Osprey House Takes Flight

A boat-loving design duo created a year-round oasis on Shelter Island.
The bright, open living room overlooks Smith Cove. Photo: Glen Allsop

By Donna Bulseco 

An osprey is a sea hawk with a cosmopolitan range, and that description seems fitting when you walk through the handsome front door of Osprey House, a meticulously renovated residence with soaring 10-foot reclaimed-wood ceilings and grand window panes providing aerial views of Shelter Island’s Smith Cove. Every angle of the 4,500-square-foot, three-level home affords an unspoiled panorama of Sag Harbor and North Haven that’s nothing short of uplifting. It’s a perch in paradise, far away from the noisy clutter of the world.

That sense of peace reflects the refined sensibility behind Heiberg Cummings Design, a New York- and Oslo-based interior design firm helmed by Bernt Heiberg and William Cummings, who took the property’s original structure with its bland Schitt’s Creek motel look and elevated the layout into a well-conceived blueprint for living well alongside nature in all its glory. “Everything is oriented toward the spectacular view, giving this indoor-outdoor feeling to the house,” says Cummings. “It’s such an oasis,” he adds about the home with its 5 ample bedrooms, 4.5 baths, 4 fireplaces, library, kitchen, pantry, and well-appointed-for-entertaining roof terrace. There is a den on the lower level opening out to the patio with a large Rumford fireplace “that gives off great heat,” he says. A tranquil spot with a massage table allows you to step directly into the 12-by-25-foot terraced pool and sit and look out at the cove, or do vigorous laps in the far lane. 

The front entrance features an 18th-century front door from France. Photo: Glen Allsop

In truth, an oasis such as this, with its beautiful architectural details in rooms grounded by luxuriously spare decor, takes time to achieve, although it’s exactly this kind of challenge the duo isn’t shy to take on. “We like reclaiming materials, like the Turkish stone sinks, and using them in new ways,” says Heiberg.

When this property was purchased three years ago, it was with the expectation there would be obstacles—and receiving the proper building permissions took plenty of time. “Everyone in the world had an opinion about what we proposed to do,” says Cummings. Still, he adds, a technical renovation was an easier route to take. “You see possibilities [in the original structure] that can push you in directions that are unexpected.”

The roof terrace and fireplace living area is perfect for entertaining or a quiet night in. Photo: Glen Allsop

The idea was to keep the existing foundation but add to it to obtain the ceiling heights while creating a collage of different classical structural elements. A curvy stucco staircase spirals up in the center of the house, connecting all three stories, but also affording picturesque views through the open-tread stairs and windows when climbing to the roof terrace. That space makes for a “different way to gather with friends,” says Heiberg, who recalled the country houses of his childhood in Norway, when applying what he learned from his life for this house: “We like to live a little differently from they way we do in the city—in the country, we like it a little primitive with luxury.”

A cozy, breezy lower level den leads out to the patio, pool and dock. Photo: Glen Allsop

Looking up from the pool and dock, there’s a storybook quality to the look of Osprey House, a comment that rings true to the duo. “It’s very much about creating a narrative about the house,” says Cummings, who adds that by having the different materials, heights and elements, “it creates a feeling” like it’s “a tiny village” rather than a singular house.

The primary bed and bathroom exude a sense of ease and tranquility. Photo: Glen Allsop

With its deep-water dock, the house is made for a yachtsman—it’s a 15-minute ride in their Chris-Craft boat to Sag Harbor—and visiting people by boat instead of meeting on a sandy beach has become a lifestyle in the Hamptons. There’s variety in trips to Duryea’s Orient Point or the Silver Sands in Greenport. Some favorites on Shelter Island include The Terrace at The Pridwin with views of Crescent Beach; in Dering Harbor, The Chequit (since 1872) with its crab bisque, truffle fries and fresh oysters; or Chez Marie, helmed by Marie Eiffel, in the Shelter Island House. That said, often, there’s no reason to take flight. “For me, once we’re here, it’s very important to adjust to a different lifestyle,” says Heiberg. “We feel like we’re nesting from high up overlooking the vista. It’s a breathtaking view.”