Designer Juan Carretero took his home into his own hands this time around. By adding modern furniture and bold accents, he gave his historic Catskill, New York weekend home an instant refresh.
Kathleen Renda: There’s an entire wall of framed insects in the living room. Was something bugging you?
Carretero: I love art that tricks you into taking a long second look. Study the images a little, and you’ll notice those aren’t actual bugs — they’re recycled-metal sculptures by architect Thierry Despont. They’re intriguing and witty, which is exactly the style I wanted in a weekend home: eclectic, slightly formal rooms with a sense of humor. Because I’m here to relax! That also explains why the room has a plaster bust of George Washington in it. I placed him on top of the high English Regency cabinet so he can surveil the entire space. He was purchased at an antiques shop in Quebec. I was driving past when I spotted him and hit the brakes. “George,” I said, “you’re going back home!” In winter, I dress him in a rabbit-fur hat.
What drew you to this property?
The insane views! The house is across the river from Olana, the eccentric 1870s Victorian–Middle Eastern castle built by landscape painter Frederic Church and set in the woods. I can see the grounds from here; it’s like gazing out onto a fairy tale. Another was the river frontage. Direct water access is a rarity along the Hudson, because a road or train tracks usually block the way. But you can launch a kayak right from our backyard.
Was the house as picturesque as the setting?
To be honest, it was run-down and joyless — like Grey Gardens on the Hudson. While the original section dates to the 1790s, there were haphazard additions in the 1860s and 2000s. It had become a mazelike warren of dim rooms weighed down by a palpable shroud of unease. And the house ignored the stunning views rather than embracing them. Luckily, I’m an architect and a renovation veteran. During the past decade, I’ve overhauled six local buildings with my life partner, David Usborne. We had dealt with worse, including a home without a roof. This place at least had some historical details — and a roof.
Still, that’s some heavy lifting. Where did you start?
With serious structural changes. I reconfigured the layout to a free-flowing open plan with uninterrupted sight lines to the river. The decor reinforces that. For instance, in the living room, both the marble Saarinen table and Louis XVI–style cane chairs are in pale white. The effect is almost ghostly: The furniture seems to disappear, so as not to distract from the views. I chose an opposite strategy in the master bedroom, where I
brought the outside in with an etching-inspired Anthropologie wallpaper of fleeting clouds and deciduous trees. It creates this amazing 360-degree panorama of nature.
Your rooms deftly team modern and antique pieces. Is that juxtaposition difficult to pull off?
Mostly it’s intuitive. The 18th-century dining room, with its low ceiling and cooking fireplace, is the oldest room in the house. To make it feel alive, I brought in a mashup of furniture: Verner Panton S chairs, a streamlined oak table, a 1920s Chinese rug, and a Louis XVI fauteuil. I always find that marrying past and present creates an opposites-attract tension. Also, I’m a nostalgic soul who appreciates the charm of things you can’t find anymore. For me, uniqueness is the ultimate luxury.
The kitchen island goes on forever — I swear it’s bigger than my apartment! Why so enormous?
It’s 17 feet long, because I realized the need to surrender to the reality of life. I always preferred a sequestered kitchen, with cooking done in private. But it just doesn’t make sense for our lifestyle. When we have people over, everyone always — always! — gathers in the kitchen. Knowing that, when I designed the addition on the back of the house where the kitchen is, I deliberately went colossal. A friend even calls it “the catwalk.” Sure enough, everything — meal prep, informal dining, hanging out — happens at the island. I don’t know if it’s made us into great cooks, but our dinner guests always seem to come back.
Oversize dice stools, a circus-striped ceiling: These rooms clearly don’t take themselves too seriously. Does that say something about your personality?
I do always try to have fun, and that’s reflected in some of the objects that I choose for my surroundings, to be sure. Because if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
See more photos of this gorgeous home:
This story originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Natipernavigare.