On a bright summer day, a slight breeze blows from the east and the cry of a gull is heard in the distance as a set of privet-sheltered gates open to reveal a Belgian block edged, pea grit driveway. The driveway leads to the North Haven home of fashion designer Nicole Miller and her husband Kim Taipale, a financier and partner at Stillwell Holding. Tucked ever so neatly into the trees on the edge of a creek, the home, designed in the 1980s by noted architect Francis Fleetwood, is the ideal representation of Hamptons style, replete with traditional shake shingles, bright white trim and a perfectly peaked roof.
The traditional sensibility of Fleetwood’s clean architectural aesthetic flows across the dark wood floors in the foyer and then spills out in the sunlit great room traversing gracefully to the window-lined dining room. The eye travels up white walls to the vaulted ceiling in the great room before taking in the view of the swimming pool, rambling dock and the beckoning creek beyond. Contemporary art by the likes of Andy Warhol, Eric Fischl, April Gornik and David Salle graces the walls. A stunning resin sculpture, covered in metal leaf, by Bryan Hunt is, Taipale explains, set high in the vault of the ceiling beneath a window to “catch the light perfectly just twice a year.”
Brightly colored rugs by Jonathan Adler are the perfect backdrop to Miller’s eclectic assemblage of mid-century modern furniture. “Fortunately my husband and I agree on all the furniture so there was not a problem there,” Miller says during a tour of her home. A pair of Art Deco black leather and metal chairs by Warren MacArthur and a table by Willy Rizzo anchor the living room. Chic Norman Cherner chairs for the entertaining island that sits between the kitchen and living room, both connecting and separating the spaces, are Miller’s most recent find. Vibrant glass vases dot the fireplace mantle under a bold Donald Baechler skull painting. The vintage, wooden pink flamingo that Miller picked up in Dallas and toted home in an airport shopping bag corroborates her admission that she likes to “pick up quirky things when I travel.” A paddleboard, designed by Miller for Evelyn Lauder’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) Paddle for Pink event last summer—a paddleboard that she says, “will never get used because it’s now a piece of art”—rests against the wall. Stacks of books throughout the home sit at the ready for moments of leisure and inspiration.
Drawn to and inspired by the water, Miller and Taipale went house hunting for a retreat close to the water in the Hamptons. In 1997, the pair stumbled upon what would become their North Haven home. “We loved the fact that it was on the water,” says Miller. “It had a boat dock and we’re really into the water sports. We spend a lot of time wake boarding and waterskiing. We were looking at a lot of different houses and I think the water is what really sold us.”
The couple worked closely with Fleetwood over the years, first adding a dining room. An expansive porch and upper deck would follow for this entertaining couple. “I’m not a tent kind of girl,” recounts Miller. “But I have to say, before we had the porch we would rent a tent. It would fit right against our house so it almost didn’t look like a tent. I would decorate the inside and we would do the banquet table right there.”
The pair, who host one or two big dinner parties over the summer, soon tired of the tent. “One year my husband got so caught up with tent problems and he said, ‘if we ever have a dinner party again we’re putting up a porch because I’m not dealing with this tent situation again.’” The tent is long-gone, in its place a wide, covered porch is roomy enough for a long banquet table that seats 40. “Now we do cocktails upstairs which is great, we have a great view. We have cocktails upstairs and then everybody comes down and has dinner here.”
Miller and Taipale met with Fleetwood before his untimely passing in May to design a renovation that will add three guestrooms as well as enlarge the living room and fireplace, with work commencing this fall. “He just planned the new renovations we’re going to do in September. He was such a sweet man,” says Miller. The project will extend the side of the home over a long-forgotten garden. “The second year I was here I had a big garden on the side yard and I built it in a circle. I had the small herbs and everything in the middle. Tomatoes and everything and the very outside was cucumbers. Every weekend I came out and I was weeding that thing like mad. We took one week off, we went to Martha’s Vineyard, and we came back and it was so overrun with weeds and I was like, that’s it I’m never doing that again. We ripped out the whole thing and that was it.”
While she might eschew gardening, Miller is very much at home in her gracious kitchen with its white cabinets topped by black counters and professional stainless steel appliances. A quaint collection of wine corks from parties past, colorful vases and petite pots filled with herbs—cilantro, basil, mint—perch on a window ledge above the sink. At the end of a quick jaunt across the back porch (past a set of waders and hunter boots at the back door), over lawn passing the bluestone rimmed gunite swimming pool and brick sundeck, and down the dock is one of Miller’s favorite spots for clamming. “Right out there I go clamming. I have like a great clamming spot. I think I can get about four dozen clams,” she says. Miller serves them chopped up with corn, parsley and hot peppers after steaming them, making her version of linguini and clam sauce.
The avid cook appreciates the close proximity to Sag Harbor. “We just loved the little village and the community.” Favorite haunts for the pair, and their teenage son, Palmer, include Tutto il Giorno for paccheri, Baron’s Cove for seafood stew, Cavaniola’s for cheese, Sag Harbor Baking Company for sweet treats, the Red Horse Market in nearby East Hampton for mozzarella and basil and the farmers markets for everything in between.
Contemplating how her time in the Hamptons inspires and influences her designs, “It’s good to be working on the season that you’re in,” says Miller. “I think it helps being out here in that mode and seeing what you don’t have to wear. Or seeing what you’d like to wear or what you’re missing.”
When not on the water and sporting her new line of brightly colored and flora rash guards “perfect for wake boarding,” Miller can be spotted making the rounds at some of the most exclusive events in the Hamptons (this year she’ll co-chair LongHouse Reserve’s annual gala), and she says she may spend some time perusing the many art fairs and local East Hampton galleries, with an eye toward finding something for a bare space in the living room. “Does that look naked?” she asks, pointing to a high point on the wall, vaulted and separating the great room, as her eye squints in thought. One can almost see her interior design process at work before she declares, “We need a triangle or oval or something.”