“Done but not done” is how New York City native and interior designer Joe Nahem describes his Amagansett home. There’s something compelling in every corner — “not all of them showstoppers,” he admits — be it a painting, Moroccan tiles or a one-of-a-kind chair upholstered in a snakeskin-embossed suede.
For Nahem, the principal of Fox-Nahem Associates, it’s all about the details. And it is this unwavering focus, plus unique talent for combining textures and patterns, that’s landed him on countless “Best” lists, including Architectural Digest’s prestigious AD100. Nahem’s ability to incorporate architecture with interior design — and his understanding of how people live and what will make them happy — have clients hiring him over and over again.
Nahem and his partner, Jeff Fields, who is the firm’s creative director, first came to Long Island’s East End about 20 years ago, renting a place near the posh Maidstone Club. “We were near the ocean and got used to the neighborhood,” Nahem recalls. “So we told our broker to keep his eyes open for something nice, but smaller, that we could buy.”
A cottage with private ocean access on tony Further Lane, on the border with East Hampton, finally came along at the end of the 1990s. They bought it, even though it was a “mess,” according to Fields — it hadn’t been touched in 30 years — and took no advantage of the amazing view that encompasses wild cherry trees, sand dunes and the ocean. The couple put the closing costs on their MasterCard. “We were so broke,” Fields said.
Six years later, with Nahem’s career taking off, the men were ready to demolish the old place and construct what they wanted. Now well acquainted with all the nuances of the 1.2-acre lot, which borders a nature preserve, they devised a three-stage plan with the aid of good friend Steve Chrostowski of Alveary Architecture/Design. Eventually, the couple would inhabit a three-level, 5,900-square-foot contemporary dwelling with five bedrooms, two staff rooms and seven-and-a-half baths. There is a pool, of course, with a cabana and self-contained pool house. The first two stages, basically the construction of the house, have been completed. If all goes well, the final stage — which involves extending the apple-green breakfast room, building a gym with steam, sauna and massage rooms, as well as adding a garage — will be finished by Memorial Day.
While Nahem had teamed with Chrostowski before, it was a first for Fields. “He had plenty to say,” the designer said with a laugh. “I played the experience card when I wanted something done my way, but Jeff would retort, ‘I don’t care how many Best Designer lists you’ve been on, this is the way I see it.’ In the end it turned out very well.”
As with all the homes Nahem does, this one is first and foremost “comfortable, with a ‘not decorated’ look,” he said. “Plus, I wanted to feel that if I decided to move some art or bring in a new chair, it wouldn’t throw things off.” Equally important was to mesh the indoors with the outdoors. That was accomplished with oversized, mahogany-framed windows, sliding glass doors throughout and a 95-foot-long deck running the width of the structure.
Nahem’s passion for design started at a young age. “I was always changing things around at my parents’ house; they never knew what to expect when they came back from a vacation,” he said. So it was no surprise he already had a client list when he and his friend, the late Tom Fox, joined forces to establish Fox-Nahem Associates in the 1980s — even though Nahem was in his early 20s and still a student at Parsons School of Design.
Highly regarded for his on-budget, on-time ethic — a rarity in an industry that he said is better known for extravagance and sometimes flagrant disregard for the business end of things — Nahem is at ease with both contemporary and traditional settings. In addition to handling the interiors, he also often consults on architecture and outdoor space. Two recent undertakings: A home in Aspen, the last in Charles Gwathmey’s prestigious career, and a Paul Rudolph house in the West Village, done with Steven Harris Architects. Currently on Nahem’s plate are a penthouse in the Puck Building, an apartment at 150 Charles, a townhouse in Robert A. M. Stern’s Superior Ink Building and an Annabelle Selldorf house in nearby Sagaponack.
Nahem has also collected art for decades, primarily work from the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He’s generous with praise for others and said he’s learned a great deal from his brother, an art dealer. Among myriad favorites in his Amagansett home are a Richard Prince multimedia piece in the entryway, a collage by Aya Takano in the living room and a resin bust sculpted by Gelitin in a hallway, its hand holding an iPhone to take selfies. Even the bathrooms feature art, the largest being Thomas Ackermann’s “Moon Art Rat” in the master, juxtaposed with an Arts and Crafts–era, wood-and-rope chair from France.
Every room shows off the designer’s knack for combining textures and textiles, for which he’s “always on the hunt,” he said. Take the master bedroom: There are pecky cypress walls, a cut-velvet headboard topped with faux fur, a pair of midcentury chairs dressed in glazed silver linen and, tying it all together, a South African mohair rug. Indeed, travel is a huge inspiration: “How people dress, the food they eat, their lifestyle, it all somehow affects my work,” he said.
The furniture throughout the home is a mix of his own creations, like the nubby, amethyst-toned sofa in the living room and the driftwood-supported stools, which, when Nahem first found them, had been topped with glass and used as tables. There are also antiques like the circa-1940s Swedish card-table chairs, along with commissioned items such as the black walnut George Nakashima kitchen counter and shelving, exhibiting the craftsman’s signature free-edge aesthetic.
Sustainability is also a priority. Nahem points out the reclaimed, French limestone in the entry; the stained, reclaimed oak floors throughout the house, even in the bathrooms; the numerous doors made from old barn siding. What’s most exciting will be the new, eco-friendly garage, an ideal place to park their electric Tesla. “The roof will be planted with succulents and other low-maintenance plants that are native to the area,” said Fields.
One of the few oceanfront rental properties in the vicinity, the house is really too big for them, they said. But the size — not to mention prime locale, down the street from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Lorne Michaels — makes leasing easier, which they often do for a month or more come summer. “We don’t love the August crowds,” said Nahem, “and find the rest of the year, especially June and the fall, more to our liking.”
Nahem says he and Fields never take their home for granted, though. They visit year-round; often for work, at other times to relax. “We actually have more friends here than in the city,” said Nahem, “and everyone, including us, entertains a lot.”
Among their favorite Hamptons pastimes: Running on the beach with Josie, their Jack Russell Terrier, swimming, playing tennis. “It‘s a great place to be,” Nahem said. “Sometimes we drive up and just sit there in the driveway for a few minutes wondering, ‘How did we do all this?’”