A designer takes on a drab house and overgrown property in Bedford Hills and turns it into an elegant, art-filled masterpiece.
Photography by Tim Lee
THE FRONT OF THE HOUSE BEFORE .
Bedford Hills is laced with dirt roads furrowed by erosion, car tires, and horses’ hooves. It’s as country and secluded as Westchester gets. It was here that former Capitol Hill staffer and advertising executive-turned-interior-decorator Susan Carlson and her husband, Gustav (chief marketing officer for Thomson–Reuters, an information and media corporation), found inspiration in a carriage house in the woods.
As their family grew (they have two young daughters), the Carlsons sought a larger home. “I was looking for a new project, something unique that I could make my own,” Carlson says. When she first saw the Bedford Hills house three years ago (the couple had been living in Pound Ridge), Susan was drawn to its “great bones, easy flow, and generous proportions. It wasn’t your typical Westchester center- hall Colonial,” she says—though it was decorated like one. Looking past the floral wallpaper, heavy drapery, and Federal furniture, Carlson was most bedazzled by a massive center room—barn-like in its proportions—with a 30-foot ceiling. It was here that she could imagine her girls doing homework, playing piano, working on puzzles, and snuggling in front of the fireplace.
Drawing on her talents and without changing the footprint, Carlson launched a stem-to-stern redo, turning a dark, traditionally furnished home into a light, breezy, on-the-Nantucket-bluffs-style residence. “I wanted a beach-y, California-cool-laze-around-on-the-furniture place, which better suits our family's needs,” says Carlson, who came to her current career via a circuitous path. With an MBA from Georgetown, she worked for President George Bush, Sr., and then moved on to several high-profile advertising jobs in New York before launching Susan Carlson Interiors. “My business experience helped me when I turned to decorating,” she says. “I excel at being on time and on budget.”
HE FRONT OF THE HOUSE AFTER: Enhancing curb appeal was the first order of business.Trees were moved, the house painted a light gray, and a new circular driveway added.
Just after moving in, one of her first orders of business was to enhance the home’s curb appeal, improve the approach , and create a better connection between the driveway and the front door. The exterior was a log-cabin brown with a startlingly bright-blue door that served as a beacon to the difficult-to-find front entrance. An unpaved pathway led to a basement garage on one side of the house. Overgrown trees and shrubs were obscuring the structure and blocking sunlight from entering a considerable number of windows. Carlson had the house repainted a cheery light gray and then called her favorite Pound Ridge landscape designer, Tim Patterson of Highland Design.
“He moved some crabapple trees that had been used as a property boundary from the front to the back and then re-graded the front yard, transforming the flat lawn to a more alluring slope to provide privacy.” Patterson, who loves to “repurpose” trees, also moved a Kousa dogwood from the backyard to add interest to the front and used an existing Japanese cherry tree as centerpiece in the new circular driveway.
The circular driveway created an obvious sight-line to the home’s entrance, which Carlson replaced with a working French door flanked by two exact but non-working duplicates—“dummies”—for symmetry sake. Freed from overgrown shrubbery, sunlight from this wall of windows floods the massive great room. “We wanted this great room to be livable,” she explains. “We spend most of our family time here.”
Keeping the “bones” of the room intact, Carlson replaced the former fussy floral wallpaper, dark paint, chintz upholstery, and Federal-style antiques with whitewashed walls, crisp cotton couches, lighter upholstered wing chairs, lots of sisal area rugs, colorful contemporary art, and bright wall coverings.
Carlson has a collector’s eye for art; a provocative portrait of a woman, by Michael Vollbracht (former creative director for Bill Blass) hangs over the fireplace. Two huge black-and-white lithographs of suited office workers—from the Men in the Cities series by Michael Longo (which appeared in the movie American Psycho) loom over the baby grand piano. Carlson picked up another couple of lithographs, from Dali’s Alice in Wonderland, at an antiques show.
In the end, each room presents a pleasing tableau—undiminished by the gusts of earth and sand that blow in from the dusty unpaved road. Carlson goes with the flow. “That’s what all the sisal area rugs and hard-wood floors are all about,” she says. “Easier to clean.”
Stamford writer Malerie Yolen-Cohen is creatively challenged when it comes to interior decorating, but has great appreciation for those blessed with an imaginative touch.