Darren Star’s hugely popular television shows have always functioned on two levels. There’s the shiny surface, and then there’s the often stark, authentically human subtext. Beverly Hills 90210, his depiction of wealthy high schoolers coming of age—not as overprivileged teen clichés but as young adults dealing with real, complicated life issues—helped reshape the national conversation around adolescence while forever changing American TV. Undergirding the pink tulle and heels, the boozy nightlife, and the brunch dates in Sex and the City was a groundbreaking post-feminist examination of women’s friendships, careers, and sexuality. Darren’s most recent hit, Younger (on which I had the pleasure of consulting), tells the timely story of a middle-aged, recently separated woman forced to lie about how old she is in order to land a job, only to find herself having to navigate both ageism and sexism in the workplace.
So it came as no surprise to discover that Darren’s beach house in East Hampton works on two levels—and I don’t just mean that the upstairs is visible from the double-height living room. On the surface, it’s a traditional shingled four-bedroom house, featuring bright, generously scaled spaces filled with exquisite art and furnishings, all masterminded by celebrated designer Waldo Fernandez, whom Darren first called upon to help reinvigorate his historic Los Angeles estate a number of years ago. Much like that project, the East Hampton home would have every right to shout its importance, had its owner so desired. And yet its brilliance, echoing Darren’s shows, lies in its seduction. The compellingly understated spaces devised by Fernandez pull you—lightly, effortlessly—into an oasis of calm and nurture.
“I fell in love with the Hamptons more than 20 years ago, when I was in New York filming the series Central Park West,” says Darren. “Raised on the East Coast, I spent summers on the Delaware shore, and after many years in L.A., I realized how much I missed those summer days at the beach—the sense of pure escape. And the Hamptons combine the best of the beach with the best of being in the country.” His house, only a block from the ocean, has become a retreat for family and friends. “Waldo,” Darren says, “brought it to the next level of relaxed comfort and simplicity.”
Darren and I attended the same high school in Potomac, Maryland, and we both fled the confines of those suburbs in search of something more. But we never met until he bought the rights to my first book. Though it was a memoir of the wars I’d covered in my early 20s, what spoke to Darren was the girl from Potomac underneath. Similarly, what struck me the last time I visited him in East Hampton—where we’d gone to work on a new project—was the seamless way in which the house combines a familiar coziness with understated sophistication and luxury.
Darren is a passionate art collector. On a wall above the entryway, which opens directly to the living room, hangs a wittily humorous work by Greg Colson titled Things People Lie About. In the form of a pie chart, it features slices labeled “INCOME,” “ACCOMPLISHMENTS,” and “MARITAL STATUS,” with the largest reserved for “TRUE FEELINGS”—once again channeling the theme of text (what we project to the world) and subtext (who we actually are). At the top of the stairs is a large Massimo Vitali photograph of crowds frolicking at a beach. “I wanted the art in the house to feel playful, not too serious,” says Darren.
Designed in the 1990s by the celebrated Hamptons architect Francis Fleetwood, the house sits on a lovely plot with numerous trees and amazing light. But Darren felt it was just too ordinary. “Coming from L.A., I really wanted that platonic ideal of a classic Hamptons Shingle Style home,” he says. Improvements carried out by Fernandez included adding plank paneling to many interior walls and installing a massive limestone fireplace surround in the living room.
Some of the biggest changes came outside. “For me, being in the Hamptons is about spending as much time outdoors as possible,” Darren says. A new porch off the den has become “a prime hangout, day and night,” he notes, while the covered grilling and dining area outside the kitchen is where he spends some of his “best nights, cooking with friends, using the fabulous produce from local farm stands.” Farther out in the back, landscape architect Alec Gunn designed an intimate seating area with a stone fireplace, shaded by a wisteria-covered pergola, making it a perfect spot for a quiet lunch or after-dinner drinks.
On our last day at the house, after several hours of work, Darren and I wound down with a yoga session on the deck. To the sounds of crashing waves, we looked out to the lush expanse of green, hyper-illuminated by the distinctive sunlight that has drawn many an artist to Long Island’s East End. In that moment, as the world and our inner selves realigned into hard-earned balance, I felt the parallel magical equipoise of this home.