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Feature: The One Constant

Jorge S. Arango

Designer George Constant did not give the new owner of this Oyster Bay Cove residence on Long Island, N.Y., much choice. Constant arrived at their first meeting with a single fabric sample for each piece of furniture and just one recommendation for the material and finish for each wall and floor treatment. "My client looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you have anything else?’ " recalls Constant. "And I said to him, ‘This is what it should be.’ Later he told me he thought that was arrogant."

The client—a bachelor in his 40s who, with his brother, owns a credit card debt–purchasing company—was taken aback at first, but nevertheless says, "There wasn’t anything I didn’t immediately love. George’s first choice for everything was perfect."

Besides, he knew that the designer had good cause for feeling so confident in his selections. Constant had worked on the interiors of the 11,000-square-foot structure at various times over the previous 14 years, beginning at the time of the home’s construction. "A friend of mine says I’m like the house cat," jokes Constant. "I wait on the doorstep, and each person who buys the house takes me in."

The original owners acquired the plans for the house in 1993. Although they liked the open layout, explains Constant, "they didn’t want it to look modern, so I convinced them to close off some of the rooms and layer it with millwork—door frames, crown moldings, baseboards." Constant’s design for the foyer featured a 16-point star executed in pietre dure on the floor, a Viennese giltwood chandelier, and Zuber wallcoverings. These clients also selected many of the other wall and floor treatments. However, when their marriage ended in divorce, the project came to a halt.

Then, in 1995, a couple with three children purchased the residence, and, because they liked the work that had been done, they commissioned Constant to continue designing the interiors. "This is your house," the new owners said. "You should finish it." Constant began to do so by selecting two sofas and a gold-leaf iron coffee table for the den, a table and chairs for the dining room, and furniture for the children’s rooms. But the house went back on the market when the couple’s careers prompted a move to Las Vegas (where they took with them only their children’s furniture).

Although the home’s price was considerably more than the $3 million limit he had set for himself, the current owner toured the seven-bedroom, eight-and-a-half-bath dwelling in early 2003. "Everywhere my eye turned, [the house] was finished with such detail and beauty," he says. "I couldn’t get the details out of my head." He returned to the residence 10 more times with friends and relatives before deciding to purchase it. In the end, he says, "I bought everything, even the towels and linens." Before the second owners left, he recalls, they told him he must hire Constant to finish designing the interiors.

The new owner took their advice, and Constant, who at the time was recovering from heart surgery, went back to work. He had much of the furniture customized to accommodate the 6-foot-2-inch frame of the owner, who says, "I sat in everything to make sure it was comfortable." Besides the custom pieces, Constant and art consultant Barbara Deisroth, formerly of Sotheby’s, selected numerous antiques for the residence. Most notable are a Gilbert Poillerat gilded iron mirror in the dining room, an 1890 Steinway piano and a French Empire marble-topped commode in the living room, rare Irish 19th-century giltwood mirrors in the game room, and a Louis XVI drop-front secrétaire in the smoking room.

The homeowner is a TV buff who has a particular fondness for shows of the 1950s and ’60s. He can tell you when Gracie Allen retired and takes pride in knowing that, because there were fewer commercials four and five decades ago, programs of that era ran 25 minutes and 40 seconds—as opposed to a current program’s 22-minute running time. Constant fashioned a home theater with seating from Germany, custom gold- and silver-leaf overhead lights, a copper-leaf ceiling, and walls swathed in rich fabrics.

To ensure pitch-perfect acoustics in the theater, the designer enlisted Kurt Johannsen—director of system design and integration at Audio Video Systems in Mineola, N.Y.—to review every fabric and accessory choice. Johannsen provided a Stewart Filmscreen 118-inch screen, a Sony Qualia 004 projector, JBL Synthesis audio, and four-way motorized masking technology (which, by adjusting the screen size, allows you to mask the black bars at both ends of the image). He also retrofitted the house with a Crestron system, an Escient DVDM 100 DVD server, ReQuest audio, and centralized video distribution. The rooms with distributed audio have only display devices, speakers, and touchscreen controls because all of the equipment is housed on racks in the basement.

The owner has an encyclopedic collection of vintage TV Guide magazines that he wanted to preserve and display. Hundreds are showcased in shadow boxes and deployed like wallpaper in his home office. Those on the two black vinyl walls are framed in white, while others on the white vinyl walls are framed in black. "Isn’t it mad?" comments Constant, who furnished the office with a Napoléon III writing table (circa 1875), a Louis-Philippe mahogany barrel-back desk chair, a Victorian Dalton garden stool, an Aubusson rug (circa 1830), and a French Empire bronze bouillotte lamp (circa 1820).

In addition to the TV Guide magazines, the owner has a collection of fin de siècle European art glass that is showcased in the den, which features 30-foot ceilings.

Throughout the residence, Constant has created remarkable ceiling embellishments by combining wallpaper borders and paint. For example, in the master bedroom, which has a tray ceiling, the borders and paint accentuate the angles of the ceiling, as well as its height.

Constant believes the interiors are almost completed. Each owner, he says, "has added to them, and they’ve gotten more sophisticated along the way, more layered. We never undid anything—we just kept adding on."

George Constant, 212.751.1907; Audio Video Systems,
www.audiovideosystems.com

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