From a mod library in orange and charcoal to a sparkling white kitchen and leopard walls, a 300-year old colonial in Westchester County, New York, get a painstaking redo-and a dose of 21st-century glam. Designer Andrew Flesher talks about preserving history, why he loves modern furniture in an old house, and why there's always a place for leopard print.
This house comes with a bit of history, doesn’t it?
It was built in 1710 and is one of the oldest houses in Westchester County, New York. A man named Benjamin Lyon, a patriot of the Revolutionary War, was one of the early occupants. He didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence, but he voted on it!
And with that comes a few quirks, I imagine.
Oh, yes. When the house was inspected, they gave us a book of everything that needed to be fixed. It was 87 pages long. The place was in really rough shape. There was an extension cord running in from the garage so you would be able to plug in a light in the kitchen-that sort of thing.
Why take on such a challenge?
I grew up in Minneapolis, where there are no “true” Colonials, but I always dreamed of living in one. When we first saw the house, it was dark, musty, and moldy, but I had a good feeling about it. I told my partner, Robert, “If we can get rid of the smell, I want this house.”
And it’s a little more interesting than your average fixer-upper.
Renovating the house was like an archaeological dig! In the kitchen, when we stripped out the dropped ceiling, we found the original post-and-beam frame. We also uncovered a pad for the wood-burning stove and a brick wall where the stove vent would have gone.
In the dining room, the floorboards are very wide and a little wavy-they’re called king’s boards. Apparently in Colonial times, any tree over a certain width was supposed to be set aside for the king.
How do you balance all that history with the more contemporary touches?
My rule is that the architecture should be pure and true-I don’t want to put something really modern in an old house. But I think you can take liberties with decoration. I am drawn to contemporary art and furniture and love the surprise of having it in an old house. It’s interesting, though, there’s something almost modern about a Colonial-the simplicity of it. Especially all in white.
There is a lot of white here, but also a library with black walls.
Every house should have a cozy room to curl up in. I enjoy all the white, but a darker space is great at night. The color isn’t quite black, it’s charcoal. Any darker, and the architectural details would have been swallowed up.
Leopard print, birds on the walls-what inspired these wild touches?
I chose that bird design for a throw in the living room. Robert has a superstition about birds, so at first he didn’t like it. But once he saw how well it worked in the room, he came around, and we ended up using it as wallpaper too. For balance, I added the leopard to the dining room. I really feel the house revealed itself to us as we went along.
You used to live in Manhattan. Have you adjusted to living in the suburbs?
After several years in the city, I needed peace and quiet. Here we have a real kitchen and can entertain. Robert has three grandchildren, and we have them for Sunday dinner all the time. I used a lot of outdoor fabrics on sofas throughout the house-materials that clean up like crazy. Grandchildren can be tough on furniture.
I understand you do quite a holiday celebration as well.
Robert comes from an Italian family, and we host an annual Feast of the Seven Fishes, just like when he was growing up. The first year, before we furnished the house, we rented tables and linens and had 34 people for Christmas Eve. We didn’t even have proper lights, so we used candles on the tables and in the wall sconces. It was actually perfect, because that’s all they would have had back when the house was built. It felt like a true Colonial Christmas in our genuine Colonial house.
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