A. THERIEN Is the Dreamiest Art & Design Studio in Cairo

Photos courtesy of A.THERIEN

Prepare to feed your head and your home at A.THERIEN, a Cairo studio where design, objects, books, and art collide.

If you’re driving through Cairo in Greene County, you might notice, near the Stewart’s and the T&C Products meat market, a curious barn of a place with a banner reading “A.THERIEN” flying out front.

Park your car, step inside, and you’ll find yourself in a sun-flooded space, surrounded by a mix of craveable furnishings (a pair of Swedish mid-century armchairs and a Civil War-era coverlet with a hypnotic geometric pattern), artwork, a raft of amazing books, and the kind of music playing that has you opening your Shazam app to find out what it is.

A.THERIEN

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“This was my pandemic project,” says A.THERIEN’s owner Stephen Ellwood. Blending equal parts antique furniture and design shop, bookstore, and gallery, it presents a thoughtful and original take on how we live and how we feed our curiosity. Its evocative name, incidentally, is that of Alek Therien, a “mysterious French-Canadian woodchopper whom Thoreau considered his closest friend,” says Ellwood.

Heeding the Catskills’ Call

Though A.THERIEN opened two years ago, in many ways, all paths had been leading Ellwood to the launch for years. Having spent his childhood summers with relatives in the Catskills, he fell in love with the area, mystified by the mountains and foggy valleys.

chair and desk

While he pursued a career that spanned rare books, art, and fashion in New York City, he began searching for a place hidden away in the Hudson Valley. About 15 years ago, he stumbled upon an old stone farmhouse in Cornwallville that had been built by an inventor in 1900. The fact that it was completely intact and untouched by renovation made it all the more desirable to him, and he scraped together his pennies to buy it.

“It’s always been my workshop for carefully evolving an interior environment, respecting nature and the aspects of creation,” he says. “But after 15 years, my house outgrew its potential to do that, and I knew I would have to open some kind of other space.”

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Ellwood admits that he’s always been harvesting objects and books that would someday be shared. “These were special things I wanted in the orbit of my life somehow, but not just to keep to myself,” he notes. He had been stockpiling a library in a singular way: “Whenever possible, I’ve always bought artists’ books in triplicate,” he explains. “One to keep, one to give, one to eventually offer.”

A.THERIEN house furnishings

Covid, despite all its ravages, provided Ellwood with an opportunity to concoct a place for all these lovingly collected objects to finally greet their public. In spring of 2020, the pandemic paused his NYC career in photography and book production, and upstate became his homebase. With a friend and neighbor, who has since moved on to other projects, he hatched the idea of putting all his favorite things—furniture, objects, art, and a design studio practice—into one space that would embrace his distinctive sense of style.

Off the Beaten Path

He didn’t want to follow the usual route of opening a store on the main street of a quaint and well-groomed village. Rather, he chose a spot that, he says, “is on a working farm on a rural highway, outside of town and place. There’s an element of surprise and discovery. Many people daytrip to visit.”

A.THERIEN flowers

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When he opened his doors, he was excited to find a steady flow of visitors. Some had heard there were shelves of rare books and volumes of art and photography. Others saw his Instagram feed (@atherien_upstate) and programmed their GPS. The urge to explore is understandable. A.THERIEN’s style is unique and unpredictable. “Vernacular furniture and utilitarian objects of early American farms and homes drive my interest,” says Ellwood, “along with the transitional ‘cusp movements’: mid-20th century French and American modern to ‘70s Italian design that embraced antiquity and industrial minimalism.”

interior decor

How does this translate into what is available for purchase? At any given moment, a Florence Knoll settee from the 1950s might be happily mixing things up with an 1880s quilt. Ellwood also stocks utilitarian items like glazed stoneware storage jars, and sculptural chopping blocks. These sorts of objects, when recontextualized, reveal a beauty and geometry worthy of the spotlight. “I look for authenticity with a minimal amount of intervention, where the material or form carries the narrative,” explains Ellwood, who is always hunting for new treasures. He spends his free time exploring old roads and foraging for interesting objects, perhaps with his dog, Hamish, in tow.

Creating Community

A.THERIEN has happily become a gathering spot for lifelong area residents who are intrigued by antiques and like to stop by, share, and learn. “Greene County is a perfect home for farmers to live next to artists in unfussy harmony,” observes Ellwood.

And visitors get drawn into the design dialogue. For instance, Ellwood had collected a few defunct wasp nests from his property over the years. He decided to display them so their intricate architecture could be appreciated. “One day, a woman came by with a truck full of wasp nests. She had been amazed to see them here, given their own special consideration, and wanted her nests to join mine,” he says. “She was so happy to have them land where they were loved that she was in tears.”

These interactions resonate deeply for Ellwood. As his work evolves to include interiors projects and developing small-edition furniture pieces, it’s the shared experiences that fuel him. He’s committed, he says, to “always having an open door—aesthetically and literally—to objects and to conversation, and always being warm and welcoming.” Mission accomplished.

Related: How Many of These Hudson Valley Bucket List Spots Have You Visited?

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