Trading Brooklyn hubbub for East Hampton quiet, photographer Michael O’Neill and designer Bia Setti are settling into a different way of life.
Michael arrives from the beach, wearing glasses with bright green frames, a long green scarf and puffy green coat. He unwinds from these emerald bands while telling us about his walk in the fog. “It’s all misty and lonely at the beach. The wind is blowing and the surf is big. It’s exquisite.”
Of the two, Michael is more thrilled with the decision to live full-time in the house they originally built as a weekend escape. “Even back in 1966, when I first started earning money as a photographer, I always went away on the weekends. I needed to get out of the city,” he says. Fifty-four years later with a stunning portfolio of work – spanning from Absolut Vodka ads to portraits of President Nixon and the Dalai Lama – he’s enjoying being surrounded by nature. “This is the first opportunity I’ve had to live outside of New York City.”
Bia, however, grew up in a small town in Brazil where her grandfather had a coffee farm. She moved to New York 33 years ago to study photography and fell in love with the excitement and energy of city living. “When we moved out here last year, I was afraid of the quiet,” she says. “I used to worry that I’d wake up and see only trees, and freak out, so I told Michael I’ll try it for two years. Like I’m going on a sabbatical from the city.”
One year into their sabbatical and Bia is warming to this life. “You have to make an effort to see people and go places so you’re not just in the house, but I don’t have a problem with the winter weather,” she says.
The house – a warm, bright, welcoming space – was designed by architects Andy Bernheimer and Jared Della Valle. “The concept was to make the house as Brazilian in nature as we could have here,” says Michael. “To make it like the houses Bia grew up with, where everything can be opened up, and the outside and the inside become the same thing.”
The exterior is Corten steel and western red cedar that’s specially milled to shiplap with a tiny reveal. Inside, the floors are European beech and a unique poured concrete that they describe as a “wonderful mistake.”
“It was supposed to be a typical gallery grey floor, but it was so poorly done that we were looking for ways to cover it when a builder suggested smoothing it out with a sander,” says Bia. “The machine took off the top layer and revealed these pebbles that occur in concrete and it was so beautiful. We got a gift.”
From the floors warmed by radiant heat to the views of the surrounding trees, Michael and Bia have created a home that’s comfortable and low-key but also thoughtfully planned and beautiful. The landscaping is simple, but Michael admits to art-directing the trees. “The big oaks were here but I added the Norway spruce and weeping pine. From every window in the house, there’s something nice to look at,” he says. “There’s a sense of peace visually. People come to the house and say it’s very Zen.”