Stepping off the elevator and into the basement of , with its cinderblock walls, lack of windows and cavernous hallways, was, until recently, a rather dreary experience.
But after a family of artists from East Hampton spent much of their summer with paintbrushes in hand transforming the walls into sunny beachscapes, the basement has a whole new feel that lifts the spirit.
, a decorative arts firm composed of Heather Dunn-Kostura, her husband, Richard Kostura, and stepson Thom Kostura, gave 150 hours of time and talent to donate a mural spanning an estimated quarter mile of wall in the hospital basement.
A walk down the hallway now features crashing waves, sailboats off shore, dunes, and birds and planes in the sky. The steel doors look like they are made of driftwood and the artists got creative with wall fixtures, such as elevator buttons and fire extinguishers. Paint around a red emergency button makes it look like a lobster being carried off by a seagull, and signs affixed to the walls now appear to be standing on posts stuck in the sand.
Each trip through the hallway reveals a new little detail to the mural not apparent at first blush.
The idea for the project came to be when Dunn-Kostura, the East Hampton Rotary Club secretary and former member of the Southampton Rotary Club, met hospital President and CEO Robert Chaloner at a Southampton Rotary Club meeting more than a year ago.
Dunn-Kostura said in a recent interview that she offered her business's services to the hospital for free, and some months later the hospital's director of special events, Kathy Lucas, called to take her up on the offer.
The elder Kostura served as creative director of the project and the younger Kostura was lead artist. Assistant Director of Plant Operations James White facilitated the project and the hospital maintenance staff painted the basecoat.
"When they suggested that they had this horrible space down here that really needed attention, we jumped at it, because anybody can take a nice room and make it a little bit better, but when you take an environment that has a lot of darkness to it, it created a real challenge," the elder Kostura said.
Coming up with the concept for the mural was easy, because the basement lent itself toward brightening up, he said.
Hospital spokeswoman Marsha Kenny said that Chaloner has observed that though the hospital is right down the street from the beach, most of the staff can't make it there as often as they would like. So, the mural has brought the beach to them.
The mural started with a basic concept that grew as the project moved along, the elder Kostura said. "We wanted to make some whimsy," he said. "We wanted to make it interesting. So Thom and I, as we worked, we just evolved the scene."
Dunn-Kostura said the idea to paint the doors to look like driftwood came at a time they were painting a driftwood countertop for a client.
She pointed out that no stencils were used; the younger Kostura made all of his designs freehand. "Thom has this incredible ability to just paint," she said.
"Going around it and doing all the little details with the birds and the planes was definitely my favorite part," the younger Kostura said. "I have to say I have the most personal attachment to the seagull with the bagel — fond childhood memories of having my lunch stolen."
For Dunn-Kostura, her favorite detail is Death on a paddleboard, right near the door to the hospital morgue.
The vastness of the canvas gave the artists plenty of opportunity to get creative and add unique accents to the mural, but the surface also created difficulties.
"Working with the cinderblock surface in general was extremely challenging," the younger Kostura said. "The pits, the grooves, the grout lines; trying to manage all of that while still having water- and sand-like textures and cloud-like textures was extremely difficult."
Kenny said the basement's new look is uplifting, not just for the staff who pass through the hallways each day, but also for visitors to the hospital who have come to see sick loved ones.
Another benefit is now visitors can find the cafeteria easily, she added. A lifeguard chair, skywriter and a plane pulling a banner all point in the right direction.
"We received over a dozen thank you cards from the different departments," the elder Kostura said. "The staff seemed to appreciate the improved surroundings, and it really improved morale."
Though she said thanks was enough of a reward, Dunn-Kostura said the mural has also led to more work for her business. A doctor at the hospital commissioned Heather Dunn & Co. to paint a small beach mural at his home basement.
"Murals are just a small part of what we do," the elder Kostura noted. "We do complete interior decorative arts from molding installations to furniture refinishings to Venetian plasters, specialty fine painting — it's a specialty business, not the type of stuff that everybody does."
Dunn-Kostura said the mural may become an ongoing work, with more painting donated to the hospital in the future.