanted to honor the house’s history of more than 250 years. She replaced dark cabinetry with open shelving (made out of floorboards salvaged from the living room), painted the lower cabinets a serene bluegray from the Benjamin Moore Historical Collection, and installed a new farmhouse sink, a Viking stove, and maple countertops. The dishes are from Canvas Home.
The home sits on a quiet half-acre overlooking the water, and farms are a 10-minute drive away. “I’m enchanted by the idea of farmland and beaches in one place,” she says.
Daughter Dylan descends the stairs from the guest bedroom. When Murphy bought the house, they were painted deep red and stenciled with black and red diamonds.
“I love Shaker style,” says Murphy. Her warm yet austere kitchen hearkens back to the practical American aesthetic, with its scrubbed pine floor (which she finished with linseed oil), modest wooden furniture, and simple wall hooks. The work table was made using wood reclaimed from the kitchen’s old countertops and solid floorboards rescued from the living room, where the rest of the planks were disintegrating: “My foot went through in the middle of the night. I hit dirt!”
Both mom and daughter love having friends stay over. The pushed-together twin beds in the upstairs guest room fit squarely in a sloped niche under a bank of windows. A devoted reader, Murphy installed the same Schoolhouse Electric swing-arm reading lights that she has in her own bedroom. “Out here, I usually fall asleep by nine-thirty with a good book and the windows cracked open, even in winter,” she says. The bedspread is from Matteo.
When furnishing the place, Murphy went for weathered wooden benches and stools, slip-covered sofas, hand-woven baskets, white ceramics, and paintings of rural landscapes. “I’m a purist; I don’t like clutter,” she says. “Pretty much everything is from local stores and flea markets. I like purchasing things that were already made—it’s another way of recycling.”
The home’s 18th-century timber framing is on full display in the doorway leading to the guest bathroom. Murphy stripped the space of its ‘80s décor but retained an old pedestal sink with unlacquered brass fixtures. “Odd-shaped rooms can be tricky to decorate, but these quirky corners make you think more about where to put things,” she says.
In addition to gardening and cooking at her house, Murphy meditates, makes preserves, draws, and paints—and shares her knowledge in these areas so widely that her friends call her Mamma Murphy, which will be the name of her soon-to-be-launched lifestyle website. Left, she sketches in her studio.