In New York’s Hudson Valley
Somewhere there’s a napkin with Eduard Van der Geest’s house plan on it. And if you were to find it, you might be surprised how little those rough ideas sketched at the caf é Flore in Paris vary from the finished home he and wife Selina built outside Millbrook, New York. From the beginning, the Van der Geests knew they wanted a barn style home. “We thought about how we like to live, which is eating and entertaining…. Very informally,” explains Selina,” so we decided we wanted one big room.” They also knew they would build that home in the Hudson River Valley’s Dutchess County. Eduard had lived in the area for 20 years, and Selina was instantly charmed by its rolling hills and countryside so reminiscent of her native England.
The couple also decided that they would build the home themselves, though the project fell largely on Selina. Before moving to the States four years ago, Selina had her own decorating business, often working with property developers, and she felt familiar with the building and remodeling process. In fact, Merrow Down Barn, as Selina and Eduard have dubbed together home, was built in just six months.
Selina assembled a team of experienced builders and craftsmen’s to transform that napkin sketch into a delightful country home. The budget was modest, which called for inventive sourcing of materials and flexible, hands-on management. Selina was ready for anything—from shoveling snow to painting cabinets to laying a Belgian granite floor in the hallway.
From the moment they came up with the idea of building a barn perfect for the setting in a field above two ponds, the couple found great pleasure in searching out pieces to add character.” I don’t like new things,” says Selina, “and I wanted to move away from the white clapboard look.” A great discovery was vintage barn boards in Canada for the siding. The 17th century mantel came from Bordeaux, France, the powder room’s marble sink is from a Turkish bathhouse, and other items were Flea-market finds from throughout Europe. (The old beams are a local touch, discovered right in Millbrook.)
Even Before they located their property, the couple bought 19th-century Chinese doors, figuring they would find a use for them. And sure enough, the doors now make an unexpected and striking front entrance. They open into a dining area, the center of the home’s great room a 40 x 25 foot open space with a seating area at one end and a kitchen at the other. Above the kitchen is a loft with Selina’s office, and behind it is a television room. The Dining area’s 14 foot long table is positioned between the Chinese front doors and a pair of French doors that lead to a terrace. “We were looking in Europe for ages for a table that long, but ended up finding it right here,” says Selina, The neo-Gothic English dining chairs were purchase in London.
In the seating area, new sofas covered in linen, a small upholstered bench, and tables from India form a welcoming spot around the limestone fireplace. The couple’s collection of 19th century European paintings and drawings adorn the walls.
The open kitchen, built around and 8 x 4 foot island, is perfect for entertaining. Selina loves to cook, and is able to enjoy the company of friends as they mill about. The counters are gray concrete to complement the stainless steel appliances. One touch of home for Selina: the kitchen sink, shipped from England.
There are bedrooms and bathrooms beyond the kitchen for Eduard’s teenage daughters, Leannah and Cornelia. At the opposite end of the main floor, the master suite is appropriately barn-simple white walls, pale carpet, and understated window treatments. Lending character are doors made from the panels of 19th century Chinese screen. A red feathered headdress from Cameroon adds color and texture to the serene space. Selina’s collection of colorful Eduardo Garza necklaces serves a similar role in the bathroom.
Merrow Down Barn is such a success that Selina has been inundated with requests to apply her range of skills to other projects. And yes, Selina will draw plans on a napkin,” If that’s when the inspiration comes, and given how much I like to eat, it could,” she says with a laugh.”