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HOLLISTER HOUSE

The High-Performance Home, Step By Step, Part 1

Rendering of exterior view of house from the north, with the main house on the right and the garage/studio on the left.

Judging by the number of clicks we get on our Real Estate pages each week, it’s pretty obvious that many (do we dare say most?) of us in the Rural Intelligence region actively engage in what some call real estate porn. So when EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. told us about a project they’ve started working on, we had a thought: Could we look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process? Rona Easton and Lonn Combs, with the permission of their client, said yes. This is the first installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that will give us a window — and door, and much more — into the building of a high-performance house in Egremont, Mass.

By Rona Easton and Lonn Combs

Lonn Combs and Rona Easton.

Our client, formerly of NYC and now living in Sheffield, desired a “house that would not use fossil fuels, and would be resilient in a variety of scenarios.” After extensively researching the housing market in the region, she made the decision to build rather than buy a home with those qualifications. There were few listings for high-performance homes that provide comfort, durability and low annual energy costs. The ones that exist don’t come on the market very often: for good reason, those homeowners don’t want to sell their prized properties.

So we’ve worked with the homeowner to design a resilient, low-impact and modest home that’s efficient in all aspects — spatial, materials, energy use — and at the same time responds to the natural beauty of our rural landscape with a simple aesthetic vision. In this first installment, we’re introducing the project and its performance goals; future articles will follow the house through construction to show how those goals are being met.

Floor plan: condensed interior cores of utility space and bathrooms allow a loft-like layout of main living spaces.

The site in Egremont has all of the quintessential qualities of the region — quiet and beautiful, wooded, with perennial streams and dramatic rock outcrops. We designed the house to work with the undulating terrain, locating the one-story main house at the highest part of the site, and connecting it by a bridge to a two-story building at a lower grade elevation, which houses a first-floor garage and a second-floor studio.  By working with the landscape, and following its lead, the house is at ease with the site, bridging the connection between the living spaces and natural environment. It also allowed us to avoid expensive and destructive site work.

Modestly sized at 1,800 square feet, the main house has two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a large living space and kitchen, and a small basement.

Over the last two years, our firm has focused on super energy efficiency and cost-effective construction approaches, and the exterior envelope of this house is a perfect example of that. We increased the insulation to levels far above building code requirements, and detailed the wall assembly so that air leaks are practically eliminated. This minimizes the heating and cooling loads to the extent that there’s no need for a furnace and large heating/cooling equipment. Thus, there’s no reliance on fossil fuels. (And much to our client’s delight, the basement space has been liberated for other uses.) The small air source heat pump heating and cooling system is electrically operated, and solar panels will further reduce electricity costs — potentially to zero. In fact, a small woodburning stove will easily heat the entire house, even during the winter’s coldest months!

Left: The condensed interior cores also keep electrical and plumbing infrastructure out of the exterior walls. Above: The main living space, with a high-performing exterior envelope, includes triple glazing to maintain comfort throughout the winter.



We are excited to take Rural Intelligence readers along with us as we shepherd the house through construction. To start, here is a brief look at the current construction status of the insulated foundation walls, and insulation below the slabs (the blue boards in the photos).

A view of the insulation on the interior face of the foundation walls.

The insulation around the exterior wall, projecting above the slab insulation, will provide a thermal break that will keep the slab warmer and further diminish heat loss.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/22/16 at 04:35 PM • Permalink

Fine Home Source 2016 Adds Fashion To The Mix

An elegant country pool house by Crisp Architects.

By Jamie Larson

For nine years, the Fine Home Source has been the premier home show in our region. Conceived and hosted by Crisp Architects in Millbrook, New York, the exhibition presents everything from fabrics and furniture to lawn tractors and home security systems. But what makes FHS stand alone is that every single thing is the highest possible quality.

This year’s Fine Home Source Show on Saturday, Sept. 24 will feature more than 50 vendors at the Millbrook Bandshell from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Design by RG Couture.

Every year there is something new to see at FHS, especially this year with the inclusion of the FineFashion Show, headlined by designer Rowena Gill of RG Couture, who just happens to be based out of Millbrook. Crisp gives credit to his executive assistant Annette Santacroce for the idea, and though the addition broadens the scope of the event, it fits seamlessly because the designs and construction are, like everything else, of the highest caliber.

“It’s hard to overstate the fashion show,” James Crisp says. “It’s totally different than anything we’ve done.”

Joining RG Couture on the runway will be J.McLaughlin, Orvis, Punch and Alicia Adams Alpaca. Scalamandre Fabrics, known for its textures and patterns, is another addition to the show.

Room outfitted in Scalamandre Fabrics.

There will also be food offered from local purveyors, the music of jazz pianist Larry Ham and activities to occupy the kids. After its walk on the runway, Orvis will be out in the field teaching fly fishing techniques.

In an example of the show’s interesting juxtapositions, Crisp went right from speaking about fashion to Kalamazoo Outdoor Kitchens. In the market for a wine cellar? Stop by Signature Wine Cellars’ booth. You can talk to the people from Crisp about a new pool house.

If you’re not in the market for a whole new property there are slightly smaller items at the FHS, from furniture, fencing, windows and doors to florists, vineyards, electronics and a painter who specializes in portraits of dogs.

Gate by Ian Schwandt.

One of the event’s smaller vendors that Crisp likes to suggest people visit is Telescopes of Vermont. The company makes sculptural but functional garden telescopes perfect for evening star gazing.

The event has also become an excellent place for regional woodworkers to get out of the studio and flaunt their skills. Of course, there is excellent furniture on display but there are also fence and gate builders doing some intriguing work. Crisp points out the originality of Ian J. Schwandt in particular.

“It’s completely different from your average home show,” Crisp says.

Indeed — this one is even fashion forward.

Fine Home Source presented by Crisp Architects
Saturday, Sept. 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Millbrook Bandshell
3327 Franklin Ave., Millbrook, NY

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 09/18/16 at 01:59 PM • Permalink

House And Barn Preservation Expo: Advice From The Experts

Resources at last year’s expo: interior finishes, walls and floor coverings; how to reuse old barn wood; roofing slates; early hand-forged and machine-forged hardware. Photo: Historic Red Hook.

By Lisa Green

Congratulations. You’ve just bought an old house or barn. Or maybe you’re ready to tackle some badly needed restoration of your vintage home or turn your barn into living quarters. Now what?

Our best advice: get yourself to Red Hook, New York on Sunday for “It’s All About Place!”—a free expo of hands-on demonstrations and resource information for old house and barn enthusiasts. The Town of Red Hook and Historic Red Hook, a preservation society, are hosting the event at the circa 1760 Elmendorph Inn from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Experts in the fields of restoration architecture as well as artisans, historians, town planners and landscape designers will be on hand to answer your questions about sustainable preservation, restoration and adaptive re-use of period houses and barns. This your chance to speak to plumbers who specialize in old houses, ask questions about historic plaster work, or get information on the dry but necessary issue of town zoning.

It’s sort of like Antiques Roadshow, says Emily Majer, a preservation carpenter by trade and a member of Historic Red Hook. “People arrive, check in, and then they’ll be pointed in the right direction for whatever help they need.” Bring your photos for “show and tell” with the experts, watch a blacksmithing demonstration, enjoy the live music and food. A local couple will present an account of their own meticulously recorded restoration of an 18th-century Red Hook property. Another session focuses on the incentive programs available for owners of historic homes.

The Elmendorph Inn, 1976, and after renovation in 2015.

The event should be of interest even to those who don’t plan to put in any sweat equity on their homes. Researchers will be available to give you advice on how to piece together your home’s backstory.

You don’t have to be a Red Hook resident to benefit, stresses Majer. “This is a community-building tool,” she says. “Particularly for those new to an area, finding out the history of your house gives you an instant connection to where you live.”

“It’s All About Place!” 2016 House and Barn Preservation Exposition
Sunday, June 19, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Elmendorph Inn
7562 North Broadway, Red Hook, NY
(845) 759-8181

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/06/16 at 11:43 AM • Permalink

GreenBuilt Insulates Homes From Harm…With Hemp

By Jamie Larson

Hemp — genetically distinct from its sister plant, marijuana — has long been used for paper, textiles and organic body care. But now GreenBuilt, a Columbia County company, is using hemp plants to create an eco-friendly and startlingly efficient building material called Hempcrete. The versatile material, unfortunately, has endured a century of bad press because marijuana has some controversial chemical characteristics that, among other things, render journalists incapable of writing about hemp without littering their articles with played-out pot puns and weedy wordplay. (For proof check out GreenBuilt’s previous press coverage.)

So we will contain ourselves as we introduce you to GreenBuilt’s founder and CEO James Savage, a serious man who left a successful career on Wall Street to work full time promoting Hempcrete’s virtues. Chiefly, Hempcrete is a highly effective and renewable insulation and building material that is nontoxic, and mold and climate resistant. Made from mixing the heart of hemp stalks with lime, Hempcrete yields a high amount of material relative to the acreage used to farm it.

Savage left finance behind after witnessing the unhealthy living conditions endured by the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

“I was successful on Wall Street for 20 years,” says Savage, now a resident of Stuyvesant, New York. “It was the way I made my living but it didn’t feed my soul. After Katrina happened I was stunned with the way people had to live. Then, after the earthquake in Haiti, I looked to see what I could do. I saw hemp as a way to build healthy and sustainable housing.”

First, Savage partnered with an African organization in Mali to build both hemp homes and an agricultural industry around the product. This important work ended abruptly due to disruption caused by a government coup. But Savage returned home with vital knowledge of the materials and processes, which, while new to Americans, has been used for some time across Europe with impressive results. European studies have stated Hempcrete remains efficient beyond 100 years. 

“It’s as good as fiberglass but also vapor permeable, so water doesn’t build up,” Savage says of Hempcrete, which needs a breathable envelope like masonry, wood, plaster or hemp stucco walls rather than vinyl or drywall (and the reason it makes sense for the renovation of our region’s older homes). “It just goes right into the walls and you finish with plaster.”

Hempcrete, Savage says, is also great for those concerned about being carbon neutral. As the material ages, he says, the lime creates carbon, which hardens the material over time and keeps it from settling and creating drafty gaps the way conventional insulation can. Yet another benefit stated by GreenBuilt is that the material manages air quality and humidity.

GreenBuilt is also currently raising funds through a Kickstarter to build a Tiny+ modular hemp home as a model for all the product can do. The site is also another pretty comprehensive resource for those looking for more information.

Savage says the largest growth market for Hempcrete is as primary construction material for passive, eco-friendly new construction but believes insulation, renovation and retrofits will be the busiest sector in the Northeast. Currently, the installation process is labor intensive and seven to eight percent more expensive than conventional materials, but Savage says he hopes that within the next year GreenBuilt will be able to open a factory (preferably in Hudson) to create Hempcrete panels that will cut down both installation time and price. Regardless, Savage says, Hempcrete pays for itself over time in energy efficiency costs.

Savage takes all the marijuana jokes he hears on a regular basis in stride because his square background and earnest businesslike approach is changing perceptions and also because public opinion on both strains of cannabis has become more favorable in recent years.

“I’m not a cannabis person. I approach this as a sustainable material,” he says. “I’ve spoken at events where someone will say, ‘Cannabis is god.’ No, it’s not. It’s a useful plant.”

The most persistent joke he hears is, “Well, at least if your house burns down you can stand outside and breath it in.” Savage’s dry response is that Hempcrete is actually extremely fire resistant, so your home would be less likely to burn down at all.

With the veil of misconception lowering, Savage believes more people will be open to his producet’s benefits. He placed it in a number of drafty walls of his own home, built in the 1850s. Shortly after major renovations, a plumbing disaster sent water streaming through walls and ceilings. While he had to replace an entire ceiling built with conventional materials, he says mold inspectors were stunned to find that the hemp walls were dry and healthy, having “healed themselves,” and needed only cosmetic plaster touchups.

Savage is bullish on GreenBuilt’s potential in the region and says there is access to enough raw material for jobs of any size. And if there’s any left over materials on the job site, you can throw it on the garden as mulch.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 05/02/16 at 01:00 PM • Permalink

The Connecticut Plant Whisperers Share Design Secrets

By Sarah Parker Young

Photo by Audra M. Viehland

Gardeners might think that they are the caretakers of their plants, but there’s another way to look at it. In some native languages, writes author Robin Wall Kimmerer, the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” Two women in the Rural Intelligence region, Stacey Matthews and Audra M. Viehland, combine their green thumbs with an artistic aesthetic that incorporates nature into interior design. These plants, now works of art, become caretakers of sorts. Who’s not happier surrounded by objects of beauty?

Viehland, a New Preston-based interior designer originally from the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, creates terrariums that are masterpieces of nature. Her new venture, Copper Fern Terrariums, creates vignettes with plants, organic material, minerals and found objects such as turquoise, brass buttons and even a toy cat. Whether wandering in a greenhouse or shopping in a flea market, she’ll pick up whatever she finds visually striking.

“I recently found a ceramic salt shaker shaped like a cactus and put it with an aloe vera plant because I liked the humor behind it,” she says, “I don’t know if my customer found it funny, but I definitely thought I was being clever.”

One of the designer’s favorite plants for terrariums is the Tillandsia Cyanea because it produces purple blooms on its pink quills. Viehland is partial to jewel tones because of the way they’re presented in nature; she also favors plants that contrast in color, such as the Siam Aurora Aglaonema (also called the red Chinese evergreen).

Unlike other home design features, there’s almost no place in the house that couldn’t benefit from these decorative indoor plants. Viehland [photo, left] advises her clients to consider the sunlight exposure in the home. All plants, even mosses, need some amount of light, so it’s important to know that a succulent terrarium, for instance, will need bright, indirect light while a terrarium composed of mostly ferns won’t need so much.

For Viehland, creating the terrariums is very much like working through a design exercise, one with instant gratification. She considers the elements and principles of design — specifically color, texture, balance, contrast and harmony — when she creates each piece. As she says, human beings have an innate need to be in contact with nature, so bringing some of that indoors is an automatic interiors upgrade.

Stacey Matthews, co-principal of The Matthews Group Real Estate in Washington, Conn., is to indoor plants what Rachel Zoe is to celebrities; the premier stylist. Succulents are among her favorite things and there is always a variety of them on her kitchen table. Matthews will group them together in pots of different types, filling in the blank spots with moss, shiny rocks, or by tucking in an air plant. 

The color palette of plants make it easy to meld a terrarium with room design, she says. “Year-round houseplants are only green and green goes with everything. But I’m always tempted by something bright at the garden store.” With this in mind, she buys forced hydrangea in the early spring to put on her kitchen counters. (The Garden in Woodbury is her go-to store and has a great selection of these starting in early March.)

Like Viehland, Matthews [photo, right] believes that you experience the most joy by bringing plants and the narrative of nature into the rooms you use every day. Her final recommendation: invest in quality containers. That’s as important as choosing the plants because a good quality container can last for decades.

In the county that proudly hosts Trade Secrets, it’s no surprise that there is a plethora of resources to help novices get started on an indoor garden. Matthews points to Pergola Home in New Preston as the ultimate plant store. 

“Be sure to consult with the owner, David Whitman, about what type of conditions you have and where you’ll put the plant,” she says. “He is a plant whisperer himself!”

Copper Fern Terrariums
Email Audra M. Viehland at
copperfernterrariums@gmail.com

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/23/16 at 06:22 PM • Permalink

Hudson Sculptor John T. Unger Creates Great Bowls Of Fire

By Jamie Larson

If there’s one thing that’s been noticeably absent this season, it’s the sound of people kvetching about the cold. But freezing temps are inevitable, and when they arrive, there’s warmth and beauty to be had in one of sculptor John T. Unger’s firebowls — firepits hand cut from recycled steel.

A lineup of Unger’s greatest hits await the cold behind his quiet home and less quiet metalworking studio in Hudson, NY. A firebowl with the original flame design sits beside one shaped with curling waves. There is also a collection of seemingly simpler geometrically cut firebowls, more architectural and elemental.

Although he originally only intended to make one, over the past decade Unger has made close to 1,800 firebowls for clients in all 50 states and 16 countries. He’s designed works for high-end hotels, restaurants, even a castle in the Hamptons. His bowls have been featured in The New York Times, and on HGTV and the DIY Network.

“The meaning is encoded in the material,” he says. “The genesis of this whole project started while looking for materials in a scrap yard and I saw them cutting the ends off propane tanks.”

Unger is an interesting mix of practical tradesman and unfettered creative. His technique, which involves skillfully cutting into the rusted ends of propane tanks with a plasma torch, has given him the freedom to indulge his inspiration. He doesn’t seem to feel burdened by the big pile of as-yet-uncut tank ends in front of his shop. If he feels like it, he’ll go work on something else, like the new totem-like light fixtures he’s begun making, or his music or the massive mosaic he’s working on in his indoor studio.

That six-by-four-foot work is made of thousands of tiny pieces of marble and depicts the musculature of the human body in the style of a pre-photography medical reference drawing. The intricacy is daunting, the form is beautiful, and the craftsmanship is impeccable. There’s an artist’s touch to it that makes it mesmerizing yet approachable, as if it could just as easily hang in the finest museum as it could be used as an absurdly extravagant kitchen backsplash.

And, indeed, Unger intends to make 12 of these large mosaics for a future museum show. The scale and design of his ambitions feel like a mixture of artist and inventor.

“I grew up making stuff,” says Unger, who spent much of his youth in the woods of northern Michigan. “I had little supervision and a lot of power tools. I was inspired by nature in a deep way I wasn’t aware of for a long time. You can tell that that knowledge is so ingrained in the work.”

But it’s the firebowls that have captured the public’s attention, and for good reason. Customers can order one of the many designs on Unger’s website, or commission their own. Prices range from $800-$3,000. Each comes with a “Dynasty Guarantee,” meaning it will last many lifetimes says Unger, who has managed, through a soft touch on rough materials, to create vessels that mesmerize. And warm, when you need some heat.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 12/14/15 at 02:34 PM • Permalink

Holiday Spirit Grows At Flower Blossom Farm’s Wreath Parties

By Lisa Green

“I eat, sleep and breathe flowers,” says Kim Thomas, flitting around her studio like a bee pollinating blossoms. “But I’m not a florist. I’m a flower farmer who does custom designs.”

Not just custom, though. The chief flower fairy at Flower Blossom Farm in Ghent, New York, who has more energy than the sun, wants to share what joy flowers bring with the community. Which is why she started her wreath-making (and other décor) parties last year. You’re invited to join in the floral festivities this holiday season.

But first, a little background, because Thomas doesn’t just grow a few roses and tie them with twine. She and her husband, Karl Thomas, a landscape designer, worked by day at Karl’s business, Ghent Landscape, but lived on former dairy farmland that was waiting to be cultivated. Five years ago, the couple began to grow Asiatic lilies for their landscape clients, and a year later began to sell lilies at the end of their driveway. Every year, they added to their planting beds. Two years ago, with ever more flower varieties on hand, Kim started her wedding business. Now she farms 87 varieties of annuals, quadrupling her flower output within the five years.

Sample wreath.

Floral Blossom Farm is bustling, offering everything from full-service design to “buckets of blooms” for those who want to walk the fields and choose their flowers. Thomas juggles a thriving wedding and event business. She decorates homes and exteriors for the holidays — Al Roker and Deborah Roberts are clients — and in the summer runs a flower CSA. She’s planning to add even more varieties this spring, and if you’re a bride with a specific flower request, she’ll plant it for you if there’s enough time. (See: energy, amount of.)

But for someone who practically proselytizes flowers, it’s really much more fun for her to have those parties, whether they’re bridal groups DYI-ing it for a wedding or private groups that just want to have fun with floral arranging.

“A lot of my repeat customers come for the food,” Thomas admits. Along with the greenery, ribbons, wire, baubles and glue gun (all supplied, with much of the natural elements foraged from the farm), she brings in holiday nibbles and beverages from local caterers and bakers. It’s a community thing, she says, which extends to her mission to procure anything she can’t grow herself (like flowers in the winter) from other local businesses.

The community aspect is also palpable at the parties. Guests gather around the long tables in her aromatic studio (transformed from a barn to a spacious, custom workshop and showroom by her husband) as Thomas confers with each participant, offering instruction and ideas. By the end of the evening, it’s a festive show-and-tell session, and all the wreaths (and decorated boxwood topiaries or holiday centerpieces, for which there are separate parties), are beautiful because, says Thomas, it’s whatever makes you happy. “Flowers are happy!” she practically sings.

The parties are just $65 per person, and Kim opens up the “shop,” offering a ten-percent discount on ready-made wreaths, boxwood trees, centerpieces, mailbox covers, swags, kissing balls and chocolate gift baskets (chocolate courtesy of The Chocolate Moose in Chatham). For hostess gifts, she suggests. Or trimming for your tree and fireplace mantel.

Ribbons ready for wreaths.

Speaking of festive accessorizing, what does the master floral artist do for her own holiday decor in the couple’s farmhouse a stone’s throw from the studio?

“Oh, I don’t have time to decorate,” she says. “I’m a wreathmaker with no wreath.”

Holiday wreath, boxwood and centerpiece workshop parties at Flower Blossom Farm
See website for dates and to reserve a space.
967 County Rt. 9, Ghent, NY
(518) 567-9266

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/07/15 at 08:34 PM • Permalink

‘Art and Residence’ Curates A Context For Art In The Home

Chris Hebert while hanging “Art and Residence” in advance of the exhibit’s opening.

By Jamie Larson

It can be intimidating to start an art collection, or just to decide how your next piece will work in your home. At The Hudson Mercantile, 202 Allen Street in Hudson, New York, owner Chris Hebert is opening a novel design show that aims to help put fine art in context with the furnishings and character of your home, and that’s not all.

“It’s quality art by quality artists set in a living environment,” Hebert says.

Art and Residence, opening on Friday, Oct. 9, features the work of regional artist and former doctor of clinical psychology Michael Quadland. His emotional, nonobjective work pulls textural inspiration from the old factories and industrial bones in the areas around his home in Litchfield, Conn. The way Hebert has chosen to display Quadland’s work alongside high-quality antique furnishings accentuates how the paintings work beautifully with a variety of interior design styles.

“I love the aesthetic of what Chris is doing with the Art and Residence exhibitions,” says Quadland. “It’s an exciting concept. I know that people like my work but they don’t know how to use it in their homes. Many are surprised to learn that it works as well in a traditional home as it does in more contemporary spaces. I’ve done many gallery shows that were wonderful, but this seems to take the concept of an exhibition a step beyond, making it more integrated with the way we live.”

Between his storefront on Warren Street and the converted warehouse two blocks away on Allen Street, Hebert has more than enough space to experiment with shows like this. And aside from using the exhibit to sell Quadland’s excellent art and the shop’s furnishings, he has other goals as well.

Hebert says the white walls and museum atmosphere of a gallery can make art seem out of reach to those unfamiliar with the art world. Seeing fine art in a more casual setting shows a potential buyer that these high-end pieces are just as much for them as for anyone else.

“A lot of people think they don’t understand art,” Hebert says. “Or they think it’s only for the well off. The majority of people aren’t buying art as an investment. You should be buying pieces because you love them. I think art should be more personal and more accessible.”

Quadland’s works aren’t cheap but they are reasonable given the Hudson market ($1,500 to $4,000). And though they may seem an investment for the uninitiated, Hebert says that’s why it’s even more important a buyer feels comfortable that a painting will work in the home before pulling out the credit card.

The show serves a great purpose for the artist as well, reintroducing the public to an artist’s older work that, despite its quality, didn’t sell during past shows.

But with the Art and Residence concept, the work is renewed — in a context that will help you decide if it belongs in your living room. 

The Hudson Mercantile
Art and Residence: Oct. 9—Dec. 15
318 Warren St, Hudson, NY
Reception: Friday, Oct. 9, 5-8 p.m. at 202 Allen Street
(518) 828-6318

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/05/15 at 08:29 PM • Permalink

Designers Share Secrets In The Teahouse At Day Of Design

Robert Couturier Design.

When you’re in interior design mode, it helps to be in a place and with people that excite and motivate you. Because really, how inspired do you feel at one of those weekend how-to workshops at the Home Depot?

On Saturday, June 13, a Day of Design offers the opportunity to talk style, design and décor with some of the most renowned interior designers and industry gurus, in a setting whose aesthetic reflects the discussion — the Mayflower Grace in Washington, Conn. Design experts who live or have weekend homes in Litchfield County will joined by NYC-based designers to share some of their secrets during a full day of panels and al fresco lunch. There will be a book signing with Robert Couturier and his book, ‘“Designing Paradises” and Susanna Salk with several of her new design book titles including “Be Your Own Decorator” and “Decorate Fearlessly.”

Stacey Bewkes, Robert Couturier and Susanna Salk.

“It’s like conversing with friends in a country house setting,” said Sarah Parker Young, a marketing and PR consultant who single handedly put together the first event last year. “We hold the panel discussions in the teahouse and lunch on the patio. Attendees can chat with the designers in an intimate setting.”

In the morning, the design experts will discuss how to curate, style and display collections, and examine the elements of design that make the strongest statement. In the afternoon, Robert Couturier will discuss the residences he has built and decorated throughout the world.

The Day of Design finishes with a meet-the-designer cocktail party, which leads to another reason to attend. “It’s a good networking event,” Parker Young said, sotto voce.

The event last year was so well received that Parker Young didn’t have to produce it solo this year.  Presenters include John-Richard, a Mississippi based luxury furniture and accessories company, plus New England Home Magazine, The Matthews Group at William Raveis Real Estate, The Cooper Group and Alan Barry Photography.

At Day of Design, 2014.

The Mayflower Grace space is grand but the event is designed to be limited in number of participants, and reservations are required.

Day of Design
Saturday, June 13
Mayflower Grace, Washington, CT
To reserve your place, call (860) 868-9466

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/01/15 at 04:42 PM • Permalink

The House That Rossiter Built

By Nichole Dupont

“What’s funny about the house is that you could drive down that road and not even know that it’s there,” says longtime builder/contractor Sean Woodward, who’s been working in Washington, Connecticut for some 30 years now. “The house” he is referring to is the Vaillant house, after the family who owned it for more than a century and who are all descendants of decoration artist Louis David Vaillant. More than three years ago, the remaining Vaillants gathered their votes and decided that it was time to sell the 8-bedroom, three-season Italian villa, one of the first homes in the area designed by famed architect and almost-native son Ehrick Rossiter.

“It was left in such serious disrepair it was like walking into Grey Gardens,” says listing agent Stacey Matthews of the Matthews Group. “A disaster. But a gorgeous disaster. It has this amazing magical quality that’s just not typical New England.”

Woodward says despite the neglected condition of the house and grounds — “They’re artists, it happens a lot with artists” — he saw the property as the gem of Litchfield County and drew up a plan to renovate the impressive Italianate beauty while keeping the integrity of the era. Of course, no investor was biting at his plans, chased away by the overwhelming to-do list of necessary repairs. Woodward managed to convince one couple, Suzanne and Douglas Day (he helped them design and construct an addition for a farmhouse) who were in the market to buy, but that didn’t go well either.

“We didn’t even get out of the car,” says Suzanne, laughing. “We specifically wanted ‘move-in’ condition and this house was definitely not that. It needed some love for sure. But [Sean’s] enthusiasm was contagious to us. He was very familiar with the house and he really helped us to see this vision.”

The vision is lovely, to say the least. Woodward took careful steps to make sure that Rossiter’s signature was not erased in the renovation process. In fact, the builder may have even added some of the famed architect’s flourishes back into the 1910 house during the two-year process in which most of the interior was stripped down to the studs.

Dining room, before

“It was like a time capsule to walk through the house,” Woodward recalls. “What was strange is that it was the most modest in town that Rossiter did. It was very plain and had very little crown molding, which was surprising to me. I used a lot of ideas from his other houses to create some of the details in this house.”

Dining room, after

While the footprint of the original structure was not altered much, the Days settled on a more open floor plan on the first floor and to turn the eight bedrooms into five upstairs. There is geothermal heat running throughout the near 6,700-square-foot villa and original fireplaces throughout, as well as original doors, hardware and even a dumbwaiter. The décor, much of it done by Philip Gorrivan (who helped the Days do an overhaul of a NYC apartment), while modern and vibrant, is still very authentic, so much so that it would be very possible for the ghost of Vaillant, or even Rossiter himself, to wander the rooms and not feel out of place. They would, however, be surprised, if not delighted by the full scale, bricked-in wine cellar and media room that has replaced the dirt floor crawl space of the house’s underbelly.

Sunroom, before

“I think now you get the full scale of the house,” Day says. “It does look like it matches up now. It’s grander, probably closer to when it was first built.”

Of course, the Days love the Italian beauty they’ve called home for the past three years, especially, says Suzanne, the “well-wishers who were brought to tears when they found out the house was finally getting renovated.”

Sunroom, after

“But, my husband and I like projects. And we’re ok with that.”

The Days are on the hunt for their next project (which, no doubt, Woodward will be a part of) and in the meantime have just put the Vaillant house on the market for a hearty $7.9 million.

“This is the best house in Litchfield County. Period. It’s a pleasure to show,” Matthews says with some irony, remembering three years back. Woodward, naturally, is a bit more philosophical about the impending sale.

Wine cellar

“I think it’s built into us. I have some clients whose entire life is cathartic and they buy it, live in it and sell it. And others treat it like an old shoe that they just can’t throw away.”

 

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Posted by Nichole on 11/03/14 at 09:27 AM • Permalink