Christine Pit Lime green, mandarin orange, purple…this doesn't look like any farmhouse I've ever seen.
Jeffrey Bilhuber: I know. It's pretty jaw-dropping. When you think of a farmhouse, you think of scrubbed white rooms, but I wanted this to be bright and optimistic and strong, with great jolts of color. These are rooms for an active, growing family. There's nothing namby-pamby here. It's about confidence and clarity.
Describe the setting for me.
Picture-perfect bucolic, rolling hills as far as you can see. We're in Far Hills, New Jersey, at Dunwalke Farm, which was founded by my client Andrew Allen's great-grandfather in 1928 and is still an active farm. This house was originally built for one of the tenants who lived and worked on the property. But as the children grew up and had kids of their own — Andrew's three boys represent the fifth generation — they claimed their own places, and these houses were transformed to accommodate them. The family didn't want to grow apart. They wanted to grow together.
What a transformation! You basically exploded the farmhouse with that double-height room.
I can't take credit for dreaming that up. It was the architect, John Heyrich, who had the idea to fill the void between this house and an old stone icehouse with one huge volume of a room, along with a new kitchen. So when the focus shifted to the new living room, the old one became a reception hall, with two sofas, comfortable chairs, and a roaring fire to welcome you.
What's that rattan chair doing next to a Queen Anne table?
The table is a family heirloom, one of those touchstones that show the family is deeply rooted in this house. And then one day someone was digging around in the attic and found that chair and dropped it here — or at least, that's how I want it to feel. That kind of spontaneity is what makes those great old houses I love so enchanting.
I wish I had been a fly on the wall when you said you were going to do purple walls in the library.
The library is more intimate, and the deep purple walls encourage you to look inward. It's a quiet, relaxing room.
Quiet? You've got a crimson sofa, an apple-green table, a striped chair, and an antelope rug. How do you know when to stop with the color and pattern?
I wish I could tell you, and I would caution anyone from trying it at home. I'm like an artist painting a canvas when I scheme, adding a splash of color here and an interesting texture there. Years ago, you would pick out a fabric, and running down the side of the sample were complementary fabrics and trims, in matching tones. Those days of decorating by the book are long gone. Now it's completely intuitive. I just respond to color and texture. But it takes a lot of effort to make things look this effortless.
How come there are three different curtain fabrics in the great room?
It's a hierarchy. The center panels on the tall window are done in a big block print that creates a big impression. The side panels are a more simple ikat. And then the persimmon curtains on the French doors were repurposed from Andrew's New York apartment. There is no reason why a good set of curtains can't follow you around.
What prompted you to put a tartan rug on the dining room floor?
That's the old icehouse, built of red fieldstone, and it conjured up images of some great pub or rathskeller where you'd sit in a dark wooden booth, upholstered in cracked leather, and sip claret. The icehouse has its own unique history, and the last thing I wanted in there was the typical Persian rug.
The window casings are hardly typical, either. Why did you paint them chartreuse?
I get so tired of windows that look like bars in a cell and make me feel trapped inside a house. I often end up painting them green, to blend in with the landscape. Or sometimes I paint them pitch black, so the muntins practically disappear in the evening.
Have you ever met a color you didn't like?
I've never met a room I didn't like, let alone a color! There's not a room I can't improve, because I always see the potential. These rooms will continue to grow along with the family. They will accept change. Nothing is static or fixed. And in a couple of years, they'll look even better.
This story originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Natipernavigare.