Women’s Health Exec Builds a ‘Well-thy’ Escape From NYC

Like many well-to-do New Yorkers, Laura Frerer-Schmidt wanted an escape from the urban grind.

But as the VP and publisher of Women’s Health magazine, she wanted more than a mere vacation home in the Hamptons: She wanted a wellness sanctuary, in keeping with her vision of a “well-thy” life – pronounced wealthy, but rich in health.

So she and her husband created one: a 4,000-square-foot, 6-bedroom, 4-bath home on 2 acres of unspoiled woodlands in the Long Island hamlet of Montauk, with one of the highest and most spectacular waterfront views on the East Coast. They call it the Well-thy Home.

“I feel like there are so many aspects to the Well-thy Home, where wellness is the focus,” Laura tells Yahoo Homes. “It’s about physical fitness. It’s about mental wellness. It’s about family wellness and togetherness. But it’s also about social responsibility.”

The post-and-beam cedar home is made of natural and sustainable materials for a rustic yet modern look. Laura customized the home herself to promote wellness, peace and harmony with nature — three attributes not exactly central to life in Brooklyn, where her family keeps its primary residence.

A path from the pool house leads to a bluff 70 feet above Fort Pond Bay, a location that Laura believes greatly contributes to the home’s wellness vibe.

“The ocean is literally just around the corner, and the negative ions coming off that bay —  which are good for you, by the way — you can feel it,” Laura says. “It’s like being brainwashed for the better.”

The process of creating her Well-thy Home began nearly two years ago, when Laura and her husband first decided to start looking around for a vacation home.

“We love Brooklyn,” she says. “We live in [the neighborhood of] Dumbo, and there are great parks there. But our kids” – now 7 and 8 – “were starting to grow out of them a little bit.”

Her view is simple: If she builds a killer vacation home now, she won’t have any trouble getting the kids to return for family gatherings once they grow up. “I’m playing the long game,” Laura laughs.

“I just wanted that peaceful place that was such an amazing, beautiful sanctuary that my kids would be drawn there again and again as they grow. They need to be instilled with memories now. Like, ‘I remember when I was a little kid…’ They have to have that fond memory, so I’m doing it now.”

Laura and her husband chose Montauk because “he’s a little bit more of a mountain man than me, and I’m a little bit more of a beach girl than him,” she says. “And when we got to this property, it was perfect because of the crazy elevations on the land and the hills you have to hike through. It served all my needs, and I think we both loved it.”

Once they purchased the land, which Laura said had “never been built on in the history of time,” the Schmidts gave themselves a year to build. To do the most amount of personalization in the least amount of construction time, they decided to go with a prefab but customizable kit home put together by Lindal Cedar.

“They are a traditional post-and-beam build, which makes it a lot more flexible,”  Laura says. “It doesn’t come all welded together. It comes like a bunch of sticks, that somebody who needs to know what they’re doing with a crew can erect, like a barn-raising, in a week. It’s crazy to watch them do it.”

Still, Laura says Lindal’s construction plan left plenty of room for improvisation. “They sell you a plan that’s existing,” she says, “but they are flexible enough to allow you to almost be your own architect” — a part that Laura played gleefully.  "After I put the kids in bed, I would go into the study and I would literally lay all the plans out on the floor and I would just stay in there and draw and redraw and erase and redraw and calculate,“ she says.

One of the things Laura wanted in the home was an open, airy design.

"You know when you have an unbroken view of the water, and you can just see on and on and on, and how that makes you feel?” she says. “That’s the way this house feels. From the minute you get there you see through the double glass front doors all the way through the back — the pool, to the bay, you can see everything.”

Just as the Schmidts were putting the finishing touches on the house, Laura hosted around 100 celebrities, bloggers and other guests for a one-day wellness retreat co-hosted by Women’s Health magazine. 

Now that she and her family have just spent their first summer here, Laura clearly thinks the effort was worth it. “I’m 47 years old and I’ve never been sad to see summer end” before, she says. “It’s such a beautiful, peaceful feeling to walk out on that roof deck and look at nothing but water, or walk down to the beach and throw stones. It’s just so – it’s a different experience than being in the city.”

That may be why her Well-thy Home is not going to be just a summer home; Laura and her family plan to continue visiting it throughout the year, whenever they need to flee New York for waterfront, wellness-promoting tranquility. “Every time we go out to the house,  I walk in the door and I say, 'Jeez, I love this place!’” Laura says. “I’m like,'This is great!’”

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