Tour Fashion Designer Ulla Johnson’s Ever-Evolving Montauk Retreat

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Ulla Johnson and Zach Miner can’t stop talking about their garden. “It’s a spring bounty every weekend with new things in bloom,” says the fashion designer. Her verdant surroundings, after four years of work with landscape guru Miranda Brooks, are finally coming into their own. Bulbs planted last fall are pushing up through the soil. Magnolia trees are blossoming. A flash of pink—the petals of a flowering cherry tree—is visible just outside the living room window.

The couple have relished the process. “A garden takes time to grow into itself,” explains Johnson. “Things move around and find their home. Things you plant come back in a slightly different place. It’s such a beautiful evolution.”

Johnson in the garden, wearing one of her own designs, the shibori-dyed indigo sylvan dress.

Veneered white-oak cabinets and polished marble set the tone in the kitchen, which stars ceramics by Simone Bodmer-Turner, Natalia Engelhardt, Raquel Vidal, and Pedro Paz. The stools are by Sawkille co., and the mulberry paper artwork (at right) is by Alida Kuzemczak-Sayer.

Veneered white-oak cabinets and polished marble set the tone in the kitchen, which stars ceramics by Simone Bodmer-Turner, Natalia Engelhardt, Raquel Vidal, and Pedro Paz. The stools are by Sawkille co., and the mulberry paper artwork (at right) is by Alida Kuzemczak-Sayer.

Verso Table Vase

$139.00, Ferm Living

Hishi Fabric

$245.00, Robert Kime

Birdhouse

$550.00, Commune Design

The same could be said of their home out east, constructed circa 2010 by MB Architecture, where they retreat on weekends with their three kids. Like the garden, it’s a little different on every visit: The modular vintage Mario Bellini sofa might remain in a leftover configuration from last night’s dinner party; a stray piece of driftwood—one of the family’s many collections—might end up in someone’s bedroom, thanks to their vizsla, Daphne; a new ceramic piece might arrive in a box, shipped home from a recent trip to Spain.

“It’s all about this idea of layering,” says Johnson, whose elevated bohemian fashion brand follows a similarly eclectic feeling. “Over a lifetime the house will continue to evolve.”

Johnson and her husband, a consultant with an art background, had been spending weekends in Montauk, the windy, low-key hamlet at the easternmost tip of Long Island, for about a decade before they began to look for their own place. This house, as Miner puts it, “checked a lot of very interesting boxes—it was unusual, modern, and had character.” As Johnson says, “Its spirit spoke to us.” When they glimpsed the existing green roof up top, they were sold.

For about five years, they have steadily renovated and furnished the place in phases, with the help of architecture firm Studio Zung and interior designer Alexis Brown, always careful to keep it livable as they work—especially in the summers when they carve out time to surf, swim, hike, and entertain.

Floral prints from Johnson’s spring 2022 collection were turned into outdoor fabrics, shown here as cushions on Design Within Reach’s Finn dining chair.

Floral prints from Johnson’s spring 2022 collection were turned into outdoor fabrics, shown here as cushions on Design Within Reach’s Finn dining chair.

Eva Rope Sandal

$495.00, Ulla Johnson

Angelica Dress

$795.00, Ulla Johnson

Eeva Choker

$495.00, Ulla Johnson

Meadow Bottle Bag

$295.00, Moda Operandi

To further access the vistas beyond (the house, which sits on top of a hill, offers views of both the ocean and the bay), they added more windows. In the summer, they’re mostly left open so that, as Miner says, “you can basically live outside.” To warm things up, they ripped up manufactured bamboo floors and replaced them with solid Dinesen ash and refinished many walls with hand-applied plaster. They reworked the staircase in ash and powder-coated metal, and streamlined a few spaces, particularly the kitchen, to create a more casual, entertaining-friendly floor plan. Some elements—like the fossil-stone counters in the bathroom—they left just as they were. And then there was the landscape, in which Brooks introduced trees, a peony path, and a cutting garden. “We planted it very informally, so that things feel quite wild and free,” says Johnson, a flower lover who finds endless inspiration for her collections in the garden.

Brown, who worked with the family on their Brooklyn home and designed several of Johnson’s retail spaces, layered the couple’s personal collections—textiles, baskets, ceramics, shells—with custom pieces and vintage finds (think worn-in Charlotte Perriand chairs; lots of Willy Guhl and Walter Lamb outside) to conjure a laid-back but elevated beach-house vibe. “They really wanted it to feel warm—a place where the kids could be, a place where their friends could be. A really relaxing oasis for when they want to get out of the city and chill but still feel inspired.”

A tapestry by Analia Saban shimmers in the primary bedroom, where pillows and blankets are made from vintage textiles.

A tapestry by Analia Saban shimmers in the primary bedroom, where pillows and blankets are made from vintage textiles.

Ceramics by Shizue Imai and Shino Takeda sit tubside with a vintage shell mirror.

Ceramics by Shizue Imai and Shino Takeda sit tubside with a vintage shell mirror.

Tierra End Grain Wood Table Lamp

$279.00, Crate & Barrel

Bandera Area Rug

$1395.00, The Citizenry

Jardiniere Cushion Cover

$57.00, Malaika Linens

With everything they’ve brought back from their travels, there’s inspiration aplenty. Nearly every object has a story. There’s the mingei Japanese raincoat made of seaweed that hangs in the stairwell. On the dining table, there’s a 200-year-old bowl Johnson uses for flower arranging that she found in the remote Brazilian town of Paraty. In the living room, there’s a vintage French fishing basket hung from the ceiling like an ethereal sculpture.

“I was brought up with this love of objects—especially ones that have a personal story or have been created by hand,” says Johnson, whose archaeologist parents gathered treasures across the globe (her mother, also a painter, collected folk costume).

Not surprisingly, Johnson has a particular affinity for textiles—batiks and shibori dyes, and anything hand-loomed—which she has been amassing over the decades. With Brown’s help, she has turned many of them into pillows and blankets, like the custom quilt in the primary bedroom. Outside, some patterns from her runway collections—florals from spring 2022—have become all-weather upholstery fabrics.

A Lindsey Adelman chandelier crowns the Sawkille Co. dining table and Charlotte Perriand chairs. A Sheila Hicks work hangs above a 1970s stone console.

A Lindsey Adelman chandelier crowns the Sawkille Co. dining table and Charlotte Perriand chairs. A Sheila Hicks work hangs above a 1970s stone console.

Branching Bubble Light

$28000.00, Lindsey Adelman

Wave Mirror

$1798.00, Serena and Lily

Les Arc Chair

$1565.00, 1st Dibs

Square Rattan Basket

$120.00, Raj Tent Club

The couple’s art collection—spearheaded by Miner—is a perfect complement to the house’s decor. Textile-based works like a thread-wrapped canvas by Sheila Hicks and a copper-wire-and-linen tapestry by Analia Saban mix in with pieces that nod to the beachy locale—paintings of shells by emerging artists Paula Siebra and Veronika Pausova. “While we’re looking at craft, we’re also looking at fine art,” Miner explains. “We’re really interested in that intersection.”

In spite of the many beloved objects, Johnson insists, “I’m not precious about things in the home.” Wet swimsuits sit on the vintage leather sofa. Several cushions need post-pillow-fight mending. A basketball has, more than once, come startlingly close to a fragile Kazunori Hamana pot. But this is their life. And they love nothing more than a house filled to the brim. “We’re often feeding at least 13,” Johnson says with a laugh.

More of Fashion Designer Ulla Johnson’s Ever-Evolving Montauk Retreat

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Birds In The Air Quilt

$3760.00, The Apartment

Wooden and Pencil-Reed Rattan Round Coffee Table Set

$5253.00, 1st Dibs

Bibambola Sofa

$8391.00, B&B Italia

Dinner parties frequently start with drinks on the boatlike roof deck and finish there, stargazing with a pair of telescopes. In between, Miner, an avid cook, plays chef. The first weekend in May marked the season’s opening of their go-to fish market, so they served the kids’ favorite: linguine con vongole.

Considering their favorite piece in the house, Johnson and Miner come to an unexpected conclusion: the bunk beds in the basement, the kids’ sphere where they retreat for ping-pong, games, and puzzles. “When those are full, the house is full,” Miner explains. “It means we’re having fun. Friends are here. Family is here. And that’s what the house is for.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

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