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Foreign Affairs

The Hamptons has always been a haven for expatriates—from the English Puritans and Dutch settlers in the 1600s to the Europeans, South Americans, Australians, Scandinavians and other nationalities who live here today, our island embraces its international spirit. Here, we highlight eight imports who have made a name for themselves on the East End.

Brazilian fashion designer Claudja Bicalho and Australian artist Mark Wilson, who have been together 15 years

Photo by Sascha Mazzucco

Paris native and Bridgehampton resident Pierre Weber in his 1984 Citroen 2CV

Photo by Sascha Mazzucco

German-born furniture designer Maximilian Eicke inside his Bridgehampton studio, Max ID NY. The painting is by Hans Kline, and the “5” sidetable and “Tee” chair are his own designs.

Photo by John Messinger

Swedish former model Charlotte Bonstrom, who’s chairing the Southampton Fresh Air Home’s Decorators-Designers-Dealers Sale and Auction Benefit Gala on June 7, with her two children, Valentina, 7, and Vittorio, 11, in the TV room of their Southampton home, which has panoramic windows that bring the outside in.

Photo by Daniel Gonzalez and David A. Land

Serafina owner and Italy native Vittorio Assaf

Photo by Daniel Gonzalez and David A. Land

Nathan Orsman at his home in Water Mill. The interior was outfitted by his friend, interior designer David Scott.

Photo by Daniel Gonzalez

Art Farm and Green School founder and Sweden native Mari Linnman designed and built her home on a 5-acre farm in Sagaponack in the style of Swedish artist Carl Larsson. Outside is a paddock and a barn with a classroom that houses the Green School.

Photo by Daniel Gonzalez

Mark Wilson & Claudja Bicalho: The Escape Artists
One of the Hamptons’ most popular pop-ups, the Lazypoint Variety Store in Amagansett (which recently moved to a new location on Main Street), is a five-year-old collaboration between Australian artist Mark Wilson and Brazilian fashion designer Claudja Bicalho. Equal parts art gallery, boutique, jeweler and old-fashioned emporium, the store showcases the wares—some imported, some homespun—collected and staged by the couple at their 400-square-foot home on Lazy Point. The home also happens to be the setting for their annual impromptu paella party for 50, during which Bicalho cooks Valencian rice over an open fire on the beach.

“It’s very last-minute,” says Bicalho. “We just call around to see who’s available.”

This approach to throwing parties is not unlike the duo’s approach to commerce—which makes sense for operators of a venture that is, at its heart, ephemeral.

“We’ve found that you just open it and it comes to you,” says Wilson of the business. “It’s a law-of-attraction sort of thing.” And attract it does: Interior designer Tony Ingrao found a piece he’s using at this year’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House, and hotelier Ian Schrager procured a piece he first saw at Lazypoint for a hotel in Miami.

Wilson and Bicalho became romantically linked 15 years ago, after Wilson had several chance sightings of Bicalho—including one on a Hamptons beach—and interpreted it as a sign that his destiny was to make a life with this alluring woman.

Of course, being rooted in Eastern Long Island doesn’t preclude them from traveling the world. Asia—specifically, Burma—is a source of intriguing crafts at the moment, as are many “untapped” parts of South America.

Says Wilson, “Traditions and authenticity are what inspire us.” –Suzanne Gannon

Pierre Weber: The French Fantasist
In the hit-and-miss Hamptons restaurant environment, where there’s more turnover than in a Pillsbury plant, for an establishment to be in its 13th year, be open seven days a week and have a still-growing customer base—well, that is indeed an accomplishment.

Especially when the proprietor came here cold.

“When I arrived, no one knew who I was, not even the police knew me,” says Pierre Weber, owner of his eponymous Bridgehampton eatery, which opened in 2002. “Coming from out of nowhere to having the clientele we have now has made the ride all the more fun.”

If Cheers in Boston is the bar where everyone knows your name, Pierre’s is the bistro where everyone thinks he or she is French. “It’s a wonderful sight to see people relaxing in the sun,” says Weber, referring to the outdoor tables that benefit from southern exposure. “People can make believe they’re at a cafe in Paris.”

A fifth-generation baker in a family that traces back to 1820s Alsace, France, Weber, a Paris native, spent three years running his family’s bakery until, eager to update his clan’s old recipes, he ventured west to NYC. There he founded a wholesale business selling pastries to hotels, restaurants, country clubs and specialty gourmet shops. In 2001, Weber became a U.S. citizen and decided to try his luck on the East End.

Today, residents flock to Pierre’s not only for the atmosphere, but for the food—French classics with a twist—and, of course, his famous pastries.

But for Weber, consistency is the key to his success. “We have a group of followers who love the French community and the food it savors,” he says. “They want to see you open every day, and I’ll stay open whatever it takes. This past winter, I was shoveling snow myself to clear a path to the front door. If there is going to be one street light on along Main Street at night, I want it to be mine.” –Tom Clavin

Maximilian Eicke: The Design Wunderkind
The Christy’s Art Center in Sag Harbor is owned by art-and-antiques dealers Michael and Elfi Eicke, and is crammed full of 19th century sculptures, paintings and artifacts. But the centerpiece of the space is “Heels,” a circular table with a teak base and a 78-inch-diameter glass top created by their son, furniture designer Maximilian Eicke.

At age 24, Eicke is already widely acclaimed as a prodigy. His designs have been featured in The New York Times and Architectural Digest, and architect Rafael Viñoly is an avid collector. As Eicke cheerfully acknowledges, both his creativity and his meteoric success have been nurtured by the character of the Hamptons. “I try to combine a classic European minimalist aesthetic with larger-than-life American grandeur,” he says.

Born in 1990 in Düsseldorf, Eicke spent his first years shuttling between Germany and London, where his parents had businesses. In 1999, having fallen in love with the charm of The American Hotel, Eicke’s father moved the family to Sag Harbor.

Young Eicke’s artistic horizons expanded when he entered the Ross School, where the curriculum was focused largely on European and Middle Eastern cultures. For his senior project, he built a Bauhaus-inspired glass and steel coffee table that earned honors.

After attending college and spending three months back in Germany as an apprentice for a metal-manufacturing firm, Eicke was intent on starting his own business. He found a manufacturer in 2010 and debuted the first Max ID NY collection that same year.

Today, Eicke’s inventory includes 70-plus pieces—chairs, desks, tables and bookcases ranging in price from $198 to $68,000. And in addition to displaying at Christy’s, Eicke maintains a studio in Bridgehampton, where he’ll be hosting a show of his new work in June.

“I like to design pieces for houses here in the Hamptons,” Eicke says with an impish grin, “because I know they’ll be big enough to fit my furniture.” –Harry Hurt III

Vittorio Assaf & Charlotte Bonstrom: The Restaurateurs
“It was a dream of ours to have a restaurant in the Hamptons,” says Charlotte Bonstrom, wife of Vittorio Assaf, co-owner of Serafina, the East Hampton eatery now in its fifth year on North Main Street. “When we saw this location we fell in love with the space—it’s very beachy and low-key and welcoming. We knew people would want to come here.”

How has Serafina become such an appealing foodie destination? Let us count the ways: It serves mouthwatering Northern Italian cuisine. The flour for its fresh-baked pizzas—there are two dozen different kinds—comes directly from Naples. The wines, including reds and whites produced by Sonoma County’s St. Francis winery under the Serafina label, are top notch.

Finally, Serafina is a family affair, opened in 2010 by Assaf and Fabio Granato. Fabio, who was raised in Torino, was planning to stay in the family’s construction business until he visited NYC, met a girl at Studio 54—and never went back.

Assaf, who grew up in Milan and worked in the finance and fashion industries before opening Café Candiotti in NYC in 1985, met a girl too: Charlotte Bonstrom, a former model from Gothenburg, Sweden. She’d moved to New York in 1996, the same year the Granatos opened the first Serafina in Manhattan.

Today, Bronstrom isn’t just a full-time mother (to Vittorio, 11, and Valentina, 7), she’s also her husband’s closest confidante; a Serafina Restaurant Group advisor; and the founder of Philanthropic Bling, a company that combines social activism and charity giving with the sale of chic accessories.

Summer in the Hamptons is always special, particularly when you’re running a thriving restaurant business. “There’s a great mix of people and very good energy here,” says Bonstrom, who considers Serafina the perfect place for family and friends. “It’s obvious that our patrons feel the same way.” –TC

Nathan Orsman: The Light Brigade
When he arrived in the U.S. from Australia more than 14 years ago, self-taught illumination expert Nathan Orsman had no idea he’d eventually be running his own business lighting up the lives of clients from Antigua to Palm Beach to Sydney. Nor did he know five years ago that Southampton—a place where a well-lit domicile serves as a sort of trophy—would be the place he’d hang his shingle.

Orsman Design Inc. now employs 14, and also maintains a satellite office in NYC.

“It’s possible to see during the day what will happen after dark,” says the 6-foot-4 entrepreneur. Clearly he sees things others can’t, and uses this “sixth sense” when proposing a pergola cast in moonlight, a dramatic colonnade or the sinuous edge of a perennial bed that seems lit from within.

Here at the Design Inc. compound, Orsman employs a soft touch indoors as well. He installed downlights encased in flared bevels that reduce the glare on artwork, positioned recessed porch lighting to illuminate the structure’s bonelike columns, and designed a milk glass skylight over a kitchen island with linear LEDs. The effect of each innovation is a gentle embellishment of existing beauty.

Among Orsman’s most exciting recent assignments are a 170-foot yacht (which gave him a “massive sense of satisfaction”), moving light walls, and an architectural feature resembling giant cubic rectangles lit with intricate fretwork.

When the office doesn’t suffice as a laboratory, he takes new techniques to his home in Water Mill, which he shares with his partner, Jose Castro, and their schnoodle, Cooper. There, in his pristine saltbox, he can test lanterns in a grove of cedars, or new ways to light art. Then there’s the ongoing vetting of ceiling fixtures to replace the paper sphere that hangs in the master bedroom.

“Don’t tell anyone you saw this,” he says with a laugh. “It’s embarrassing.” –SG

Mari Linnman: The Earth Angel
“The Green School is a model for preschools of the future,” says Mari Linnman, the energetic owner of the Sagaponack-based school. “The concept is inspired by Montessori schools, but here we also teach children about every aspect of healthy living and taking care of the planet.”

The mother of two boys, ages 5 and 14, Linnman is an educator with an entrepreneurial instinct. She’s founded not only the Green School, but also the Art Farm, a year-round facility in Manhattan—with a summer camp at the Ross School in East Hampton—where kids with both local and international backgrounds explore the creative arts and learn to enjoy plants and animals.

Born in the Swedish town of Kopparberg, Linnman spent much of her youth on a family dairy farm near Dalarna, home to renowned 19th century artist Carl Larsson, who painted storybook-style renderings of local country life.

Linnman first came to the U.S. in 1986 as a 19-year-old au pair for a family in California. After ski-bumming in Aspen and waitressing in L.A., she and a girlfriend took what she describes as “a Thelma and Louise car trip to NYC—except that we didn’t kill anyone.”

She enrolled at Marymount Manhattan College, but eventually heard the call of the countryside and rented a cottage at The Ark, a 100-acre farm in Bridgehampton, which she would eventually transform into the Art Farm.

Linnman opened the Green School in 2009 on a Sagaponack farm—where her own home was located—and had it designed in Larsson’s artistic tradition—red and white exteriors, and interior walls painted with storybook scenes.

Today, it’s a place where children learn about play alongside bunnies, frogs, pigs and horses, and it’s a place that gives back: A percentage of each student’s tuition sends a child in Thailand to school.

Linnman hopes to expand the Green School concept into a franchise. “A lot of teachers are struggling right now,” she says. “I’m putting together a package that will enable them to start their own schools.” –HH