On the Waterfront
Fashion Designer Eileen Fisher’s Irvington home: a modern plan in a classical package with endless views of “living art”
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Featuring Photography by Tim Lee
Photo by Bill Rothschild
Three farmhouse-style wings were angled so most rooms have views of the Hudson.
“If ever there was a place built to suit a person’s lifestyle, this is it,” declares architect Earl Ferguson as he leads the way around the sunlit Irvington home that Eileen Fisher shares with her son, Zachary, 21, and her daughter, Sasha, 17. The interior is just as you’d imagine, judging by the simple yet sophisticated clothes 60-year-old Fisher designs: clean lines; soft, neutral colors; a hint of Asian sensibility with a shot of American practicality. The atmosphere is tranquil, which Fisher says she needs to calm her “chaotic brain." But the décor is saved from austere minimalism by the warmth of rich wood floors, traditional detailing, a lot of Shaker-style cabinetry, and a spectacular, cherry-wood spiral staircase, also inspired by the Shaker aesthetic.
Architect Earl Ferguson.
Fisher bought the riverside property in 1997 and hired Ferguson (for whom she worked as a graphic designer 30 some years ago) to renovate and extend the modern house that sat on it. Ferguson, whose office is five minutes away in Irvington, trained at the Pratt Institute mainly as a minimalist, and drew up plans following Fisher’s guidelines of simplicity, comfort, and informality. But as he was on the brink of filing them for approval, Fisher realized that what she really wanted was another house altogether. “I was longing for a real home with a feeling of history,” she says. “I wanted a lot of natural light—minimalist, but warm and earthy.” And, not least, a home that took full advantage of the lovely river views and sunsets. Says Ferguson: “Eileen’s big on sunsets.”
Ferguson went back to the drawing board (or today’s computerized version of it) and came up with a completely new, more traditional dwelling. The result is big—about 9,000 square feet — but the symmetrical façade, with its Classical Revival columns and porch, makes the house look deceptively modest when viewed from the street, something Ferguson calls “an innocent introduction.”
Sunny uncluttered spaces take full advantage of the river views.The replica of an old quilting table is used for meetings as well as dining.
When you walk around the outside of the house, the design reveals itself to be quite complex: three farmhouse-style wings, each only one room deep, are connected at angles that allow most rooms to frame glorious views of the Hudson River. “It’s an assembly, instead of one bulky house—a choreography of modest farmhouse forms,” notes Ferguson, who speaks in the courtly cadences of West Virginia, wherehe grew up. “I had fun playing with genres,” adds the modernist, who blended Hudson Valley vernacular genres of Greek Revival and Colonial with a dash of coastal shingle, then added Shaker and Asian accents to the interior. It makes for a harmonious whole that looks like it grew over the decades, with nary a whiff of McMansion mishmash.
Fisher works at home as well as at her nearby office.
Because the building is large and rambling, Ferguson and Fisher were particularly sensitive about siting, out of respect for the neighbors’ viewsheds, preservation of open space, and also to take advantage of natural heating and cooling. The house nestles against a stand of fir and cedar trees to block winter winds and is oriented to make the most of passive solar heat. Insulation is “super-efficient,” Feguson notes, as are the windows. Heat is radiant and there’s plenty of cross-ventilation, which Fisher prefers to air-conditioning. Reclaimed or local materials were used when possible.