Walking into the South Harbor Inn in Southold is like walking onto
an HGTV set after the shoot. The old farmhouse has fresh coats of paint and modern furnishings mixed with antique pieces. Original doors open-to refinished hardwood floors and built-in bookcases. But it didn’t look like this when owners Alex Azcona and Dan DeVito bought the property back in 2017.
Turning the 1897 cross gable farmhouse on South Harbor Road into a luxury bed and breakfast, while retaining its original character, took months of work. The place needed new plumbing, heating and insulation, an extension had to be put on, the bannister running up the stairs was too low and the bedrooms had to be reconfigured. despite all the effort ahead of them, Azcona and DeVito felt the bones of the house were enough to make it worthwhile.
“It’s one of those homes that people come to the North Fork for because it has just the charm that a lot of the homes offer in the area,” Azcona said. “We immediately fell in love with it. We knew that we could turn this house into something very nice that would showcase the charm that the home had from the time that it was built.”
After eight months of work, he and DeVito did just that: created a luxury b&b with touches of modern decor that still felt like the North Fork. Over that time, they added a new wing to the house, extended the dining room, made the porch a wraparound and converted a bedroom into a bathroom. But the home’s original doors and hinges were kept, the original hardwood floors were refinished, most of the molding was saved and the bannister was raised, using new spindles but keeping the original top rail.
“Anything we could possibly think that we could use and just restore, we did, because it’s what we fell in love with. And we thought, we’ll have appreciation for that,” Azcona said.
With its perfectly curated decor, an overall homey feeling is still present at South Harbor Inn.
“We wanted to do more of a modern farmhouse. We want it to be true to the creation, to be true to the home, but we also want it to be comfortable,” Azcona said. “We want guests to come in and feel like, ‘I’m home, I can sit on this couch and make it cozy.’ We didn’t want someone to feel like, ‘Oh, this is too perfect.’ We want it to be inviting.”
Azcona and DeVito started their careers on a very different side of the hospitality industry. Each of them has spent over 25 years working in major hotels like the Four Seasons and the Conrad New York. While DeVito still works in the city in hospitality, Azcona manages the inn full-time. The shift was drastic.
“It’s a huge transition when you’re managing over 100 staff, and then you come here and you’re pretty much running the place [alone],” Azcona said. “It’s just a different field to live in the city, which is very noisy with a lot of people and very active, to come to the North Fork, which is very mellow and very quiet. It was an adjustment, but a good adjustment.”
Seasonal residents of the North Fork since 2012, the couple realized the major plus of becoming b&b owners: it’s an inherently more intimate space than a large hotel chain. Guests aren’t just numbers.
“It gives us the opportunity to really get to know the guests,” Azcona said. “We handle the reservations, we are the concierge, we are the host, we are the chef and that gives us just such a great opportunity to connect with people and get to know them a little better, and for them to get to know us as well.”
Having a luxury space was important to Azcona and DeVito, after spending so many years in the high-end hotel market. For them, that means attending to the little touches; all their linens and slippers are Frette and bath amenities are Diptyque, both luxury brands.
“We knew that we wanted to create something different. We knew that we wanted to pay attention to and provide some details that you may not find just anywhere,” Azcona said.
At the end of the day, Azcona wants guests to feel that South Harbor Inn is a home away from home, even if it is a vacation for some.
“The other day, we had a guest just lie down on the couch and fall asleep. That was such a compliment for me because that’s what we want them to do — just feel like they’re home,” Azcona said in an interview this winter. “If you’re in a place, no matter how beautiful it is, if you don’t feel you’re comfortable, if you don’t have that feeling like, ‘Ahhh, I can relax just like I do at home,’ then something is missing there. So for us, that’s the priority.”