Bette Midler’s Family Has the Craziest Pool House: “It’s Like a Mullet”

Elle Decor
HOUSE TOUR: Bette Midler‘s Minimalist, Moroccan-Inspired Pool House In New York
By Nancy Hass JUN 29, 2016

Driven by his love of simple country churches, artist Martin von Haselberg crafts a pool house on his property in Millbrook, New York, that is full of playful surprises.

It is a word so heinous to Martin von Haselberg that his cultured, British art school”“inflected voice drops half an octave when he finally spits it out: “Neutral? One thing I hate is neutral.”

Fortunately, there is little danger that such an adjective will ever be used to describe the poolhouse he created from the ground up on his 110-acre estate, on the outskirts of genteel Millbrook, New York, 90 minutes north of Manhattan. The 1,200-square-foot building has more conceptual twists than a Luis Buñuel film, and it is just as gobsmacking. “I never want to be classified or tied to a particular reality,” says von Haselberg, a former performance artist who, in the heyday of punk, was half of an iconic duo called the Kipper Kids, which influenced everyone from the Blue Man Group to Karen Finley.


The poolhouse in Millbrook, New York, of artist and performer Martin von Haselberg, which he designed with decorative artist Nancy Kintisch. The chaises are by McKinnon and Harris, the pool surround is Arizona sandstone, and the front door is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Galaxy; the pond beyond was installed by water-garden designer Anthony Archer-Wills.

On approach, you assume that the building is a renovated country church, perhaps one that has stood there–chastely whitewashed and silhouetted against the gently rolling landscape–for a century or two. It helps that the pool itself, with its sybaritic associations, is purposefully not visible at first glance. “At one point I thought I would make it a barn, but then I thought, Why not a sacred space?” he says, as though having his guests slip on their bikinis in a tabernacle was the most natural thing in the world. Piety has its limits, though: Up close, you can see that the massive arched front door is not painted in a sober and austere black, but instead a deep purple, a tip-off to the inspired madness within.


The stairway walls are of treated pine, and the stairs are painted a custom red by Fine Paints of Europe.

Once inside, things get trippy fast. In collaboration with the Los Angeles creative consultant and color specialist Nancy Kintisch, who has worked with Oliver Stone and Candice Bergen, von Haselberg has turned the sanctuary into a minimalist Moroccan-inspired pastel fantasia: a riad by way of Candy Land. “I wanted to build something that looked one way on the outside, but was totally, radically not that on the inside,” he says. His inspiration for such a contrast was a house he saw 35 years ago in Venice, California, designed by the avant-garde architect Brian Murphy. It purposefully appeared to be a run-down shack from the street, but as soon as you stepped inside, it became a modernist paradise. “That image stuck with me, and I knew I would do something like it someday,” he says.


In the dining area, the Series 7 chairs by Arne Jacobsen are from Fritz Hansen; the floor is painted in Sailor’s Delight, the doors in Nosegay and Lily White, and the ceiling beams in Nosegay, all by Benjamin Moore. 

But even the Murphy house didn’t have this: floors lacquered in baby pink. “I was thinking of painted floors, and I told Nancy, ‘Let’s do something joyful and very feminine.’ When she suggested pink, I was all in,” he says. The floors are only the opening salvo, however. Walls and doorframes in the lofty space are a creamy white and washed seafoam. An island in the open kitchen is topped with pale green cerused white ash; its base is made “to look like stacked sticks of melting butter.” Nearby stands an oval dining table surrounded by Arne Jacobsen chairs in lime and lemon. The beamed ceiling–35 feet at its peak–is what Kintisch calls “cat belly lavender.”


The kitchen island is topped with custom-painted white ash; the sink is by Julien, and the fittings are by KWC.

In keeping with the barefoot-bohemian vibe, there isn’t much furniture (painted cabinetry hides the appliances), but such spareness lends a magical intimacy to the centerpiece–a huge U-shaped built-in sofa tucked into a wallpapered carrel and bedecked with pillows in Kintisch’s digitally printed fabrics. “I tend to be a little more conservative than Martin is, because some clients just won’t go that far. It’s such a pleasure to work with him, because he pushes me to the edge. He’s never afraid,” says Kintisch, who has collaborated with von Haselberg for more than 35 years, on houses in Los Angeles and Laguna Beach as well as a penthouse apartment in Manhattan.


Von Haselberg in his poolhouse; the custom cabinetry is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Whitewater Bay. 

The Millbrook spread’s 3,500-square-foot main house–a Craftsman-Gothic- cum-Japanese pagoda with black scalloped shingles and red trim that was designed a decade ago by architect Frederick Fisher and decorated by Fernando Santangelo–carries her signature touches as well; its master suite has walls tufted in pink wool and a lush, dusty blue carpet.


In the raised sitting area, the patterned wallpaper and cushion fabrics are by Nancy Kintisch and the sconces are by Atelier de Troupe.

The poolhouse contains one final surprise that von Haselberg likes to unfurl at the end of the tour, a bravura finish. Walk out through the enormous sliding-glass doors–a movable wall, really–toward the serene pool, and then glance back at the exterior, he instructs. Instead of a pristine church, this side of the building has been tweaked to resemble a classic, old-timey beach cottage, the white wood siding accented with thin, bright green stripes and a slate terrace dotted with tables shielded from the sun by canvas umbrellas. A perfect spot for when von Haselberg’s daughter, 29, hauls a pack of friends up from the city for the weekend.


A changing area is sheathed in treated pine.

“It’s all part of the idea that things are not what they seem. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, it surprises you, this house,” says von Haselberg. “It’s like a mullet. All business in the front, party in the back.”

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