Tour Interior Designer Thomas O'Brien's Vintage-Filled Weekend Retreat
In the fine art of spousal gift-giving, interior designers Thomas O'Brien and Dan Fink are no slouches. One Christmas, O'Brien gave Fink, a talented singer, a 1920s Steinway piano. Another year, Fink wowed O'Brien with a set of wheat-back chairs, nearly identical to ones they'd admired in photos of Claude Monet's home in Giverny. Fink quietly hunted them down, then set his surprise in the snow outside the couple's weekend home in Bellport, on Long Island. "He'd even painted them yellow," says O'Brien, the founder of Aero Studios and Aero the Store in New York City, and co-owner (with Fink) of Copper Beech, a home-goods and prepared-foods shop in Bellport.
Those chairs, and the round table O'Brien paired them with, now have pride of place in the open-air dining room of the Garden House on the property. It's where the two eat dishes cooked in their outdoor wood-burning oven, surrounded by roses, periwinkle, and old-growth trees. "Sometimes we have friends, family, or clients here," says Fink, who runs his own firm, Dan Fink Studio. "But more often it's us and the dogs, which is equally nice."
Guests or no, the couple, who have been married since 2015, make meals in the country feel extra-special. Hours before dinner, they light the hearth; at dusk, they set out linens and dishes from O'Brien's vast collection of ceramics and antique transferware, and get cracking on a menu that's fresh, uncomplicated, and often French-accented. Fink may have prepared dough for a rosemary-studded fougasse ("it's the foccacia of Provence," he says), which bakes in just 10 minutes. O'Brien might roast some vegetables or a whole chicken. And if they're in the mood for something briny and brothy, they'll riff on a favorite dish from southern France, a fennel-infused soup brimming with fish, littleneck clams, and shrimp from their local purveyor, South Bay Seafood. "The aromas are like nothing else," O'Brien says.
These evenings are what the couple anticipate all week long while they're busy transforming other people's homes. "As soon as we get here, we can't wait to cook, garden, and unwind," says Fink. Call it a gift to themselves.
Dan Fink and Thomas O'Brien stroll through the garden of their weekend place in Bellport, New York, with dogs Elcy Jones (held by O'Brien) and Totie O'Hara. The brick-paved allée is bordered by honey-locust trees and nasturtium beds.
Fresh and Local
An oven-simmered seafood stew makes a light warm-weather dinner.
A Welcoming Retreat
Inside the Library House are a design studio, guest rooms, and the kitchen where the couple prepares all of their meals.
The butler's pantry in their main home, called the Academy, holds vases, glassware, and silver.
Strawberry-cucumber cocktails are served in early-American pattern glass.
A collection of copper pots hangs in the back stairway of the Library House, which leads to the kitchen.
O'Brien lights the wood-burning oven.
A first course of fougasse (a French flat-bread), tapenade, and roasted tomatoes and triple-cream Nettle Meadow Kunik cheese, baked in a cast-iron pan the couple bought in Tokyo, is ideal for outdoor entertaining.
Make Like Monet
The Garden House's outdoor dining room was designed to evoke both classical architecture and Monet's home in France.
Dessert is often a French tart strewn with berries and currants that have been tossed in warm apricot jam.
O'Brien has been collecting antique transferware and Italian majolica for decades. "My favorite hand-painted Italian ceramics are from Peccetti Ceramics, in Deruta," he says. "I love how they are painted on a cream background instead of white."
O'Brien's collections adorn—and lend loads of personality to—nearly every inch of the property.
A pegboard wall in the kitchen holds an assortment of copper and ceramic wares and is inspired by the one in Julia Child's home.
A Little Green
Green marble and brass hardware anchor the kitchen, where everything is on display.
In the Details
For an avid collector like O'Brien, owning many china cupboards—the house holds three or four—is essential.
To the Brim
Like his collections themselves, O'Brien's hobby dates back to as long as anyone can remember, which means his houses are brimming with colorful effects.
Back in the original house, a desk space is framed by a collection of odds and ends.
A Place to Unwind
On the sun porch, O'Brien's collections take on a more verdant quality.