Inside the home of Doug Steiner

Modernist retreat contrasts industrial chic and modern accents

Mar.March 02, 2009 01:45 PM

Doug Steiner’s aesthetic preferences are clear immediately upon
entering his home in New Jersey: The real estate developer and CEO of
Steiner Studios likes industrial chic, modern accents and clean lines.

His reverence for industrial spaces is what attracted him to
the gritty Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1999 to develop Steiner Studios, his
305,000-square-foot film and television production facility, where the
FX series “Damages” is filmed and where Julie Taymor is currently
directing a film adaptation of “The Tempest.” The studio plays a major
role in the New York City film and television industry and was also
where movies such as “Revolutionary Road,” which starred Kate Winslet;
the Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading”; and scenes for “Sex and the
City” were shot.

Steiner Studios is currently renovating a vacant building at the Navy Yards.

Steiner’s respect for older structures also inspired the
design of his new development at 80 Metropolitan Avenue in
Williamsburg, a riverfront warehouse-style condo building with
townhomes next door. The units have high ceilings, big windows and, in
a nod to his studios, sound-proofing methods he learned from sound
stage engineers.

But if his professional work builds on time-honored techniques, his home is about all things modern.

His 7,500-square-foot home, excluding the garages and
basement, in Short Hills, N.J., is a one-story modernist structure, at
the bottom of a steep driveway and surrounded by Old Short Hills Park
and the 2,050-acre South Mountain Reservation. “I feel like I live in
the woods, not the ‘burbs,'” he said. “I liked the design of it — it’s

Steiner bought the house after his divorce in 2000, when he
set out to find something totally different from the home he once
shared with his wife.

Asked how much he paid, Steiner smiled coyly and said, “I put a lot into it.”

The house is stark, vast with white wood floors, white walls,
floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights that flood the rooms with light.
Steiner installed a metal roof, and during storms, the rain pelting the
roof and the lightning flashing through the skylights makes the house
feel like “a jungle,” he said. “It’s great.”

Modern architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen built the five-bedroom,
seven-bath house in the early 1990s for a previous owner, and Steiner,
who once wanted to be an architect, was drawn to its open design and
perfect symmetry.

Made of white stone, the house has high ceilings and four
tall chimneys rising high above its roof. The rooms’ pocket doors
primarily stay open, and rooms seem to float into one another. The
seclusion means Steiner has found no reason to install shades or even

At its arches, the ceilings are about 16 feet — high enough
that Steiner’s tallest ladder isn’t quite high enough to hang a
favorite mobile, in the style of Alexander Calder, in his bedroom.

The furniture is primarily antique teak from Indonesia, found
by friends on salvaging missions, and includes old railroad ties
fashioned into benches and tree roots that are now stools. But even
with cushy couches in the living room — two big brown chenille divans,
and sleek black leather sofas in the den — the decor is sparse.

“My aesthetic is really bare, but at the same time, I’m a
hoarder,” Steiner said, noting that while the rooms may seem sleek and
clean, his basement and cabinets are full.

Missing from the house are any indications that its owner is
the head of a major New York production studio. DVDs are quietly tucked
into the egg crate-style bookshelves in the den and are surrounded by
classic books — Steiner was an English major at Stanford University —
and there are no framed posters of movies or gifts from directors,
producers or actors he’s worked with.

Those things stay at the studio, he said.

Instead there is art and the art is bright. Hanging in the
foyer is a mural of three orange Tyrannosaurus Rexes, an aqua-blue oil
refinery, and a veiled, naked woman with pink hair by Gary Panter, who
once did the set design for “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” the children’s
television show.

Another gigantic mural, hanging in Steiner’s dining room, is
the magnum opus of contemporary artist David Sandlin. The painting,
“Sorrow Falls,” is a phantasmagorical depiction of the artist’s life
story as a play on a stage, and was the first artwork Steiner bought
for the new house.

“Sometimes, I just sit here and stare at it at night. It
glows,” he said, noting the two spotlights painted at the bottom. “I
can look at it still and find new things.”

His other favorite painting, by Jane Dickson, is a scene of a
parking lot at dusk, painted onto blue Astroturf that he has hanging
above the couch in his den.

“I like disturbing art — challenging art, and disturbing,”
Steiner said, noting that his oldest son likes the pieces, and that
they’ve grown on his other two children.

“I’m not really an art collector, but this house needs big
art,” he said. “I get stuff from my [art curator] friends. One friend
tells me what to buy, but I don’t always listen. Then I regret it.”

If the house sometimes seems too big for one man, that’s
because it is. There’s so much room that his two sons keep their hockey
equipment in the otherwise unused maid’s quarters, the formal dining
room is home to an Art Deco pool table and the Sandlin mural and
Steiner readily admits the walk-in closet is oversized.

“I’m not really a clotheshorse, but I don’t throw anything out,” he said, pointing to a row of suits he hasn’t worn in years.

But the house fits him and his three kids perfectly when they
hang out — he has the children, ages 13, 14 and 18, every other week.

When he moved in, Steiner replaced the house’s sliding glass
doors with floor-to-ceiling windows. Next was a roof renovation
project, in which he installed the metal roof that sounds like “a
jungle” during thunderstorms. The next house project is to landscape
the yard. From the kitchen table, there are views of the nature
reserve, and Steiner said he and his children regularly see deer and
fox. He’s not sure what he wants in terms of landscaping, but he’ll use
the same landscape architect he’s using at 80 Met in Brooklyn, Richard

As much as he loves the solitude of the Short Hills house, Steiner said he prefers to be in New York.

He splits his time evenly between this house, when he has the
kids, and a two-bedroom apartment he rents in the East Village.

“I like New York more, and I’m counting down the years until
I can move back,” he said. “But, the matter of changing schools is
tough.” His youngest, Isobel, is 13, and he said five more years in the
suburbs will be okay.

“I live with a lot less stuff in New York,” he said. “But here, nobody knows we’re here. I like not seeing other houses.”

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