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Helene Verin in her Jamesport home. (Credit: David Benthal)

In 1926, a house on Manor Lane in Jamesport was built for $438. The small bungalow constructed on the east side of the road was not unlike others of its time. The style is one of many produced by Sears Modern Homes in the early to mid-1900s. 

Those in the market for a new house could flip through a catalog and select from the dozens of architectural designs available. The building materials arrived in a kit.

The department store used “balloon style” framing, drywall and asphalt shingles that eased construction for homebuyers. 

The Sears model on Manor Lane hadn’t quite stood the test of time before Helene Verin purchased it in 2013. The home that was constructed 90 years ago had fallen into considerable disrepair.

“It was a mess,” Verin said. “It was filled with linoleum and it needed a new roof, but it had so much charm. I gave the real estate agent an offer on the spot.” The longtime New York City resident had hardly heard of the North Fork when she read a New York Times weekend edition article highlighting the region as “The Un-Hamptons.” The Saturday read turned into a trip to Jamesport the next day and — like many who have visited before — a decision to put down permanent roots there. 

Helene complete renovated the home that was in considerable disrepair. (Credit: David Benthal)

No one was at the real estate agency on a Sunday when Verin stopped to inquire about purchasing a house. She left her card with a note expressing her desire to find a home with charm. 

Her phone rang the next day and she soon began her journey of transforming the rundown catalog home into an artist’s retreat unlike any other. Verin is an author and award-winning designer of shoes, wallpaper, rugs, pillows and tiles. An adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, she has spent her life in the worlds of art and design — at one time serving as a muse for Andy Warhol. 

Her aesthetic sensibilities guided the redesign of the Manor Lane home. But before its beauty could take shape, the structure itself needed rehabilitation. The first priority was replacing the roof in its entirety. 

“Once we took off the roof we could open up the floor plan,” she explained. “The idea was the front of the home would stay the same with its original windows and lower ceilings. We blew out the whole back of the house and gave it 18-foot ceilings. From the front it looks like a humble cottage, and when you walk in it’s open and airy.” 

A light-and-airy aesthetic was important to Verin, who has called an artist’s loft in the Flatiron District home for years. The open concept was achieved by strategically removing walls and doors in the two-bedroom ranch. 

“I tried to keep the house true to what it was, — humble and not too fancy — but also opening it up,” she said. “The challenge was taking an old bungalow and making it modern.” 

Stepping into the living room, the kitchen — at the back of the home — is in full view. 

Helene kept the space open. (Credit: David Benthal)

The eye is immediately drawn to the large sliding glass door off the kitchen and dining room. Verin added the door during the renovation to bring in natural sunlight and provide quick access to the backyard, which abuts a vineyard. 

An innovative structural change served to further open the space. At the suggestion of her son, Verin tore down the traditional closet-like entrance to the basement and submerged the staircase seamlessly under the hardwood floor. The steps are now accessible through a trap door that raises the staircase using a hydraulic system. 

“The stairs to the basement were taking up a quarter of the house,” Verin said. “There was a traditional door and all these walls. We left the stairs and added the trap door that can be easily lifted. I saved a huge amount of space.” 

With the nuts and bolts in place, Verin then turned her attention to the décor. She restored the original walnut floors in the front of the home and continued the hardwood into the kitchen, ripping up the old linoleum. She also added walnut countertops that were sourced from Pennsylvania. 

The exterior of the home. (Credit: David Benthal)

“There is a softness to the wood,” she said. “It is a live edge walnut, which is a very American type of wood. A lot of designers look toward Europeans for inspiration. I was never like that. I like to think of myself as a very American designer.” 

The living room walls were painted a creamy white — a blank canvas to showcase Verin’s art collection, which includes works from her students as well as prominent artists. The wall color fades to a brighter white that is more befitting of the modern kitchen. 

“I am very eclectic and don’t stick with one time period,” she said. “It has a flow without being too matchy.”

Verin pulled in pops of color through her art collection and décor. She restored the original bedroom and bathroom doors that she discovered in the back shed and painted them in slightly different shades of yellows and greens to add contrast. 

“It is very personal,” Verin said of the design. “The home had history, charm and the potential for me as a designer to do something great.”