March 8, 2015

Interior Designer Meryl Stern's Piermont, NY Home

In the vast top floor of a onetime silk mill, Meryl Stern works to create intimate areas for living at human scale.

by Judith Nasatir interior designer Meryl Stern Interiors photographer Peter Rymwid


Who doesn't thrill to floods of natural light, soaring ceilings, and endless interior vistas? Yet as interior designer Meryl Stern discovered after she fell head over heels for this 4,500-sq.-ft. apartment in Piermont, New York, the same architectural qualities that lift the heart can give even the most seasoned design professional fits when it comes to scale and proportion, period style, and areas of intimacy. What's the tipping point from capacious to cavernous, from light washed to sun stroked? Try 40-foot ceilings, equally towering windows, and a great plain of floor wide open enough for a child to learn to ride a bike, as did the daughter of the couple who purchased the 1875-era structure in the '70s and renovated it for residential use.

The building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is an elegant Neo-Grec brick pile dating to the post-Civil War industrial boom. Designed by architect William Hand and once known as Haddock's Hall, it originally housed a store, warehouse, and village hall. At some later date, it became a silk mill. The marks of that history-including the oil stains from the ribbon machines that once stood in rows in Stern's apartment-are among its many obvious charms.

Stern happened on the place after she had sold her New Jersey house and was scouting more urban areas with plenty of old-world appeal. The renovation had added a mezzanine level with two bedrooms, a bath, and a balcony spanning the length of the addition, and nestled two other enclosed rooms, the den and her office, underneath. Those rooms aside, the balance of the interior was wide open. "I had to have it," she says. "It felt like a SoHo loft."

To tame the vastness, Stern established a symmetrical series of open living rooms/sitting areas-a hand-made rug measuring 21½ feet by 12 ½ feet defines just one of them-from the entrance at one end to the dining area at the opposite end. She says: "Fortunately I had lots of furniture." Though a modernist at heart, she used antiques from all different eras to add form and texture. "I like mixing antiques in with modern, but here antiques worked better." In the end, her eye proved her right. Despite the challenges of scale and detail, Stern made the place utterly fabulous. That's what designers do.