Chris Mead, owner of English Country Home in Bridgehampton, has been a fixture on the East End interior design scene for the better part of four decades. But when he immigrated to the United States from his native England as a young man, he didn’t come in search of mid-century modern nightstands or vintage farmhouse dining tables.
“I came to New York because it was the center of the universe for photography at the time,” Mead explains, rattling off a who’s who of boldface names, including Irving Penn, Art Kane, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Francesco Scavullo.
While working as an assistant photographer in London shooting interiors and fashion, Mead lined up a job in New York City, apprenticing for the legendary Helmut Newton. As his career progressed, he went on to publish over a dozen books of his own photography, including a volume on American country antiques.
Mead’s path to the world of retail home décor and interior design was partly a natural progression from his work on his American country book and partly an accident of circumstance.
“I had bought a house in Noyac before I started doing the book, and then I went all over the United States photographing antiques dealers,” he notes. “By the time I got home, I had furnished my entire house.”
Though Mead didn’t have formal training in interior design, the aesthetic he created using country antiques from across the U.S. caught the eye of a well-known home décor publication.
When House Beautiful magazine did an eight-page spread on Mead’s self-decorated East End country home, his professional future began to reveal itself.
Soon after the House Beautiful spread appeared, Mead more or less officially embarked on a new career — with a little help from a friend.
“I had a girlfriend who always wanted an antiques store, and so on the weekends we opened a store in the Hamptons on Jobs Lane,” he says. “As the photography slowed down, the antiques picked up.”
The original store has been relegated to Hamptons real estate history, having long ago been replaced by English Country Home’s current location in Bridgehampton. And although Mead still lovingly curates a 5,000-square-foot barn stuffed to the gills with antiques from all over the world, the store has evolved to primarily feature modern, postmodern and country pieces, with just a smattering of antiques on display at any particular time.
Tucked behind a gas station a couple of doors north of County Road 39 near the side entrance to Bridgehampton Commons, the shop’s entrance is fronted by a collection of massive urns from the Greek island of Crete and a powder-blue, 1950s-era Ford pickup truck that Madonna once tried to buy from Mead’s wife and business partner, the artist Zoë Hoare.
Why wasn’t Hoare interested in selling the truck (one of several similar vehicles the couple owns) to a former international superstar and one of the most famous people in the western hemisphere?
“She can’t get everything she wants,” Mead’s wife told him, definitively nixing the transaction.
To walk into the front door of English Country Home is to be bombarded by the sheer magnitude of … stuff. There are fascinating pieces everywhere — lots and lots of them; furniture of all kinds, lighting, wall art, rugs, upholstery and more. As packed with merchandise as the store is, the mix makes perfect sense. It’s stimulating to stand there in the middle of it all, but also oddly serene.
Is it minimalist? Definitely not. Ornate? Nope. Hamptons chic? Not exactly. Beachy? Kind of, but not overarchingly so. The place just exudes good taste. From everywhere. All at once.
When asked to try to put some kind of label on the design aesthetic of his store, Mead pauses. He finally settles on, “Eclectic … something for everybody.”
Over the years, Mead’s über-tasteful and eclectic design sense has helped English Country Home build a fiercely loyal following that extends well beyond the East End. To complement the store’s retail and online business, Mead and Hoare provide comprehensive interior design services to trade professionals and homeowners from Aspen to Palm Beach (Mead owns a home in Miami).
The store’s huge inventory is bolstered by a 30,000-square-foot warehouse full of merchandise that gets rotated in and out to complement the pieces on display.
We have different styles, different vignettes, we’re always changing things around,” Mead says. “Our customers know that. I have people that come every Saturday morning at 8:30 to get ideas.
“We’re basically able to furnish core houses directly from the store,” he continues. “People come in and say, ‘Oh, I love everything.’ What I generally do then is tell them to walk around and put dots on everything they like. Then we create a storyboard with the pieces they’ve chosen.
“You can tell a designer what you want,” he notes. “But until you see it, it’s probably not what you really want. The way we do it often makes it a very sped-up process.”
Summing up the relationship so many of his customers have with his shop, Mead recounts the story of a longtime client who owns a summer home on the East End:
“She tells me that every time she comes to the Hamptons, first she goes to the ocean, then she comes to English Country.”
Check out English Country Home at cantiques.com.