There is only one look in Prep decorating: Not Decorated,” declares Lisa Birnbach in her 1980 tome, The Official Preppy Handbook, which is to say “nothing is consciously coordinated, but everything works together through a successful marriage of utility and excellence.” A comical take, yes, but it does sum up the look of Matt Albiani and Ron Brand’s Montauk, NY, hideaway. Behind its shingled exterior one finds a collected mix of nautical nods arranged with a level of nonchalance that lends every vignette—from a trio of postcards tacked above a table in Williamsburg green to a ceramic spaniel lamp beside a silver tray—its own form of haphazard perfection.
Albeit a rental, the house possesses the character of a home that’s been lived-in and well loved. Matt, a photographer, and Ron, a real estate broker (together they also co-founded the home goods store Mate Gallery), rented it as a weekend retreat from life in New York City. Now, six years in, they’re still on a lease, but have added a number of objects (and a few coats of paint) to better suit their taste. “We’ve been lucky enough in that the owners have let us have carte blanche about making improvements,” says Matt, ”and I’ve learned that it’s really about what you surround yourself with, not necessarily the house per se, that makes a place special.” Sound words for anyone with a lease—and he adds that it doesn’t take much effort to make a space feel like your own. “You need a good eye, but it’s not that hard to make your mark with smaller, impermanent touches.”
Matt has been frequenting Montauk for the past two decades (and with Ron since they met in 2011). “It’s a special place,” he says, “and though it’s changed a lot since I first started visiting, it still manages to retain pockets of what it used to be.” A melting pot of local characters and weekend visitors, it’s the kind of place where “the surfer, the fisherman, the local drunk, and the investment banker all still live at the same bar,” Matt says. “It’s not precious. There’s still a saltiness here, and we’re drawn to that.” Such a description sheds light on why the area’s made its mark on popular culture too. Quint, the character played by Robert Shaw in the movie Jaws (one of Matt’s favorite films), was based on Frank Mundus, a shark hunter who lived nearby. Eothen, the 30-acre compound that once belonged to Andy Warhol, is also in the neighborhood.
Made up of brambled dunes, sandy beaches, and seaside cottages like that of Ron and Matt, this small town on Long Island’s end is a fitting place for anyone who craves escape. Read on for the full home tour below.
Matt’s photographs make reference to “leisure time” in a way that parallels the decor of his home. Open his personal portfolio and you will find shots of freckle-faced lifeguards with sun-bleached hair, shadowy silhouettes of polo horses, and barefoot friends piled into the back of a doorless jeep. Collectively they speak to an idealized past of endless summers. And it’s a past not all that dissimilar from Matt’s own. He grew up outside Boston, and his family made a habit of visiting cousins in Nantucket every summer. “That sense of escape and island living Nantucket offered was very intoxicating to me,” Matt says. “If I had to pinpoint a connection between my work and my life, those summers would be it.”
Cut to him and Ron spending time in Montauk lounging on the sunroom’s wicker chairs with Ray LaMontagne on repeat and the sea just steps away. In a movie, it’s the scene you hope never ends—a couple in repose surrounded by the things they love, the things they collected together. “There are so many fond memories in this house,” says Matt. “Having people over, lighting a fire, playing bingo on the lawn… That’s what gives a house life, that’s what makes us happier than anything else in the world.”
American style is something that’s rooted in history, and I think it stems from New England, where our idea of ‘America’ was created.
There are so many fond memories in this house. Having people over, lighting a fire, playing bingo on the lawn… That’s what gives a house life, that’s what makes us happier than anything else in the world.