Hold Your Horses: Phillip Thomas South Fork Party Venue

Phillip Thomas was just the person to reimagine a stylish use for old horse stables in Bellport, New York. He had spent his boyhood summers in that South Fork village and held the memories close to his heart.

The owners had lived in the main house for years but used the 50-year-old barn only for furniture storage. Thomas was off to the races with a vision for a cozy party space they would use again and again.

“My clients have a large extended family, and everyone lives nearby. Their home is the meeting point for all the households,” Thomas declares. And the main house, once a year-round residence, is now a summer refuge for three generations.

The Stables, as the space is lovingly known, is actually one structure set on a pretty lawn near a lush garden – two fertile gifts that thrive on the sunny banks of Great South Bay. Thomas envisioned the restored structure as a folly, from the English pastoral landscape tradition.

“I like to think of The Stables as a folly, the focal point of the garden. To me, follies are associated with pleasures,” Thomas adds wistfully.

After decades of toting everything for parties back and forth between house and garden, the time came to update the drafty barn.

“Bellport is one of the best-kept secrets,” comments Thomas. “It has kept its unique, low-key charm while other areas of Long Island have changed.” He was determined to update the historic stables while retaining the original essence.

“My clients are always having impromptu barbecues with family and neighbors and they host several parties a year, with over 50 guests at a time for sit-down dinners outside. Their carefree air makes an invitation to their home sought after by many in the community,” notes Thomas.

The family wanted ample space for serving and cleaning up after large parties and also hoped for a place where events could be moved indoors in bad weather.

“Kitchens have increasingly become social spaces where people gather,” explains Thomas. He installed a 20-foot island in the center of the barn; it can seat up to 25 comfortably on stools and features a double sink with dishwashers on either side. A stove and ovens are set against a wall.

“Storage was also key,” continues Thomas. New closets hold china, stemware and other tabletop necessities. A second room for party inventory keeps the main room clutter-free.

The Stables are used in warm weather, so central heating was unnecessary. But a wood stove now staves off the chill on cold days, and guests love sitting around it. Ceiling fans distribute the heat.

“The floors are in their original condition – dirt and all – for a relaxed feeling. No one has to worry about coming in and damaging a delicate surface,” says Thomas.

“Since the building once had a hayloft, we thought it would be fun to incorporate hay bales,” he adds. The bales offer flexible seating, either grouped or, for a more intimate option, separated.

He says lighting proportions make or break a space. “We installed ten fixtures over the island. They reference vintage lamps, but are positively modern with handblown, free-form glass. This juxtaposition between the old stables and new fixtures grabs your attention.”

The wood from the paddock doors was repurposed to create the counter for the vessel sink in the powder room. “The bottom edge of the vanity apron is very special,” notes Thomas. “It’s the piece that the previous tenants – the horses – chewed on.”

Rather than replacing the original barn doors with modern, weathertight doors, he restored the worn cedar plank wood. Flung open, the doors offer a breathtaking view of the garden.

The Stables had also housed chickens in the past, so Thomas incorporated portraits of heritage chickens by photographer Patrice Casanova.

“We made them enormous – six feet tall – to bring energy to the space,” adds the designer. The portraits can be viewed from inside and outside the barn.

A narrow banquette table facilitates conversation. Irish linen tablecloths with hemstitch details are the perfect backdrop for bottle-green chargers and handmade Japanese china. The tableau is complete with brass flatware; small glass bottles that hold flowers and garden grasses and cornflower-yellow linen napkins that pick up the color of the ceiling inside.

Barns can be beautiful, not just for horses but for unforgettable, Instagram-worthy gatherings. Just bring an open mind – and wear comfortable shoes.

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