“I’m constantly snapping pictures in restaurant bathrooms.”
Inspiration is, of course, where one finds it. Kristen Farrell believes you shouldn’t put restrictions on where you search, especially here in the Hamptons. “Recently I was in a restaurant in East Hampton and stepped into a ladies’ room, and there was this fabulous trim that came up halfway around the bathroom—and we are actually going to take that design, tweak it a little and use it in one of our homes. So you never know.”
“Our homes” refers, of course, to Farrell Building Company homes. And that open-to-anything approach has allowed Kristen to take the lead role in a key evolutionary step for the company husband Joe Farrell founded 20 years ago, elevating it into one that not only dominates the Hamptons market in terms of sheer numbers, but one becoming noted for its design aesthetic both inside and out.
When Kristen met Joe in 1997, she was a lobbyist with her own company, expediting work and site-selection for national corporations looking to come to Long Island. Partnering for life and business with Joe now seems an inevitability.
“In the beginning, I used to tease Joe that I traded my suits for the work boots, because I loved being on the job sites with him. As much as he loves it, I do as well. Our Sundays, we would always tour houses—our own, everybody else’s.” Originally her focus in the business was the subdivision work, the zoning and planning with the towns, but a chance encounter while decorating one of the first homes they built for themselves, on Williams Way in Southampton, put her on a path to where her passion resides now.
“I always loved the construction details; not so much the furniture,” she says. “So it was time to buy some sofas, and I had an interior designer in one of the stores talk me into raspberry-colored sofas.” She winces a bit at the memory. “I said, okay, from now on I’m not going to let anybody talk me into anything.”
Farrell honed her design eye and touch over the ensuing years in spec homes, coordinating everything from the cabinetry to the tile, bringing together the finished details and, over the past four years or so, becoming “completely entrenched, and now what we have is an entire design process,” she says with pride.
The process begins, appropriately, at the beginning. “When the plans come down from the architect, we immediately have a meeting and I like to assign a personality to each house,” she says. “There’s a lot of builders out here now, a lot of people who walk through our homes and want to follow our model, so it’s my job to make sure each house looks different, it’s fresh, that we’re providing something new to the market.”
Custom trims, exclusive hardware, the ongoing quest to bring unique aspects to the market while always imparting the Farrell style. It all derives from that concept of personality, of design making a home not merely a place for living, but a living entity itself. “For example, we did a ‘50 Shades of Gray’ house—we knew that we wanted the tile, the floors, the kitchen finishes to just read warm, with a gray tone to it. From there, we select the front door, the windows—the exterior details come first. And then we plug in the interiors. So every aspect of every spec home we build now is absolutely coordinated from start to finish. That’s the real difference people are seeing and feeling when they walk into one of our homes now.
“The difference between custom and spec,” she adds, “is it’s our job to make the homes truly special but in a way that’s appealing across the board. You have to have this overriding vision that can fit a family or a couple, old or young. You cannot insert your own taste.”
But you can insert your own experience. For Farrell, that is an essential, one that goes back to creating her family’s iconic home, Sandcastle, in Bridgehampton. “We’re big beach-goers, and we’ve literally built a lot of sandcastles with the kids, and when we built that house we were coming down the driveway one day and I said, ‘Now this is your sandcastle.’ And then it just stuck.” She laughs, bemused and amazed at the staying power of that unintentional bit of marketing magic.
“What that house taught me is how to make confident decisions quickly. When you are designing you cannot second-guess yourself. There is no time to go out and search every tile showroom for the perfect thing—you have to have that vision going in, that personality, find things that fit it and just be confident.”
“When we built Sandcastle, we had one structural steel column in the basement, and I said ‘This needs something special.’ So I was down in Florida having dinner with some girlfriends and there was this structural column that was tiled in a mosaic all the way around, and I said, that’s it. My son takes a photo and the colors are fantastic, and all of a sudden that’s my color palette. Inspiration really comes from everywhere, you just have to have your eyes open.”