Waterfront Living #3 – Cottage by the SEA


Written By: Jillian Blume

Neponsit is one of New York’s best-kept secrets. Just 15 miles from Manhattan, it is a small beach community resting like an oasis on the shores of the Atlantic and Jamaica Bay; the name is Native American and means “the place between the water.”

The Elgarts are long-term Neponsit residents who recently decided to move to another house in the same area. When they purchased a 1940s cottage-style house facing the Atlantic, they turned to interior designer Gail Shields-Miller to work her magic.

Shields-Miller started her business, Shields & Company Interiors, 20 years ago. It was originally a family business founded by her mother, also an interior designer, who began the business in the 1960s, but Gail has been on her own since 1987. The company, with four other employees, focuses on both major and minor architectural renovations and interior design, though Shields-Miller admits she prefers jobs for which she can do both as part of the project.

The Elgarts had already done the exterior renovation to bring the house up-to-date.

Mrs. Elgart sees her house as having a cottage appearance.

In the initial consulting process, Shields-Miller explored colors with the Elgarts.

Right off the bat, she decided to make some serious changes.

Her face-lift included painting the original knotty pine a soft, creamy yellow to brighten up the living room and make it “happier and sunnier.” She added lighting between the existing beams on the ceiling and designed the built-in shelves to display the antique vases and other objects that Mr. Elgart collects. Shields-Miller stained the floor a dark, espresso brown and designed the couch, the red chaise, and the chairs herself. The couple’s accessories, such as the 1920s standing ashtray, give the room a unique, personal touch.

The kitchen leads into a greenhouse room with a table for dining and chairs for reading and relaxing, while the greenhouse/sunroom leads to a little porch at the front of the house overlooking the ocean. Shields-Miller used antiqued limestone for the kitchen floor and granite countertops. She also helped the Elgarts embellish the front porch columns with the same cedar shake that’s used on the exterior of the house.

The most ambitious renovation was undertaken in the master bedroom. The Elgarts had raised the ceiling into the attic above, but that space remained empty. Shields-Miller added a spiral staircase and converted the space upstairs into a sitting area with bookcases, a small library, and an alcove window seat with a view of the ocean.

Shields-Miller also added unique details, such as the ram’s horns that she sold Elgart to go on her existing antique Chinese console table in the dining room.

Other unusual details include a washed-out celadon green wallpaper by Osborne & Little and a custom-made dining room table. In the den, an African table made of Mbambakofi wood, a hard wood found off the island of Lamu in the Indian Ocean, was commissioned from the company Lamu and designed by Bo van den Assum. Elgart kept her zebra table, while Shields-Miller added an antique poster above the couch.

The process of renovating and decorating a house is a bit like a marriage, Shields-Miller says.