Designer Edwina Hunt’s earthy hideaway brings argentine attitude to the Hudson Valley
Text by Ingrid Abramovitch, photography by Simon Upton, produced by Anita Sarsidi
A house and its owner are sometimes destined for each other. That was certainly the case for Edwina Hunt, who swore she never wanted a country home. “I’m a nomad,” the New Yorker explains. “I like to travel around.” Little did she know that the old farmhouse she and her financier husband, James, ended up purchasing would help her reconnect with her past- and inspire a new career in home furnishings in the process.
Growing up in Buenos Aires, Hunt spent summers on family estancias south of the city. “My mother’s side was British and raised sheep, and my father’s family was Spanish and bred cows,” she says. “For me and my siblings, the barns and hay were out playground.” After some prodding from her husband, Hunt realized she wanted her four young children to have that experience too- outdoor space and a respite from televisions, computers and phones.
It was a visit one day to a 40-acre property in Dutchess Country, New York, that ultimately won her over. The dirt accessed road, softly curving and framed by handmade wood fences created by acclaimed garden designer Nancy McCabe, bordered picturesque pastures and a profusion of maple, oak, locust, and elm trees. An old barn, one of several, straddled a stream. “I didn’t even have to get out of the car,” Hunt says. “It immediately felt like home.”
The 1770 saltbox farmhouse had been added onto twice- first in the 19th Century and again in the 1990s by New York architect Zhenya Merkoluva, who installed a mudroom with a flower sink and a spacious sky lighted kitchen equipped with a pizza oven. Despite the contemporary amenities, at heart it “was still a simple farmhouse,” says Hunt of the rustic architecture-exposed beams, plank floors, and slanted ceilings- that recalled the beloved ranches of her childhood. “I felt that the d écor should respect that.”
And where better to find it than Argentina, where she headed straightaway for furniture to fill a container she would ship back to New York. It was 2002 and the devaluation of the peso had made it prohibitive to import just about anything from abroad. To cope, Argentine designers were teaming up with local artisans and using indigenous materials- goatskin, rawhide, wood, and bone- to produce a fresh visual vocabulary.
The creativity astonished Hunt. She thought, I should do something with all of this. Within a month, she and her sister, Silvina Pampillo, a Buenos Aires architect, launched a business designing and exporting Argentine home furnishings handmade by master craftspeople. The products, which range from silver trays to animal-hide benches, draw on tradition but possess modern chic- rough cactus wood adds texture to a contemporary silver lame base, while a dressy suede ottoman sits atop four cow-horn legs.
With her new venture off to a solid start, Hunt returned to the States and enlisted the help of interior designer Selina van der Geest to decorate her family’s four bedroom country house. Van der Geest offset the earthy Argentine furnishings with a serene palette of warm neutrals mixed with rich linen upholstery. “Edwina and I have a very similar approach to natural materials and colors; we seek inspiration from the environment,” Van der Geest says. She transformed an attic room into one of the ore whimsical spaces in the house, a bedroom for Hunt’s daughter. Her sons’ shared bedroom is a mix of blue-and-white patterns and a zigzag rug by Roberta Freymann. “I don’t like things to match,” Hunt says. “To me what’s important is that a house have a soul.”
After days spent riding horses and playing in the garden, the children join their parents in the living room, where the d écor-a tan sofa, a funky antler-and-deerskin bench-is stylish without feeling precious. The family plays cards and chess, then gathers in the dining room for a meal at the long wood table, a weathered relic once used by dressmakers for sewing. Hunt’s passion for her heritage is evident throughout the house. She uses antique awayo blankets as upholstery for cushions and liberally employs accent colors- a fiery range of rusts, reds, and oranges- inspired by these textiles. Among the living room furnishings is a pair of wobbly wood-and-rawhide matera chairs, the traditional perch for sipping yerba mat é.
Six years after they took the plunge, the house in the country has become a haven for Hunt and her family and an eloquent showcase for her flourishing design aesthetic. “My husband asks me if I’m finished decorating,” Hunt says. “I’m never done. And if there are mistakes along the way, all the better.”
“Van der Geest offset the earthy Argentine furnishings with a serene palette of warm neutrals mixed with rich linen upholstery.”
“Edwina and I have a very similar approach to natural materials and colors; we seek inspiration from the environment.”