By Emily J. Weitz
Sag Harbor is known for its European vibe, for the quaintness of the village and the discerning taste of those who meander the streets. So it comes as no surprise that more and more of the small business owners are from the continent, bringing with them designs from Italy to Belgium and everywhere in between.
Jan Oostdijk and George Rutgers are from the Netherlands, and they moved to the States four years ago to open JanGeorge in Key West, Florida. The interior design store met with great success, and their business as designers, which had begun in Europe about 15 years ago, grew.
“Our European background is shown in our lines,” says Oostdijk. “They’re simple and minimalistic. It’s a different aesthetic.”
This aesthetic, Oostdijk says, goes very well in a town like Sag Harbor.
“It’s the least American place,” he says. “No strip malls or drama. It’s like a rural area in Europe.”
At the same time, Sag Harbor isn’t exactly comprised of country bumpkins.
“Because of the connection to the city,” says Oostdijk, “the whole style level is very high. People appreciate design, they usually know all the European lines. I think our aesthetic goes well here because the simpler lines, neutral colors, combined with wood and earthy tones, is the way to go in the Hamptons.”
When you step in to JanGeorge’s Madison Street space, you’ll be swallowed up by the worn wood and the many shades of white.
“It’s our signature style,” says Oostdijk. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. It sort of evolved out of the Belgian, lineny look. We thought that was a little old, so we do it a bit more contemporary.”
The rustic element of their design is entirely from the South of France, where the two have bought old feed bins or woodworking tables and re-imagined them for contemporary use.
“They’re always unique pieces,” says Oostdijk. “Maybe an old trunk to store grain becomes a coffee table or a nightstand. Or an old goldsmith table, which can now be reinvented as a desk in a hallway. They become works of art if you display them in a certain way… We use very rural items and create something new. But they need to have simplicity to combine with the modern lines, or it won’t be a good match.”
These rustic pieces find their match in the modern; for example, a glass table or a sleek sofa. Otherwise, Oostdijk says, the look might be too pastoral.
This is where Rutgers chimes in.
“We adore Italian lines,” he says. “We think those simple lines and basic colors can be tuned up with pillows and art. The Italians have a wonderful way of playing with classic lines.”
Part of their job, Rutgers says, is taking these lines and matching them with the rest of the space.
“Combining them with a base, like a neutral floor, or strong white walls. People laugh about the different white tones, but there are so many tones of white.” He motions to a bold light fixture hanging from the ceiling, with naked bulbs and stainless steel. “Then we combine all that with something modern and striking, like this chandelier.”
The final step in the design process is combining all these bright ideas with what people already have. Sometimes, of course, the team gets to start with a blank canvas. But often, it’s incorporating the new and imaginative into what’s already there.
“We can do 3-D drawings and floor-to-ceiling redesigns,” says Rutgers. “We do everything from talking to builders and contractors to choosing the pillows. We are successful in creating something personal. We create a base you can use for many years.”
Jan and George’s first design project when they arrived in Sag Harbor was the store itself, which was five claustrophobic little offices a few steps below street level.
“We literally brightened it up,” says Oostdijk. “It’s an 18th century whaling house, and it’s perfect for our concept.”
“The store itself is the piece,” says Rutgers. “Altogether, it makes one piece. It speaks for itself.”