Divorce is always traumatic, but after the worst is over the effect can be invigorating. That was the case for Cindy Phillips-Nekos, whose decree nisi a few years ago left her “feeling independent,” she declares. “I felt like getting a fresh start.” That fresh start didn’t include moving into a new house, however, because Phillips-Nekos wanted her son, Justin, to have some continuity in his life. But she did want a new look for some of the rooms. “I wanted to make the house my own,” she says.
Phillips-Nekos and her then-husband built their home near Stone Ridge, Ulster County, in 2001, and although problems during construction are commonplace, the couple experienced an unusually major “oops” at the outset. “The house was supposed to be turned to face Mohonk, and they poured the foundation straight instead,” she recalls, with surprising equanimity. The architect, called back in to help, added matching bay windows to the front of the house to capture some of the missing view. “But we ended up with big, angular windows, and two rooms with funny little corners that we had to put furniture in,” she says. One of those two rooms — they are mirror images on either side of the front entry — is the dining room, and the other, after a period as Justin’s playroom, became what she calls the “quote ‘formal’ living room. After the divorce, I emptied out the room and had a baby grand sitting there. Then I saw a builder at a crafts fair and had him do the built-in bookcase. I thought I’d make it like a library, but it wasn’t really used.”
Phillips-Nekos, a pharmacist who often works long hours, called interior designer Catherine Gerry to help create a more feminine, airy look in the two front rooms and the office-cum-occasional-guest-room in the back, all of which had formerly felt somewhat dark and masculine. Gerry, whose design offices are in High Falls, began by tackling the near-empty living room. “The first thing she did was take the piano out, so we started from scratch,” Phillips-Nekos says.
Because Phillips-Nekos wanted to keep her Stickley dining room furniture, which is visible in the room across the hall, Gerry helped her choose a Tufenkian carpet with an Arts and Crafts look for the living room. Next came the question of what to do about the long cherry bookcase that dominated the room. “Cindy didn’t want to paint it to match the trim, but it needed to blend in because it takes up a tremendous amount of real estate,” says Gerry. She solved the problem by painting the walls a deep orange-red that matches a color in the carpet, and which harmonizes with the wood used for the bookcase. Gerry added fluted trim, painted white, where walls of different colors meet. The curtains, in three bands of color, also pick up colors in the carpet.
New white sofas that face each other create cozy seating. The overhead light fixture of aged, oil-rubbed bronze has pongee silk shades and frosted Plexiglas diffusers underneath, which create a soft, warm glow.
Once the living room was finished, Gerry dressed up the dining room with grasspaper on the walls, and added three-color curtains similar to those in the living room, this time picking up colors in the existing dining-room carpet. She also replaced the dated chandelier with a better-proportioned fixture that casts a more flattering light. Phillips-Nekos wanted a liquor cabinet, and Gerry found a white lacquer one with an Asian feel. “I’d been looking and looking for something and, on my own, would probably have introduced a piece of dark cherry, but I love it. It brightens up the room,” Phillips-Nekos says.
The biggest change came in the office/guest-room. Out went what Phillips-Nekos describes as “very manly furniture — huge, bulky, dark green, overstuffed,” and in came Gerry with an idea for faux paneling that transformed the space. She added a chair railing and a combination of three different moldings directly to the wall, and then painted the whole thing white; the effect is of “real” paneling made of wood, but at a fraction of the price. Light wooden blinds at the window disguise what Gerry calls “a less-than-breathtaking view” of a not-yet-landscaped wooded rise.
Finally, Gerry and her client went through the artwork in the house, and selected paintings and prints that would work best in all three rooms. Reframed to go with the new look in each space, they were the finishing touch. “I love the red in the living room,” says Phillips-Nekos. “And I love the window treatments. If I’d done nothing but those things, it would have made a huge difference.”
See gallery below for more images of this redesigned home.
» Return to Husdon Valley Home: Summer 2013