Deep in the heart of the scenic Hudson Valley in upstate New York, a 19th-century farmhouse serves as an idyllic retreat for the Billinge family. Debby and Simon, together with their children, Ian, Sophie and Isabel, were immediately taken with the home, historically the ‘poor cousin’s house’ on what was once a large family estate. The magnificent view from the wrap-around porch looks out over a stone wall and a picket fence toward undulating hills and land.
The house itself is a mixture of disparate parts resulting from a variety of extensions and adjustments over the years. Despite the disjointed feel, the Billinges were drawn to the creaking floorboards and inconsistent fittings – every room on the ground floor has a different style of window – and the magnificent natural light. They instinctively knew the house could be turned into a sanctuary in which they could spread out, cook, entertain and relax on weekends and holidays.
A simple colour palette of soothing muted greys and creams was selected to create a light-hearted feel and reflect the serenity of the rural surroundings. Throughout, the walls and ceilings share the light grey tone of the simple plaster finish, an age-old material that has recently seen a popular resurgence. Not only is the plaster durable, but it has a raw texture that complements the simple feel of the house. When light hits the surface, it draws out the natural variation in the colour, adding a sense of depth.
Layers of laminate, cheap wood flooring and old brown carpet have been stripped away to reveal the original wood floor, giving rooms a natural, organic touch. Windows have been simply dressed with hand-sewn silk curtains, with the sheer fabric adding a delicate touch to each room and letting in soft pools of natural light to give an airy feel.
The north-facing kitchen has been predominantly designed for functionality. The hardy butcher-block work surfaces are designed to maximise workspace and provide a practical food preparation area for a family of keen cooks. The kitchen cabinets are handmade, with some of the drawers repurposed from discarded materials from the previous fitments.
The real show-stopper here is the striking dual-toned wall. Half light grey plaster and half dark blue Benjamin Moore paint, the wall is a wonderfully fresh take on classic wainscoting and the crisp dividing line is a modern replacement for a dado rail. The contrasting lighter shade above the dark adds visual height and dimension to the room while breaking up the look to prevent it becoming overbearing.
In contrast, the dining room is a somewhat calmer place. Although south facing, it’s kept cool by the eaves of the wrap-around porch. Most of the furniture is handmade, including a long dining table designed to host large dinner parties or lavish family breakfasts. A lighter shade of grey has been used in a band around the top of the room and on the ceiling to give an illusion of height.
At the back of the house, a sunroom provides a perfect spot to relax. The A-frame ceiling and accent wall have been dramatically clad with wood from a local disused barn that was purchased with the sole purpose of making items for the home. The panels have been whitewashed to achieve a grey tone and blend with the pigmented plaster. Even so, no two planks are the same, making the lumber a wonderfully decorative material and giving the space an organic yet cosy and warm feel. The room has been simply furnished with snug vintage sofas and a basic handmade coffee table.
Upstairs, a once dark and pokey room has been transformed into a lofty, light-filled master bedroom. Dilapidated wood flooring has been given a new lease of life with a lick of paint, and a low-slung ceiling has been knocked through to expose an A-frame roof. During the replastering, pretty wallpaper was discovered under layers of other wallcoverings and has been left exposed in patches around the room. The room has been entirely furnished using reclaimed items, including a headboard made from a screen door, two night stands and a chest of drawers in keeping with the pared-back nature of the farmhouse.
Across the landing, a second bedroom has been transformed by way of a statement lath accent wall. The rich composition and warm tones of the inexpensive, often discarded, material has given the otherwise neutral room a warm, rustic ambience. The painted wood floor and secondhand pale-coloured rug give the entire space a light visual lift.
A smaller, third bedroom has been fitted with a remarkable handmade wood bed frame and headboard with space-saving built-in drawers for storage. Floral print bed linen accentuates the romantic look and feel of the room.
At the back of the house, an upstairs family bathroom has been given a revamp using simple materials. An off-white textured ceramic sink sits atop a cabinet made from the same salvaged barn wood seen in the sunroom. The walls have been decorated using tadelakt, a natural lime-based plaster from Morocco, known for its decorative and waterproof qualities. The natural materials and fresh light colours create a spa-like feel and a perfect sanctuary in which to unwind.
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This is an edited extract from Modern Pastoral by Niki Brantmark, with photography by James Gardiner (£19.99, CICO Books)