Intrigued by an article featuring gorgeous and inexpensive 19th-century houses in New York's Catskills, Gotham magazine lifestyle editor, Jason Oliver Nixon, and decorator John Loecke decided to check out the area's real estate websites. To their amazement, they found a Federal-style former schoolhouse listed at $30,000. Three hours later they were exploring the 900-square-foot structure — a neglected rental with no closets, second-floor ceilings so low they couldn't stand erect and multiple layers of wallpaper and paint. Convinced that a little renovation and decorating would revive the c. 1840 building, they purchased it. One week after the closing, pipes burst and the ceiling caved in. Undeterred, they began a gut renovation, doing much of the work themselves alongside Nixon's uncle Lary and father, Jary.
A year later, the house was transformed into a weekend retreat they call Monkey Cottage, full of color, bold prints and a playful spirit. "We didn't know anyone in town, but something about the place felt like home."
Nixon: "We call it Monkey Cottage because it's a place to monkey around. In the winter, we enjoy the snow that accumulates. And on summer days, we just putter around the garden."
Loecke: "I love the fact that we were able to give this old house a longer history. Everything that we've done to bring it back to life is in keeping with the original architectural style, but we've also managed to make it our own."
In a house without a dining room, the kitchen does double duty. To distinguish the room, homeowner John Loecke chose bold black cabinetry and white marble counters. In lieu of upper cabinets, he created an arrangement of vintage state plates set against a white wall. A circular window was added, which replicates one on the front of the house.
Built-in drawers and storage cubbies compensate for no closets.
This railing was inspired by a Chinese garden bridge.
Faux bathroom paneling was crafted with 4x4's.
Flea-market equestrian prints pop against a chocolate-brown wall.
"By putting a few pieces of large furniture in a small space, a room feels bigger," Loecke observes. "It's a trick of the eye and a fact about decorating that surprises."
"We're both crazy about color," Nixon explains. "It energizes and excites a space. In a small house such as ours, color works to expand the horizons of what might otherwise be seen as just a really tight space." The use of graphic prints and lively colors throughout keeps the focus away from the actual small-scale dimensions of the cottage. In the master bedroom, sunny-yellow paint and an exuberant green-and-white print enlivens the small space. The low-pitched roof created a seemingly unusable 3-foot-high gap on each side of the room. A carpenter was contracted to fill one side with bookshelves, and the other with cabinets and storage drawers.
"The trick to combining many patterns in a room is to choose a common color scheme," Loecke says. "A variety of bold patterns won't clash when linked by a limited palette." To avoid overwhelming the space, Loecke advises using no more than two large-scale prints and keeping other patterns geometric.
Loecke groups his flea market finds according to color, type and theme and displays them on walls or open shelving.
To keep a room visually exciting, Loecke recommends combining furniture of various sizes and heights so the eye is drawn to different points.
The overall design was meant to harken to the classic interiors found in the English country house of a century ago — rooms filled with antiques, sculptural furniture pieces and botanical patterns and prints on the walls. Loecke and Nixon reinterpreted the look, however, by introducing some decidedly offbeat pieces, including silver scallop sconces, giraffe print pillows and a tropical-inspired chandelier.
Throughout the house, Loecke used ribbons to embellish curtains, lampshades and pillows. "Decorating with ribbons is inexpensive, easy and the color and pattern possibilities are endless," Loecke says. In his book John Loecke's Grosgrain Style (Potter Craft), Loecke s his clever how-to projects, one of which is this layered ribbon square that can be applied with a hot-glue gun and completed in five minutes. The lime-green ribbon echoes the piping, while the white stitching bordering the brown ribbon fosters a modern look. The lattice print fabric of the pillow in the background inspired John to transform pillows with ribbon.
As an avid collector of ribbon, antique garden statuary and 1950s glassware, Loecke uses this home as the ultimate venue for displaying the treasures he picks up at flea markets around the world.