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An East Hampton Home Tailor-Made for Donna Lennard, the Owner of Il Buco


After years of renting houses in the Hamptons, Donna Lennard was ready to buy a place of her own in 2017. And she knew exactly where she wanted to live: on Gerard Drive, in the hamlet of Springs, N.Y., in the town of East Hampton.

“It’s a peninsula,” said Ms. Lennard, the owner of Il Buco, the New York-born chain of restaurants and shops that she started with Alberto Avalle 30 years ago. “On one side is Gardiners Bay, facing Gardiners Island and Connecticut; then, on the other side, is Accabonac Harbor. So from one side to the other, you see water.”

Ms. Lennard, who put her age at “over 50,” asked a local real estate agent who had family living on the slender spit of land to let her know if any houses went up for sale. A couple of weeks later, she got a call: A longtime resident was selling.

“It was an adorable cottage,” Ms. Lennard said. And even better, the 1,700-square-foot home, built in 1960 and expanded in the 1970s, sat high on the land, so it wasn’t in a flood zone. Aiming to avoid a bidding war, she offered the full asking price of about $1.7 million and closed on the property that August.

The house was in decent condition, but Ms. Lennard, who has spent a career creating destination interiors, wasn’t entirely happy with things as they were. So it felt serendipitous when she stopped in at Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee, in Amagansett, shortly after buying the home and bumped into Stuart Basseches, an architect and old college friend now based in Sag Harbor.

“I hadn’t seen him in years and didn’t even remember he was an architect,” Ms. Lennard said. “I said, ‘Well, you should design the house.’”

Soon after, the design work began. But over the course of several years, as Ms. Lennard and Mr. Basseches worked on plans — and as Ms. Lennard got to know the house better while spending time there with her son, Joaquin Lennard-Alcocer, now 19 — the scale of the project ballooned. “What began as maybe a one-bedroom addition ended up becoming a full-blown transformation,” Mr. Basseches said.

Eventually, they arrived at a design that opened up the existing structure, refreshed it inside and out, and introduced a two-story addition on one side, expanding the house by about 1,100 square feet. They also added a 200-square-foot shed with a sauna.

As the builder All Things Dirt began construction in December 2021, the exterior envelope of the house was set, but the interior continued to evolve. “I spent a lot of time choosing materials for the house, because I’m very studied about stuff like that,” Ms. Lennard said.

Pulled in different directions by work and life, she made decisions on many details as hammers were swinging. “It was design-build” on the fly, she said. “That’s a dangerous thing, because when you start with a set of plans that are completely done, everybody knows exactly what they’re doing and what it’s going to cost, so you stay more on budget.”

She and Mr. Basseches put the new kitchen and living room at the center of the house in a wide-open space with reclaimed oak flooring, a wood-paneled ceiling with exposed beams and walls finished in cloudy Venetian plaster by Jhon Olaya, an artisan.

To furnish the living room, Ms. Lennard used pieces collected over many years, including antique tables from John Derian, ceramic bowls and pitchers from Italy and a rug that had belonged to her father. A self-portrait of Chuck Close was a gift from the artist, who was a regular at Il Buco in New York, after the restaurant hosted his 70th birthday party.

For the kitchen, Ms. Lennard worked with Sakonnet Furniture Makers to build an island resembling an antique table, topping it with a slab of reclaimed wood from Slovenia. At the rear wall, where the kitchen backs up to a windowed mudroom, she and Mr. Basseches added a cutout lined with open shelving for natural light and views.

The addition holds a dining room and media room on the ground floor. A staircase with a folded steel handrail by Gabrielle Shelton leads to the new primary suite upstairs. The bathroom has an antique marble sink from Umbria, Italy, beneath a vanity mirror on wheels that can be rolled out of the way to provide views through another wall cutout.

The work was mostly complete in June 2023, although they’re “still working on a lot of details, which is the fun part,” Ms. Lennard said. So far, she has spent nearly $3 million, almost double what she planned.

Despite the lengthy project and unexpected expenses, she said, “what came out of it was very much the house I’d been dreaming of.”

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