It's not an uncommon fantasy among sophisticated Manhattanites—trading in the urban digs (while maintaining a pied-à-terre, of course) for a great old house in New York's historic Hudson Valley—one with big fireplaces and lots of room for grandchildren and guests, as well as views of some of America's loveliest countryside.
That's exactly what a financier and his wife, a former antiques dealer, were looking for when, after renting in the area for several years, they decided to make the leap and trade in their Upper East Side townhouse for a place in the country. Then reality hit. "We looked for ages," says the wife. "Most of the houses were dark and close to the road." Not to mention they are often jumbled on top of one another and, with their huge rooms, difficult to heat in the winter and cool in the summer.
Then they were invited to architect 's annual summer cocktail party. "When we got there, I said to my husband, 'This is the most extraordinary Greek Revival,'" she recalls. "It didn't have any of the problems of the other old houses in the area."
It turns out that Schafer, a classical architect famous for his exacting restorations, had built the place himself. The couple immediately realized that the old-new solution was their answer—the design of an old house, with its elegant proportions, infused with a contemporary layout and conveniences. They found a piece of land amid the horse country of Millbrook and hired Schafer. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place when Schafer suggested as decorator. Redd was the ideal choice, because, the wife acknowledges, "I was looking for someone with a certain whimsy. I tend to be more classical in my tastes, and I needed someone to push me a little."
Still, this was a group with strong opinions. The situation could have been contentious, but, in fact, it turned into the best kind of creative collaboration. Schafer's original drawings were largely inspired by traditional two-story Greek Revivals. "But I knew I wanted the house to live right for us," the wife says, "not just look right." She was concerned that stairs could become a problem as she and her husband grew older, or if one of them were to have a horseback-riding accident. So she asked Schafer to add wings on either side, for a master bedroom suite and a large kitchen area. The additions give the structure the feel of a Palladian villa and help it nestle serenely into the landscape.
How do you begin decorating a 7,500-square-foot house? "It was important to consider Gil's marvelous architecture," says Redd. "The proportions, the moldings, and the amazing staircase set the tone." He found a Sultanabad rug in rich hues of peacock-blue with greens and reds. "That was the springboard for us," he explains, and its palette ultimately provided the subtle cohesion of color that holds true throughout the rooms.
In the entrance hall, after trying several wall finishes, the trio chose peacock stripes sparked by tangerine lamps, introducing the key color and establishing the elegant yet whimsical spirit of the interior. Beyond the entry colonnade is an expansive living room dominated by teal curtains and celery silk walls that also reiterate the colors of the Sultanabad. "The acidy loden sofas, animal print, and ikat pillows—that's Miles," says the wife. "He has an extraordinary feeling for that one oddball thing that will make a room sing. The black mantels were Gil's designs, and I just flipped over them."
Redd, who understands how hue can add emotion and flow to a house, repeated the celery color in the couple's bedroom with a de Gournay wall covering. But when he suggested the butler's pantry be lacquered marine-blue, the wife initially resisted. "I wanted a subdued New England color, like putty," she explains, "but Miles said, 'You have to go with me on this.' I struggled, and then told him, 'Miles, I am going to give you this, because you have given me what I want.' The minute it was done, I saw how brilliant it was, relating the blues throughout the rooms. My choice would have just disappeared."
For all the understated grandeur and rich color Redd brought to the project, Schafer made sure the house functions beautifully. Two bedrooms upstairs serve as private quarters for guests—ideal for the owners' young grandchildren. In the library, the touch of a button transforms the mirror above the fireplace into a television. The floors throughout, of reclaimed antique oak, can stand up to Amber and Chloe, the couple's Brittany spaniels. "I'm a nut about livability," Schafer says. "I think you can get a formal house to bend both ways."