It is not often that weekend retreats are born from drawings on café napkins in Paris, but in the case of the van der Geests’, necessity was the mother of invention. “We always had a dream to have a country place where we could entertain, live and play with all the ease we could think of,” explains Eduard, who is Dutch, of he and his wife, Selina who is English. So a few years later and over three thousand miles away in Hudson Valley, New York, the sketch of dreams became a reality: a symmetrical barnlike contemporary home, fashioned from vintage silver gray barn siding, along with twelve-foot-square oak hand-hewn beams. Surrounded by woodland and abundant wildlife, it sits at the end of a winding dirt drive, past ponds and fields. One enters directly into the mudroom, which feels like the ultimate way station between outdoor and indoor pleasure. There is reassuring order here, with symmetrical closets set with wire meshing (built by Eduard), but also fancifulness, as in the vintage frames (collected by Selina) hung alongside hunting trophies. A pair of Chinese barn doors grandly gives way to the great room, the heart and soul of the home, which despite its soaring twenty-eight foot ceilings, still embraces you with a peaceful hospitality that is part French country, part Zen.
At one end is the living area, punctuated by a great fireplace complete with seventeenth-century soapstone mantel. (It took six months to get an export passport so that it could leave France.) In full view at the other end is a serene Swedish-style kitchen, where Selina elegantly displays glass jars full of tempting goodies and Eduard whips up much-anticipated breakfasts featuring blue eggs from nearby farms. When it’s time to eat, European and local guests congregate around the enormous fourteenth-century country table at the corner of the room. Selina, an accomplished decorator, acted as her own general contractor and designer, and knows a thing or two about solving problems with personal panache. When a suitable drinks cabinet could not be found, for example, she simply fashioned one of her own designs out of steel. When budget dictated Ikea cabinets for the kitchen, she had them sanded and painted to achieve just the dove-gray patina she wanted.
Whether reclining fireside or helping with the culinary preparations, visitors are surrounded by Eduard and Selina’s intimate displays of beloved objects brought back from their travels the world over. From the nineteenth-century watercolors dotting the living room landscape, to the Chinese wooden screens in the master shower, to a Belgian white cupboard in the kitchen, guests are encouraged to get close, admire, and, always touch.
With the new addition of a pool just steps from the house (complete with outdoor stained oak furniture designed by Selina), the house is an even greater destination for friends from both England and Holland. Visits to the local farmer’s market are a weekend ritual, as is walking with Zola, the couple’s welsh Springer. In the winter Selina is in charge of snow blowing, and in the summer she mows the lawn (she says it’s the ultimate therapy), while Eduard busies himself with the constant attention such an active household requires. The van der Geests’ most important task each day is to create the ideal environment for themselves and those they cherish. Says Selina, “We want our guests to feel they are somewhere special.”