Our Front Porch Interviews take you inside the homes and neighborhoods of notable North Forkers. This week, Madewell CEO Libby Potter talks about the lucky right turn that led her family to put down roots in Orient and how quarantine has remade her work life (and, thanks to her husband, David Potter, their front porch).
We used to go to the South Fork before we had kids, but we’d sort of heard rumblings about the North Fork. We spent one rainy summer weekend in Sag Harbor, and we decided to leave a little early on a Sunday. We did the double ferry, and we just made a right turn when we left Greenport—my oldest daughter was six months old and sleeping in the car seat, so we were driving around in the rain trying to get her a good nap. And when we got to Orient and turned right onto Village Lane, suddenly the sun started to come out. We said, “Wait, where are we?”
As we drove down the street we ran into someone that David knew from a long time ago, which was just so random. And we had a conversation and he introduced us to our realtor, who was right across the street. That’s how we ended up in this house on Village Lane. We’ve been here for 10 years. And I can say it was the best decision for our family that we ever made.
“We’ve been here for 10 years. And I can say it was the best decision for our family that we ever made.”
We love being in the city, but we also knew we’d love to be in a place where our kids can get on the bike and just go, which is how both David and I grew up. David grew up in the country in Kentucky and I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, and we both grew up in neighborhoods where, you know, we would just disappear.
And that’s what we got. We’ve made our closest friends out here on the North Fork. Orient has a cute little yacht club and sailing camp, and especially those of us with kids will congregate down there throughout the summer. One of the most fun things for the kids to do is go down to the pier and just jump off. At this point we’ve really raised all of our kids together and we have this herd of children that when we get together they run loose and it’s fantastic.
In a normal non-Covid year, the Oysterponds Historical Society here holds Heritage Day and the parade and the North Fork Fresh benefit, and everyone is involved. I’ve met a lot of my friends through some of those events, but we’ve also met because we’re in the middle of town. I think a couple of my closest friends I’ve met just because they’d been walking up the street, I see a dog, and we have a conversation.
We love going into Greenport for dinner but, to be honest, we spend a lot of days just grabbing sandwiches at the Orient Country Store across the street and hanging out back here with our friends. We love to go on bike rides down to Potato Beach and take long walks with the dogs. We’ll jump on the boat and go over to Long Beach, which is over by the point by the lighthouse. And just jump off the boat and swim all day and look for shells.
This house is known as the Horton House, after the original family, and a lot of people who grew up in Orient have memories of always hanging out here. It was a sort of gathering place. After the Hortons, there were two other owners and then us, so it hasn’t changed hands much. At one point a doctor would see patients here, and at another it was a little hotel—they called it the Oaks and the Maples. And everyone who has had it has made a wonderful change and update, but it’s really maintained a lot of the original appeal.
David, who is also a designer, just redid this porch—it was his quarantine project. It’s incredible! He replaced the wood and stained it battleship gray, and it used to have railings and he completely opened it up. It was so funny, people would see him working and stop and ask him for his card, because they thought it was his business. Now that there’s no railing and you can really see out, it’s become a gathering place again this summer.
We normally split time between Orient and Williamsburg, and I would go back and forth always to the city at the end of the weekends. My family gets to live out here in the summer, but this is the first time I’m actually able to spend the entire summer with them. David has been doing a long list of home projects and I’ve just been working: We’ve all just been trying to get our sea legs, to run a retail company during a time when your retail stores are closed and you’re just trying to make everyone feel safe and secure. The hardest thing for me, which I think was true for a lot of the moms who work at Madewell, was the juggling of virtual schooling with a full-time job. But the creativity that has come from the team in this brand new virtual setting has been incredible. We’re getting some great work out of it and we’ve started to open our stores, which is fantastic.
I do feel like I have more mindspace because I’m not thinking about the commute—you wake up and you can get your coffee, you have automatically more time to get yourself in the right headspace. You’re a little bit clearer out here than you are in the city, I would say. I have conference calls and I say, “Well, I’m going to walk outside,” or “This is a dog-walking conference call,” and I’m able to do that and still be very productive. Still, I miss the energy that comes from being together and dropping by someone’s office to run an idea past them. We’re starting now to get back into the office slowly, as needed. I saw someone who works on the team recently and it was like we hadn’t seen each other in years. We were so happy! So we definitely are at the point where we’re missing that connection.
I have a lot of women friends in Orient who are very successful and also work full time and we are on the same types of schedules. And this year we’re engaging in conversations that we typically just don’t have time to do. Making a plan for dinner is a big deal in the city, but here we’d go for a walk and chat through difficulties. It’s been amazing to be able to spend that time and be able to get to know these women on a whole other level.”