When Ellen Pompeo talks about overhauling her vacation home in Sag Harbor—a “modern barn,” as she calls it—the story quickly creeps into comedic territory. It seems from the moment the Grey’s Anatomy star purchased the property eight years ago, while pregnant with her daughter Stella, things did not go according to plan. “I loved the history of the property. There was a cabin, which was built by a woman who was a civil rights activist lawyer. She actually built it with her own two hands,” Pompeo explains. “Originally, I was given the advice to build on the original footprint of the cabin, because it would save time and money. Well, it didn’t save either,” she laughs. The plan was to turn the cabin into the guest house and build a larger main house next door, but the main residence took a backseat to a different project: a beach house on the West Coast. “A house in Malibu that I had fallen in love with became available, so I abandoned the original plan, and I don’t know if I will ever end up building the main house in Sag Harbor,” she says. With construction finished on the guest house—which would now have to function as the main house—Pompeo set out to tackle the decorating process. Working with a fraction of the footprint she'd imagined for the main house would be a challenge, and it wasn’t long before she ran into another snag. "I hired the architect as a decorator as well," she explains—and their aesthetics just didn't jive. After they parted ways, Pompeo—a serious design enthusiast—did some decorating on her own, but her dreamy Malibu home required more of her attention and the Sag Harbor property was temporarily forgotten.
Photography: Douglas Friedman | Author: Carson Griffithwww.architecturaldigest.com
It was when she reconnected with Estee Stanley, a principal of California-based Hancock Design, whose clients include Rachel Zoe, Chris Evans, Jessica Biel, and Pompeo's Grey's Anatomy co-star Patrick Dempsey, that she decided to finalize the design process on the Sag Harbor home. “Estee is a very stylish woman. She also has a house in the Hamptons. It just made sense to hire her,” Pompeo says.
And this is where the story arc of Pompeo’s house suddenly shifts—with Stanley and her business partner Bridgette Romanek on board, Pompeo had a team she could trust, and the roadblocks started to clear. “Ellen was able to articulate the feel she wanted. Since this wasn’t her main house, it was clear to us it needed to be easy, breezy, light, comfortable, and beautiful, with not a lot of pieces, but every piece needed to say something,” says Romanek. Still, the design duo faced certain obstacles. "The house definitely had its challenges because of the configuration and size," admits Romanek. An example of this, says Stanley, is the kitchen, which "is not a big space, but is a big focal point when you first walk in the house. It is viewed from so many different directions, so we wanted it to feel clean and beautiful."
The final outcome was a group effort by the three women. “I think we really came up with everything together. The house needed layers and it needed more architecture,” says Pompeo. It’s easy for her to think of numerous examples of this: “Estee was the one who said we needed to treat the walls: ‘You need to do an architecture element in the master.’ It was her idea to do bead-board in a few places, and after that, I loved it, but then I said: ‘It’s not enough! We need to paint the walls black!’”
The end result: “Nothing is too precious. When you walk, in you can sit on the furniture. You can spill things. You can be wet. But it’s still really beautiful,” says Romanek. An added bonus was the bond created between the women: “Ellen and I have pillow fights all the time,” says Stanley, who has a house in nearby Sagaponack. “I mean, literally. She loves throw pillows, but we’re not exactly on the same page with them, but we laugh about it. She’s literally so fun to work with. We just laugh.”
Pompeo’s objective—and the outcome—for her Hamptons home was “completely different” from any other property she owns. “This is my hobby and I absolutely love it,” she says on the topic of creating beautiful interiors. “This was the first modern barn I have done. I have two Mediterranean homes, and I have two modern homes as well, and I have just finished my Malibu house, which is midcentury. They are like completely different paintings to me.”
Despite a few obstacles, Pompeo seems to have achieved the results she was after, with her good humor intact, no less. “I was looking to do something modern and hip and young, and I wanted to do something you don’t see out there—I wanted to do something different,” she explains. “It’s decorated in a way that’s a fresh look compared to those Hamptons places that all look like they’re owned by 60-year-old Hamptons billionaires, with the shingles and the light columns. They all put me to sleep.”