It’s hard to imagine high-powered NYC real estate broker Louise Phillips Forbes falling for a vacation retreat in a trailer park. But Louise, her husband Christopher and their two kids — all avid surfers — are currently reveling in their fourth summer at mobile-home oasis Montauk Shores.
Here, at the easternmost edge of the Long Island enclave, the Forbes’ 1,100-square-foot prefabricated digs are nestled among 200-odd other residences, with the Atlantic Ocean just minutes away. The Forbes and their neighbors watch out for each others’ children, who roam freely through the rows of retro crash pads in between jaunts riding the waves. No one locks their doors.
“It’s a step back in time,” says Louise, 54, who works for Halstead Property.
“When we eat, people just show up. We’ll have homemade pizza and, all of a sudden, I’ll have 12 kids sitting at my table. We’ve never had a TV. We just hang out, walk on the beach, roast hot dogs and have bonfires. This is what it used to be like 40 years ago — you didn’t need much.”
Louise learned to surf recently, after Christopher, a 56-year-old tech entrepreneur, and sons Douglas, 13, and Kenneth, 11, took up the sport. Now it’s an obsession that has come to dominate not only her rigorous exercise regimen but also the décor of the family’s ipe wood-paneled haven. Think ocean-themed works collected from local artists, a sprawling couch that acts as a splayed-out beach towel and a multicolored surfboard hanging from the wall.
The foursome’s journey to their beachy hideaway started years ago. Based in Bridgehampton — and the Upper West Side the rest of the year, which is still the case — they would drive out to Ditch Plains Beach near the park to surf. They fantasized about living in the park itself, even if it meant downsizing.
“We came to realize it was a lovely community of people, all really socioeconomically diverse,” Christopher says.
But patience was required to nab a place of their own just for part of the season.
“It took us three years to penetrate getting a rental,” Louise says. “It was all word of mouth [then].” Then, in 2013, Christopher found a three-week opening at one of the park’s older trailers on Craigslist for $6,000.
While Douglas and Kenneth ran off to befriend the other kids, their parents dealt with rundown conditions and black mold, then added new appliances and clean linens.
The close quarters reminded Louise of her own childhood; one summer, her family piled into an RV and drove from her native Tennessee to California.
“We decided to embrace it,” she says. “Because this was more about just being together.”
In the summer of 2014, a coveted Montauk Shores lot went on the market. The couple seized the opportunity, buying it for about $567,000.
Because new homes basically have to be wheeled in — any stationary residences are grandfathered in — the Forbes purchased a double-wide prefab for about $200,000 from Indiana-based Hi-Tech Housing.
They could simply raise up the prefab structure as a precaution against flooding. It was also easier to customize and decorate a ready-made home than a trailer. So Louise turned to interior designer friend Cortney Novogratz for help.
Louise and Novogratz bonded over functional solutions for families. Take the beds in the boys’ shared room, which are Ikea trundles Novogratz wrapped in soft fabric to avoid accidental injuries while roughhousing.
Despite the home’s cookie-cutter origins, there are personal touches everywhere.
Groovy wallpaper with hand-drawn waves lines the hallway, which is blanketed in natural light from the open kitchen. On the walls, there are collages of surfing journal pages by Montauk-based artist Tony Caramanico. In the same vein, a Massimo Vitali aerial photograph of a beach, bright and sun-drenched, holds pride of place in the master bedroom.
A similar photograph by Debby Hymowitz greets Douglas and Kenneth when they wake up in their shared nook across the hall. There, a bookshelf houses a throwback lava lamp and a stack of antique Surfer’s Journal magazines. Mounted above their beds is a decorative surfboard, while flanking them are framed photographs of waves. “It’s what I want my boys to feel — calm, ferocious, fun,” Louise says.
She calls the spacious kitchen with vaulted ceilings “the nucleus of this house.” Lucy bar stools from Bend Goods are padded with polyurethane cushions — the same material wetsuits are made of. “I spend my days saying, ‘Get off the couch, you’re wet!’ But I don’t have to say that anymore,” Louise says. “We can just focus on having as many meals as possible together.”
Other custom touches reflect Louise’s joyful — sometimes rule-breaking — nature. She loved the porous, matte underside of a black granite countertop more than its shiny surface, so she had the slab honed and installed upside down in the kitchen.
Popping out of the black counter and white cabinets is a bright orange Big Chill stove with a $3,795 price tag, one of a few indulgences in the otherwise minimal home. Other splurges, and favorites of Christopher’s, are the two giant Flos pendant lights by Marcel Wanders that descend over the island. Imported from Italy, the $2,500-per-piece fixtures are lined with an intricate etching that looks like it could be porcelain — “quite expensive, if you ask me, for a trailer,” Louise jokes.
Outside on the deck, orange upholstery pops in front of an ocean view. On winter days when the waves are as tall as 12 feet, the family can see them break from the couches. The table nearby has extra bench seating to accommodate the many last-minute guests.
The part of the surf shack Christopher and Louise love most isn’t their own design but rather the tight-knit community at Montauk Shores. Everyone congregates by the shared pool, a few short blocks from the Forbes’ plot. There’s also free breakfast on summer weekends at a clubhouse, where neighbors also gather for potlucks and yard sales.
Their boys run with a pack — the East End’s very own “Lord of the Flies.” It’s rare freedom that the city-dwelling Forbes family can appreciate.
“All the kids here can bike to town, go surfing or swimming, basically do their own thing,” Christopher says. “Kids don’t have that in a large urban center, that independence to run around and just be kids.”
All four of them are dreading fall, which brings a return to Manhattan and less time hanging ten. “We don’t like to talk about that now,” Louise says. “This is our paradise.”
Thursday, July 27, 2017