FASHION CONSULTANT MICHAEL CAREY is a storyteller—not with words, but with the visual language of space, color, and form. Early on, the Oregon native worked for Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, where he learned to spin brand narratives using the iconography of American prep. He then moved to London for nearly 10 years as director of store development and creative services for the legacy menswear company Hackett London. His visual vocabulary stretched to include the posh English life of cricket, gin, and country houses.
Then, five years ago, Carey decided the time had come to tell a more personal story in the form of a country house of his own. He'd already been preparing for the day, assembling a collection of antique furniture and artworks sourced on his shopping trips for Hackett around Europe. "I was buying stuff for a country house that did not yet exist," Carey explains with a laugh, as he sits in his dove-gray kitchen appointed with a working fireplace and an industrial worktable. "My motto was 'Buy for it, and it will come.'"
In the living room of Michael Carey's home in Claverack, New York, a George Smith sofa and a corner chair purchased in London are upholstered in an Osborne & Little linen, the Georgian leather library chair and English mahogany coaching table are from Lee Stanton Antiques, the Craftsman armoire is a family heirloom, and the light fixture is by Restoration Hardware. The kilim is from West Elm, and the French faux-bois table and vintage subway signs were found in nearby Hudson.
In the garden pavilion, a vintage garden table from Finch, in Hudson, is surrounded by dining chairs by Restoration Hardware, which also made the pendant light; the tropical-root table is from Mecox, and the rug is from West Elm.
Still living in London at the time, Carey started to scout the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York for a fine old stone building to renovate. What he spotted instead was the listing for a modest wood-frame, two-story 1830 Federal house in the Hudson Valley town of Claverack, a leafy hamlet due east of Hudson. When Carey mentioned it to his real estate agent, she initially resisted showing him the house. "She said, 'It's a dump,'" he recalls.
The dining room's pine trestle table is from Belgium, the settee and bench are from Finch, and the deconstructed English Regency wing chair is from Lee Stanton Antiques; the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's White Dove and the mantel in Onyx.
He persisted, she relented, and what he saw when he walked inside the center hall was a dingy but structurally sound antique home with period details like original windows and doors, wide-board flooring, and five working fireplaces. A mature copper beech tree shaded the backyard. Carey made up his mind on the spot. "I was looking for something with a lot of architectural integrity," he says. "I could feel there was history here."
The Federal home's front porch, with a tree-branch chair purchased at auction; the garden design is by Peter Bevacqua.
Indeed, there was. The town of Claverack dates back to 1788, and Carey's neighbors include stately Georgian mansions as well as the first courthouse of Columbia County, where cases were argued by such luminaries as Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and future president Martin Van Buren. As soon as he closed on the place, Carey took down a thicket of pines crowding the beech and planted a hornbeam hedge around the property's perimeter, knowing it would take a few years to fill in.
The master bath's tub, sink, fittings, and black limestone flooring are by Waterworks; the sconces are by Vaughan, the kilim is from West Elm, and the artworks were purchased in London and Paris.
In the spring of 2012, Carey closed down the house to undertake renovations. He flew in from London monthly to meet with the contractor and assess progress. By fall, the heavy work was done. "The idea was to go with the bones of the house," he says. "I tried to add architectural details that would be suitable. I wasn't trying to reinvent it or make it something it wasn't."
Carey moved a few doors and repositioned windows to clarify the house's formal symmetry. He modernized the 1950s-era kitchen on the main floor and added a back entry hall and powder room. He also created a potting room for arranging flowers; the sun-filled space—which doubles as a laundry room—is so handsome that he now uses it as an informal office as well. One of the two downstairs guest rooms occupies the original 19th-century kitchen, with its cooking hearth and beehive oven. Over the doorway to the other, Carey has tacked up a handwritten sign as a reminder to tall friends: Duck!
The potting and laundry room, with a sink by Waterworks and a Caesarstone countertop; the cabinets are painted in Benjamin Moore's Amherst Gray.
In a downstairs guest room, the bed is dressed in linens by Matteo, the chair was found in India, the stool is from Dennis & Leen, and the lithograph is by Joan Miró.
Any spare nook that remained was turned into a closet. As for finishing touches, Carey jokes, "the rest is a bunch of paint." He opted for a black-and-white palette—the kitchen's gray is the only other color—to showcase his furniture and art. The eclectic collection of antiques includes Georgian, French Deco, midcentury, and an eccentric moose-leg table he bought from a Belgian dealer in London. His wide-ranging art collection, hung salon-style on at least one wall in every room, provides a consistent backdrop.
The master bedroom's English Regency chair retains its original leather, the lamp was purchased in London, and the floor is painted in Benjamin Moore's White Dove.
Throughout the house, which is now much brighter and crisper than the first day Carey saw it, the overall effect is more or less traditional but "with a contradiction to it," as Carey says. Or you could use a different word to describe it, one borrowed from the inspiration boards the creative director pieces together for his fashion clients: "It is like a collage," he says. "You might look at one thing individually and not like it, but when you put it together with something else and another thing, it turns into a story."
This story originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Siweb.