“I’m not a less-is-more person,” Marc Hammond will tell you — unnecessarily, if you happen to be standing in the richly done-up drawing room of his Hudson townhouse. These days, when mid-century modern is still a leading trend and “declutter” seems to be on the lips of every interior decorator, it’s a surprise to find one who revels — in his own home, at least — in the eclectic, elegantly cozy English country style.
Although Hammond often designs pared-down interiors, the inspiration for the townhouse was the London home of the fictional Schlegel sisters in the movie Howards End — a riot of Edwardian decoration, all knickknacks, fringed lampshades, tea trays, and furniture of various vintages. “I loved the spirit of that house, it’s so atmospheric,” says Hammond, whose own house is more restrained — but not by much. And it’s the opposite of the Florida home he grew up in.
“My mother loved decorating,” he recalls. “Her taste was very modern and she liked to move house a lot. Whenever we moved she’d get rid of everything and do all new. No sentiment… I loved going to friends’ houses and finding everything the same. I love the idea of things getting older. I’ll look at a sofa and remember people visiting, parties, and holidays.”
Timeless appeal: The owners spend most of their time in the library, where new cherry paneling looks as though it’s been there for 100 years. Bold Scalamandre paper on the ceiling and comfy furnishings help make the room inviting
Hammond and his partner, Seth Rapport, have lived in the townhouse for six years. Rapport, a mortgage broker and third-generation Hudson native, previously used it as offices for his business. When he moved his company into more modern surroundings (designed by Hammond, incidentally), the couple decided to restore the 1857 building as a residence, and live in it until the Georgian-style house that Hammond wanted to build in Austerlitz was done.
The four-story house hadn’t been a single-family dwelling since the 1950s, Hammond guesses. The fireplaces were bricked up, and most of the original millwork was missing. “No kitchen, no full baths, dropped ceilings, aluminum windows — typical commercial office décor and no architectural detail whatever,” he says.
All four floors were gutted. Hammond patterned new windows on the two remaining original ones, used still-existing baseboard on the staircase as a guide for restoring the trim, and converted the fireplaces to gas. Only seven inches deep, the fireplaces were designed to burn coal, so Hammond tracked down rare gas coal baskets at Ashleigh’s Hearth and Home in Poughkeepsie. Apart from some cabinetry and finishing details, the construction work was completed in six months — lightning speed for such a major renovation.
Every inch counts in the galley-style kitchen (left), whose white tiles and marble counters fit the period of the house. The upper cupboard doors came from an old butler’s pantry. Some of Hammond’s fine china (he calls himself “a dish and linen fanatic”) is on display in the glass-fronted cupboard in the dining room (right)
- Partner Content -
Hammond and Rapport come and go through the downstairs entrance, where there’s enough room for coats in the hallway. (Hammond’s office occupies what would have been the kitchen in the days of servants.) Visitors who climb the steps to enter through the glossy black front door find what he considers the house’s one flaw: a tiny entry.
In the drawing room, Hammond had the baseboards faux marbled to match the ornate stone mantelpiece, painted the walls Palladian Blue, and hung art with abandon. “I always wanted a home for the George Inness,” he says, pointing to the landscape painting that looks very much at home between the windows. Although the room is small, there are several seating areas, each with tables to set down a drink. The dining room in the rear is also furnished with eclectic antiques: an English mahogany table, 18th-century Venetian sconces, and a painted Chinese screen. A work by Allen Tucker, one of America’s few Post-Impressionists, hangs over a rosewood Empire sideboard.
What the tiny kitchen lacks in space, it makes up for with luxurious touches, including an Aga stove. The doors of the upper cabinets came from an old butler’s pantry; the lower ones were designed to match. White subway tiles, octagonal tiles on the floor, and Carrera marble counters are repeated in the bathrooms on the upper floors.
Al fresco comfort: Once an ugly concrete walkway with a chain-link fence, the courtyard garden tucked behind the house is now a serene spot. The owners use the brick-paved upper terrace for dinner parties (below, right), while the curtained pergola with its daybed and seating areas serves as a fair-weather living room
- Advertisement -
The dining room opens onto a lovely courtyard. “This used to be a concrete walk leading to a dumpster in the alley, with a chain-link fence and scruffy yews,” Hammond remarks. Now, a table for eight occupies the upper level, and there’s another table for two near an inviting daybed on the lower level, where a pergola is hung with curtains for privacy. Vining euonymous and hydrangeas climb over the wall and fountain in the back while river birches with curling bark frame the scene. Hammond had extensive gardens at his previous home in Rensselaer. “They were a lot of work,” he says. “When I boiled it down, I thought, all I really need is a place to sit in the morning and have coffee, and a place we can have drinks and dinner with friends. This tiny little garden fulfills all that.”
Pretty, discontinued Brunschwig & Fils floral wallpaper lights up the stairwell. “I bought the remaining 40 rolls and hung onto it for 12 years, waiting for a place to use it,” Hammond remarks. “It’s a testament to Brunschwig & Fils that the colors are just as vivid as if it had been printed yesterday… This is where we live,” he announces, entering the library at the top of the stairs, where bookshelves, oiled cherry paneling, sofas, and cushy chairs feel homey and comfortable. The 10-foot-high ceiling is papered in an architectural pattern by Scalamandre to “give people something to look at as they come up the stairs,” he adds, although some visitors’ attention may be caught en route by a Chinese jar in a gilded niche — another of his possessions long in need of a home and now set into the stairwell wall.
A curtained doorway leads to what Hammond calls “the bedchamber.” A four-poster bed takes up most of the space, but there’s still room for luxury, like green silk swagged behind the bed, a bank of cherry cabinetry, and a painting of a house on a country lane that once hung in Hammond’s grandmother’s kitchen. “We used to make up stories about who lived in the house,” he says. “I love having it, and I couldn’t hang it if we lived in a modern house. I like being surrounded by things that have meaning.” A master bath with a steam shower and a corner vanity feels surprisingly roomy.
The layered look: Although the rooms in the townhouse are fairly small, Hammond’s approach to decorating makes them feel luxurious, as this guest room with its rare, silk-canopied bed demonstrates. The Staffordshire dog lamps once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. More luxury: Each guest room has its own bath and kitchenette
Upstairs on the top floor, two guest rooms each have onetime hotel doors that still bear their enamel room numbers. There’s a surprise in Room 5: the furniture is Art Deco, left over from Hammond’s former loft in Manhattan. Room 6 holds an unusual 1800s bed that still has its original silk canopy, the fabric gathered into a central rosette. “It’s a hard piece of upholstery to do,” Hammond notes. A needlepoint carpet and Scalamandre wallpaper that looks like tufted lattice are “perfect for a bedroom,” he adds. But perhaps his favorite thing in Room 6 is the pair of Staffordshire dogs made into bedside lamps. “They belonged to Marilyn Monroe when she and Joe DiMaggio had a house in New Jersey,” he says. “I love to think of Marilyn reaching to turn them off.”
How does Rapport feel about such sumptuous decor? “His personal taste is more minimalist, so in the beginning, all this felt like a lot to him,” Hammond replies. “But he’s easygoing, and he’s come to love the English aesthetic.”
After the economy tanked, plans to build the Georgian dream house were put on hold — and Hammond doesn’t seem to mind much. “This house fills every need we have — not an inch more or less. It’s easy to take care of. And Hudson continues to get more and more interesting.”
At press time, Hammond and Rapport were planning their June wedding in the courtyard. For a man who sees the ghosts of happy times when he looks at his sofa, it’s surely going to be rough leaving that courtyard behind.
» Return to Hudson Valley Home: Summer 2012