With the help of Designer Selina Van Der Geest, a creative Manhattan couple gets a country house that provides calm and inspiration.
Some people might argue that for urban dwellers, a country house is more a necessity than a luxury. But just leaving a city’s clamor far behind isn’t always enough. The bucolic destination at the end of the road should be a refuge that stokes creativity as much as it soothes souls.
Wanda and Greg Furman have achieved precisely that in a onetime farm in Dutchess County, New York, about two hours north of their weekday Manhattan digs. It was not the getaway of their dreams when the couple found it nearly ten years ago – the 19th century clapboard house and its buildings were dilapidated – but the property had potential. Especially appealing was a red barn that could be turned into a studio for Greg, a painter and sculptor whose day job is running the Luxury Marketing Council, which he founded in 1994. Before that could happen, however, there was work to be done. “The place was in serious despair,” says Wanda, a fashion director turned home-interior stylist. “It needed someone to rescue it.”
Enter Selina van der Geest, a local decorator with an international reputation. She and Wanda met when each had a booth at an antiques center in nearby Millbrook. Furman found herself admiring Van der geest’s quiet, sophisticated tastes and soon asked her for help refining her new home. “I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted – earthy, stony colors”, Wanda explains, adding “and I wanted the house to flow, with each space feeling like a natural extension of the last.”
It was a perfect client-decorator match. “We both like peaceful environments and natural fabrics,” Van der Geest observes. “I enjoy working with colors that you are not immediately aware of, that are relaxing and organic.” The decorator’s preferences were precisely in tune with the Furmans’ desire for a quiet palette that would complement the five-acre property’s trees and stonewalls.
Maintaining as much of the historic character of the house as possible was a prime objective, but the original pumpkin-color pine floors upset the neutral scheme Van der Geest planned. Her solution for the main level was to sand the planks smooth and apply a calming gray stain. (The Furmans’ are debating whether to do the same upstairs.) The four-pane Victorian windows though were preserved without modification. “I should replace them for energy efficiency, but I just can’t,” Wanda says. “I love wavy old glass.”
She was, however, willing to gut the kitchen; Van der Geest then planned the new one with an impressive sensitivity. Birch cabinets and a farmhouse sink from IKEA blend seamlessly with an antique worktable topped with a hefty slab of well-worn marble found at a flea market in Manhattan. “I wanted a European flavor,” Wanda explains. She also didn’t want to see the modern refrigerator-the appliance is hidden in a pantry off the mudroom. The walls are painted a gravel color by Farrow & Ball, and from the beams hang an assortment of baskets that might have been used for gathering fruit or eggs back in the day. “Selina wasn’t keen on them,” Wanda says, “but they soften the space and take off the hard edge.”
An astute balancing of cozy and cool, comfortable and chic, is in evidence throughout the poetically restrained rooms. Overstuffed sofas and chairs upholstered in crisp but inviting tobacco-color linen. Firewood is neatly yet conspicuously stored in a nail-studded steel container, and subtle red accents, like the trim on a Swiss army blanket, reference the barns seen through the windows.
Van der Geest made the rooms harmonious, but Wanda made them personal by brining in rustic stools, glass-front country cabinets, and simple ceramic vessels. “She has great accessories because she’s a stylist, and she really knows how to put them together,” the decorator says. “Wanda is wonderful at making vignettes. When the construction crew came to demolish the kitchen, she put out coffee and muffins, and it looked like a page from a magazine.”
That control of visual details is one reason the farmhouse seems clutter free. Another is that the Furmans have work spaces that keep personal papers out of sight. Under the attic eaves a carpenter built Wanda a desk area with enough shelves to neatly store hundreds of design magazines and books, while her husband has a study plus the barn studio they first imagined, which is heated in winter by a woodstove.
A fan of Greg’s art, Van der Geest sprinkled his paintings and drawings judiciously throughout the rooms and had his archive of works catalogued. “He is a wonderful artist,” the designer says. “And since he had never been exhibited before, I gave Greg a show at my shop and published a book about him.” Sometimes creativity just needs a helping hand – and the right place to let it shine.