Out East End: Chris Coffee of Sage and Madison in Sag Harbor

Chris Coffee at Sage and Madison in Sag Harbor
Chris Coffee at Sage and Madison in Sag Harbor
Angela LaGreca

Enter the world of Sage and Madison in Sag Harbor Village and expect to be charmed. It won’t take long.

The historic barn-turned-year-round-gift shop is brimming with treats and finds of all kinds: everything from local teas and honey, French teas (Mariage Frères), imported chocolates, French glass, Scottish cashmere, vintage jewelry, local art to high end table tops, curated gift baskets, china and an endless array of unique gift items that spell charm with a capital ‘C’.

There’s even an old-world coffee window that pops open from the barn out to Sage Street — the menu tacked onto the old wooden door — so that locals and visitors who crave a great cup o’ Joe or a fresh local scone can walk right up to the window and order, then take it to go, or take a respite in the patio or garden area.

A walk past Sage and Madison often becomes an excuse for a selfie. You know, for the charm of it.

Chris Coffee Discusses Sag and Madison

“People stop by every day and take pictures of themselves in front of the barn for Instagram and social media and it kind of has become a little spot like, ‘Oh, did you check out the little barn?’” says owner and entrepreneur Chris Coffee, who bought the property — which includes the barn and the main historic house built in 1797 on the corner of Sage and Madison Streets (hence the name) — in October of 2020, “right before the pandemic.”

Details like the barn’s coffee window are all part of what owner and entrepreneur Chris Coffee calls “an interactive property” that features “a beautiful tea garden and a shop that basically supports local purveyors and artisans and also European goods.”

“Who wouldn’t want tea and chocolate and cashmere and things (like that) during tough times,” says Coffee, adding “we actually did very well (during the pandemic) and we’ve been growing every year as more people find out more about the little gem barn around the corner; I think that it’s starting to become a destination.”

On Saturday mornings there is a small yoga class in the garden. An interactive “doggy bakery” outside the barn is a nice touch for people who stop by with pets “so they can have a little biscuit and give the dog some water.”

And if you have kids, they’ll love the local ice cream sandwiches and different flavored Ivy Pops and chocolate-covered Oreos offered at the barn — part of Coffee’s vision to “make this property not only meaningful, but also a fun experience.”

“It’s a special place where you can sit and talk to a friend; it’s not overrun, it’s not overcrowded, that’s what nice about it,” says Coffee, who hails from the Midwest and who lived in Chelsea for many years before making Sag Harbor more of his permanent home, a year and a half before the pandemic.

Coffee is mindful as both caretaker of the property and curator of the business.

Shelves stocked with products at Sage and Madison in Sag Harbor
Shelves stocked with products at Sage and Madison in Sag HarborAngela LaGreca

“My intention was to make it a special place where people could really enjoy this historical property from 1797 and really see the beauty of the old Sag Harbor,” he says. “A lot of what I’m doing is to try to keep hold of the past and the history but moving forward in a way that’s not erasing the past … with all this new development of stores and shopping centers and this ‘n that, I’m really trying to hold onto, ‘We can have a store, but it can also be kind of curated and done where it makes sense for the Village.’

For Coffee, that means carrying a lot of “heritage brands” that people relate to from their childhood, quality items like Johnston’s of Elgin Scottish cashmere or Louis Sherry chocolates “with the old tins that remind people of grandma’s sewing kit, so it’s nostalgic, it’s special,” says Coffee.

A former professional ballet dancer who performed with the New York City Ballet, Coffee’s eclectic, creative background includes working in fashion, producing Heatherette’s New York Fashion Week shows.

“I opened Lincoln Center New York Fashion Week.,” says Coffee. “Ellen DeGeneres closed that show, that was a big deal — Ellen had never worked a runway before,” he says with a laugh.

He also opened Gotham Beauty Lounge overlooking Bryant Park and created his own cosmetic line Coffeeface.

Coffee always felt the property at Sage and Madison was special.

“I lived on the street (Madison Street) and I kept walking by the property and being a creative, I’ve always looked at opportunities to be creative and I always admired and liked the store Bloom and this property was never being used and not being used as something that’s open to the public and that people can enjoy,” recalls Coffee.

The main house on the corner, with its welcoming details and updated rooms and guest suites just a few feet across from the barn, is available for rent and boasts a boatload of charm and history.

“Herd Hatfield, the original star of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the Oscar Wilde film, lived in the house for 30 years,” explains Coffee. “After that, the famous artists Eric Ernst and April Gornik owned the house for a short period, where they had it as an artist in residence and I purchased the property from them,” he says.

That was two years ago.

“I had a weird, gut feeling — I knew I needed to jump on it very quickly and purchase it, so that’s what I did,” recalls Coffee. His intention: “To make it a special place where people could really enjoy this historical property from 1797 and really see the beauty of the old Sag Harbor.”

Much like the barn-gift store and peaceful garden area, the rooms in the main house are all well curated.

“Basically the theme is the same as Sage and Madison; I use a lot of greens and garden colors to make people feel happy and calm,” says Coffee.

Sage & Madison Gift Basket for Pride
Sage & Madison Gift Basket

“It’s a serene atmosphere, I kept a lot of the original details from 1797 — 200-plus-year-old floors, the bathrooms are all renovated and new but still keeping with the historical nature of the house,” says Coffee who “kind of mixed 1797 with today’s world of expectation (Schiffman mattresses, Ralph Lauren and Sferra linens, Nespresso makers, an iron, a mini fridge and “a curated local mini bar with local products like Tate’s cookies and North Fork potato chips — all things that are kind of local and special to the area,” adds Coffee.

Another popular offering are Sage and Madison’s curated gift baskets, ranging in price from $75 to $2,000, whether it be a tea basket with local honey and a local tea set, to “a doggie basket for a friend that loves animals with leashes and dog treats” to a “high end birthday gift basket that has a unique piece of jewelry.” Coffee says they also “do really great baskets for realtors when summer renters are coming to the house with all beautiful, local Long Island and Sag Harbor goods in the basket “so when they arrive, they’ll feel like they are somewhere special.”

Speaking of special, big things are happening at the little barn this summer, including associations with brands and corporations from Louis Vuitton, to Cameron Silver and most recently with actress Julianne Moore, who is hosting, along with Silver, an event called Gowns for Good at Sage and Madison on August 6 to support the Actors Fund (now called the Entertainment Fund).

“We’ll be taking celebrity red carpet gowns that Julianne (and other celebrities such as Viola Davis and Cate Blanchett) have worn and auctioning them off,” says Coffee. “I think we will have 20–25 different gowns at least and we’re using the company Live Rocket to launch this, and Julianne will be at the private (invitation only) cocktail reception. The money raised will support the stage actors who were particularly affected by the pandemic.”

Beyond the summer, Coffee has plans to continue ‘upping the ante on merchandise and the caliber of people we have coming to the property” with an eye towards expanding to Palm Beach, on Ocean Drive. He’ll have a decorated table and presence at the Hampton Classic this year. And when Coffee isn’t working, which is rare, he can be seen at events supporting local charities as well as shopping at other local businesses.

As for Sag Harbor, he seems hooked on the place.

“Obviously I am attracted to the creativity and how (the Village) really tries to embrace the arts,” says Coffee, who also hosts art shows and book signings at Sage and Madison for local painters and authors.

Between his exciting brand activations (Etro, St. John, Rosier from Portugal) and his reverence for the property’s history, Coffee seems to have found the perfect outlet for his creative talents.

“It’s really about creating an atmosphere or an ambiance in a store,” says Coffee as he straightens a pile of French linens on a wood bench. “I think today, with this online shopping, it’s even more important to create that feeling … that someone can buy a piece of estate jewelry that is historical in feeling and they know they got it from their special little barn in Sag Harbor.”

And with that, Coffee steps behind the barn’s coffee window to greet a new customer.

Sage and Madison is located at 31 Madison Street, Sag Harbor. For more information, visit sageandmadison.com.

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