At Home With Hollywood Food Stylist Susan Spungen

Ever wonder what a cook, recipe developer and food stylist’s kitchen might look like? Well, you’re in luck: Susan Spungen – food stylist for Labor Day, Julie & Julia and Eat Pray Love – takes us on a tour of her home in the Hamptons, including the gorgeous custom-built kitchen.

This is a view of the living and dining areas from the mezzanine, where the master bedroom is located.

If you saw the romantic drama Labor Day (which came out on DVD/Blu-ray yesterday) you might have left the theater wondering how to make that mouthwatering pie. Look no further than cook/author/recipe developer Susan Spungen, the food stylist for the film, who trained actors Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet how to make pie onscreen. (The peach pie recipe is author Joyce Maynard’s, which Susan translated for the film.) Outside of Hollywood, Susan co-authored the award-winning bestseller Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook, and helped launch the first Martha Stewart all-food magazine title, Everyday Food. Her latest book, What's a Hostess to Do?, is available in bookstores nationwide. The culinary maven recently took us on a tour of her beautiful home in the Hamptons, including the dream kitchen she designed with architect Andrew Pollock.

Susan Spungen Headshot

Cook, author, recipe developer and food stylist Susan Spungen

What's the biggest challenge in working on a home/kitchen movie set? 

The hardest thing is if you are shooting in a kitchen set, you don't have an actual kitchen to work out of! You might be working in a tent on the lawn, a mobile kitchen parked on the street, or in a neighbor's home. For Labor Day, we were working out of another house across the street, so we were crossing the street a lot. We also had a work station set up in the living room, just a few steps away from the kitchen set.

What did you like about the home they picked for Labor Day?

The kitchen looked real – it hadn't been used much for any culinary endeavors, so the production designer really did his job, making every detail fit the character and helping tell her story. It was cluttered with lots of containers of processed and canned food, and the freezer, which the audience gets a glimpse inside of, looked like it hadn't been defrosted in years, and the food inside looked like it had been there just as long.

Where do you live? What do you like about the area?

Our house is in Springs, a section of East Hampton, N.Y. I love the natural beauty of the place and that it feels like the country, but with water all around. The ocean is five minutes away and the bay is even closer. The local produce is inspiring to work with, and I love that I know my farmers. This summer we'll be picking our own vegetables at nearby Quail Hill Farm. I can't wait!

What drew you to your own home?

I knew it was right when I stepped onto the property, before even going inside the house; it is beautiful, private and secluded. The house needed some work, but after an extensive renovation, we really love it. 

What's your favorite room in your home?

Definitely the kitchen, because I have never had a good one, and now I have an incredible one!

How would you describe your home style?  

I tend to be pretty minimalist and love white as a neutral backdrop for all of the furniture and objects. I don't like anything too "decorated." I like a mix of modern with more rustic pieces to warm it up. I'm still in the process of decorating, and I am trying to add more organic elements to soften it. 

Keeping the neutral palette consistent throughout, with the emphasis on white surfaces and blond wood floors, is not only pleasing to the eye, but opens up the room and enhances the natural light.

How do you make your kitchen look good? 

I just finished building my dream kitchen, so it was all about making good design choices and collaborating with my architect, Andrew Pollock, who is also an old family friend. Together we created a kitchen that I love and practically live in. It is definitely the heart of my new home. We built an addition onto the existing house, which includes the kitchen and dining room. It is equal in size to the existing footprint of the main living area, so it comprises a major part of the living space.

One of the advantages of building from scratch is that you don't have to shoehorn everything in to an existing space. I almost have more storage than I can use … almost! Having a place for everything allows me to be super-organized and keep countertop clutter to a minimum. I like to use my counters for cooking, not clutter. It's also important to keep the kitchen clutter-free because it is open to the living room, in full view. The old kitchen space was turned into that bonus room that I have always craved; I have open shelves that hold all of my serving platters and bowls, a coat closet, a little mudroom/entryway, a desk, and a utility closet, as well as two pull out pantries and some extra cabinets.

Any tips for cooking?

I think having a really great cutting board (or two) that has a permanent place on the counter is absolutely key. I think of mine as my launching pad from which great meals spring. It should be beautiful, so it looks good being out, and feel good under your knives, which are the next most important items. My board is a big end-grain walnut board with little rubber feet, so it doesn't slide around. 

What are your favorite home-related items?

Now that I have an embarrassing amount of storage space, I am free to hoard – I mean collect – serving platters and bowls. Both my husband and I are fond of unique handmade ceramics. It makes entertaining so much fun; we love to pull out our special pieces and pick just the right platter or vessel for whatever's on the menu. And sometimes the dishes can inspire the food! I also have a collection of French hand-blown glass bottles and jars that we like to use for flowers. We like to cut things that are growing in our garden to decorate the table, and put around the house.

Susan loves the charm and warmth of the attic-style master bedroom. For practical purposes, they added a built-in cabinet to bring the bed 18 inches from the wall, giving them added storage. "This also keeps us from hitting our heads when we get up!" she quipped. A variety of textures in the bedding and rug make the space feel cozy and inviting.

What are some of your favorite colors/fabrics/textures in the home?

I love just the right neutrals, and tend towards a palette of soft sea glass colors against a backdrop of sand and white. I bought a woven metallic suede and hemp rug for the master bedroom, and layered sheepskins on top. It feels so luxurious under foot. I have a silk rug in the living room, which was a splurge, but worth it because I love the way it looks and feels. It's solid, but the texture makes it seem patterned, because it reflects the light in so many directions at once.

Do you garden? 

I do, to the extent that I have time to. This is our first full season in the house, which is primarily a weekend/summer house, so I have been doing some pretty major landscaping and hardscaping. I have moved a bunch of things around, removed some things I didn't like, and am planning on planting a few new things in the next few weeks. We inherited a wisteria vine which went really wild, but we just installed a wire for it to grow on. The plan is to keep it pruned so we can enjoy it without it taking over! I also want to plant some Rosa Rugosa, a wild, low-maintenance rose. It will be a work in progress!

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