September 27, 2017
Laura Michaels Designs a Dream Home in Armonk, NY
A souped-up 1920s fishing shack saves interior designer Laura Michaels from trying to adapt her style to a new spec home.
by Jorge S. Arango interior designer Laura Michaels photographer Costas Picadas
Designer Laura Michaels struggled to make sense of it. She and her husband sold their 1830s eyebrow colonial in the country, which required constant repair. "My husband said we would never buy another old house," she recalls. "I grew up surrounded by antiques, and knowing my aesthetic, I just couldn't live in a new spec home." Yet that's exactly what they were considering. She showed the house to a friend and asked for a reality check. No, the friend agreed, Michaels could never be happy there. But that friend knew someone contemplating selling their Armonk home and arranged a meeting. "I literally got to the front door and said, 'I'll take it.' I didn't even need to go inside," says Michaels.
That 1920s red-painted wood fishing shack (there's a reservoir across the street) had evolved through previous owners into a 4,500-square-foot, stone-clad Cotswald-style structure with four bedrooms and four baths. The first owners added two wings; the second (who sold to Michaels) had enlisted now-disbanded architects to raise ceilings, clad them with reclaimed barnwood, and add windows and French doors. Over the last 20 years, Michaels has been gradually making it her own, renovating the kitchen and baths and adding more barnwood.
One of the latest undertakings was a garage conversion into a family room. Her desire to honor the previous architects' vision wasn't getting across to other architects she interviewed, so she took matters into her own hands. "I designed the interior first. What was important was that the room lay out like I wanted. I created the window and French door placement around that."
The home's open plan called for a continuity of interiors. "Rooms needed to flow one into the other," she explains. "I didn't want color; I tire of color. I'm not matchy-matchy or a pattern person. I like a lot of texture and layering." Fortunately, "As an interior designer, we had a lot of stuff," she jokes, much of it, not surprisingly, antique. A Biedermeier cabinet, 19th-century Pennsylvania dining chairs, columns salvaged from an old house in India, a Brazilian teak door repurposed as a coffee table—these eclectic furnishings imparted more layers, which she supplemented with new furnishings covered in tactile velvets and mohairs.
Like the house, her style has evolved. She might not use so many antiques today, she admits. "But it would have to have that same earthy quality. And after 20 years, I still love coming home to this."
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