Still Life Inside

Decorating

For J.Crew menswear designer Frank Muytjens, country life is as comfy as a pair of worn-in jeans.


In Conversation With Barbara Sgroi
Photos by John Gruen

ABOVE: Frank started collecting vintage spools of thread to use when wrapping presents, but felt they were too beautiful to use.

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.

Frank Muytjens and his beloved vizsla, Dutch, make the 2½-hour drive from Brooklyn to this Hillsdale, N.Y., house every weekend year-round.
Red cedar shingles, weathered wooden steps and rambling plants give the home a relaxed charm.

BEST ADVICE: Don’t buy everything at once
The most important thing when decorating any house is not to rush. Start with the big pieces —a dining table, a sofa. I spent a year finding my sofa. The dining table took even longer. It’s the accumulation of layers over time that tells a story.
In the dining room, mid-century modern Bertoia chairs, a drafting stool and a metal side table on wheels take the country look in an industrial direction. Frank chose the light fixture because it reminded him of chandeliers in Dutch Golden Age paintings.

Sidebar

To Be Frank

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.

Frank in his Manhattan office.
His sketches for the J.Crew fall-winter 2016 men’s collection.
“So many people just consider a kitchen utilitarian; I wanted it to be an extension of the living room,” says Frank. Dishes and provisions are stored in an adjacent pantry. Stools, The Upper Rust; cabinet and window trim colour, Ashley Gray (HC-87), Benjamin Moore.
“There’s a military influence in my work and in my home, like my sofa that’s covered in vintage tents. That’s what attracted me to it. It has had a life; it tells a story,” says Frank. Sofa, Stephen Kenn; floor lamp; Jieldé.
A vintage filing cabinet tucked under the eaves by the staircase in the living room provides a spot for one of Frank’s whimsical displays. Large lamp by Castiglioni, Flos; wire basket, Red Chair Studio; wall colour, Berkshire Beige (AC-2), staircase colour, Wrought Iron (2124-10), Benjamin Moore.
Dutch has claimed this perch in the light-filled living room. An indigo throw found in Tokyo and pillows Frank made out of scraps of vintage indigo fabrics he’s collected are a bright counterpoint to the room’s neutral colour scheme. Natural elements like potted plants add an organic note. “I wanted to bring the indoors out and the outdoors in,” he says. Custom-made sofa, Crate & Barrel; lamp, Hunter Bee; wall colour, Simply White (OC-117), bookcase colour, Ashley Gray (HC-87), Benjamin Moore.
BEST ADVICE: Embrace Imperfection
I like items that have the patina of age because they’re unique. I prefer fabrics that look a little beaten up rather than too pristine and perfect. I’m always bringing vintage throws or quilts back from my trips. I think they add a very personal touch to a home.
There’s a military influence in my work and in my home, like my sofa that’s covered in vintage tents.
THE ART OF THE OPEN CLOSET Instead of hiding his wardrobe behind closed doors, Frank left the closet in his bedroom exposed to create an open, loft-like feeling. “A small space feels bigger when you can see the walls,” he says. Metal baskets stash socks and towels. Two vintage chairs from different eras and made of different materials, but with a similar shape, create a tension Frank loves. Metal baskets, eBay; wall colour, Edgecomb Gray (HC-173), window frame colour, Wrought Iron (2124-10), Benjamin Moore.
Inspired by the colours of the downstairs kitchen in the film Gosford Park, Frank had the bathroom’s walls and wainscotting painted soft shades of parchment and eggshell. Vintage-looking toiletries displayed like art and an antique mirror adorned with dried flowers from the garden add charm. Sconce, RH Restoration Hardware; wall colour, Navajo White (OC-95), wainscotting colour, Lenox Tan (HC-44), Benjamin Moore.
A pair of windows bring symmetry and a sense of calm to the guest bedroom. Left bare, they focus attention on the view. Layered blankets and rugs soften the simple setup with texture and pattern. Easel, Dick Blick Art Materials; striped blanket, J.Crew; window trim colour, Bone White (OC-143), floor colour, Spanish Olive (CC-606), Benjamin Moore.
Frank added bookshelves to the guest bedroom to cope with his growing collection of cooking, design and fashion books. Striped pillows, John Derian; vintage sconce, Cosmo; skull pillow, Paul Smith; wall colour, Gargoyle (1546), Benjamin Moore.

To find Frank Muytjens’ guide to Upstate New York, visit houseandhome.com and click on the current issue