Fresh off the Vine
A young family's hillside yard becomes their go-to snack bar.
The first thing I do when I walk in the house is fling open all the windows and doors. Then I sit outside to pause and enjoy those first few minutes. Living and working in New York for 20 years, I needed a place where I could unwind, recharge and do everything I love — or nothing at all. The moment my dog, Dutch, jumps in the car to come up here to Hillsdale, which we do every weekend, it feels like we’re going on a mini vacation. I immediately relax. That’s the best feeling.
I found this place by chance. I was in Upstate New York helping a friend renovate her home nearby about 16 years ago and noticed a dilapidated and uninhabited little house on the same road. We were always saying how nice it would be if someone were to buy it, renovate it and do something with the garden. Eventually, a couple did exactly that. He’s a furniture maker and building contractor; she’s a landscape designer. Over the years, we became friends, and I got to know the place well. I loved the energy of the house— its rustic but elegant architecture appealed to me, and the gambrel roof and cedar shingles give it a timeless look. I told them that should they ever move, I would buy it. In 2007, that happened. I bought it before they even put it on the market.
The house is small — only 1,200 square feet, two floors, two bedrooms —but it’s the perfect size for me and just big enough to accommodate weekend guests. The previous owners renovated it in a very practical way: every inch is functional; every space is used. They even removed some walls in the living room and added bay windows knowing that this house is all about the view. I can see for miles. The Hudson River Valley is a very pastoral, peaceful area with rolling hills and grazing cows. It’s a world away from my apartment in Brooklyn.
I try to bring the outdoors in with shades of bone, stone grey, olive, wrought-iron black and touches of indigo. It’s hard to put my décor philosophy into words. Basically, when I see something I like, I buy it. I don’t worry about whether it’s going to go with what I have. The older you get, the more you know what appeals to you.
I didn’t want this to be a matchy-matchy country home. There needs to be different elements you normally wouldn’t expect to find. For example, my dining table is distressed, and the paint is worn off, and yet it’s paired with sleek mid-century Bertoia chairs. For me, it’s all about layers and juxtaposition, contrast and clash, and the tension it creates.
Everything is constantly evolving. I’m already thinking of changes — the wall colours, the rugs. I rotate the art. I keep dreaming about what the garage is going to become: a guest room, a studio, a little weekend house or all of the above. When things stay the same, eventually you don’t even see them anymore. I never really want my house to be finished.
Much of my time here is spent outside. I’d never had a garden and now I have 1.7 acres! I love getting my hands dirty and doing something completely different from what I do during the week. Gardening teaches you patience. It’s rewarding to plant something, nurture it, and watch it grow. That’s magical. You can’t rush nature.
Designer Frank Muytjens is a man of contrasts who is as comfortable taking a bow on the fashion runways as he is digging in his garden in denim and rubber boots. He was born in a sleepy village in Holland and dreamed of becoming an illustrator. While at art school, he discovered his passion for fashion, “and before I knew it, I was a designer.” Fascinated by America, he moved to New York in 1994 and worked as a designer at Polo Ralph Lauren. “My European sensibility enabled me to look at Americana in a fresh way,” says Frank. His mix of traditional and modern is now his design signature. As head of men’s design at J.Crew, he has brought a twist to classics, finding inspiration in everything from nature, vintage horse blankets and military uniforms to old movies, street style and industrial design. “There’s definitely a common denominator linking my fashion and decor. It is very considered, but looks relaxed and unassuming, never formal or fussy.” Like the man himself.
To find Frank Muytjens’ guide to Upstate New York, visit houseandhome.com and click on the current issue
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