After completing work on a historic property, perhaps there is no greater honor for a design firm than the just reaction. Did they just paint the walls? just move the furniture around? “When you look at our photos, you’re wondering, Geez, what did you even do?” says Rafe Churchill, cofounder and creative director of architecture at Hendricks Churchill, a firm based in Sharon, Connecticut. “Our goal, anytime we go into an old house, is to do it in a way that it looks like we weren’t there.”
The firm, who will have a book of their work out this fall from Rizzoli, applied this philosophy extensively while working on a 10,000-square-foot property for a multigenerational family in Dutchess County, New York. The client, who is only the fourth person to own the 265-year-old house, was looking for the designers to honor the history of the home and restore it to its most natural state. “They did not want somebody to come in and whitewash it and erase all of the architectural details that had been so well preserved by, basically, doing nothing,” Heide Hendricks, the firm’s cofounder and director of interior design, says. Put more simply: They wanted the house to look and feel old.
Architecturally, the project hinged on re-centering. “We wanted to strip it back to its original vocabulary and speak that language,” explains Churchill. “With every owner of the home, there were a few things added and a few things changed, and sometimes you can’t even begin to understand why.” The home was expanded in 1900, which added a certain dramatic flair to the restoration, since, as Churchill explains, it was like working with two houses. “We started peeling away layers to identify the prominent millwork profiles and find what makes sense to utilize somewhere else,” he says. His team, of course, also added some of the less glamorous—but imperative—upgrades. (Think mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC system updates.)
For Hendricks’s part, the interior designer sourced most of the furnishings for the house from vintage and antiques shops. “Historically, with each steward of the house, all the furniture would just get turned over to the next owner,” Hendricks explains. While the most recent seller ultimately ended up taking most of the decor, the designer tried to honor that it’s-been-here-forever look: A 1940s French oak dining table sits in the parlor next to a collection of 19th-century Belgian chairs, while a vintage JW Stick and Ball coffee table and antique secretary desk anchor the living room. Even the more modern additions, like an RH sofa in the parlor, were selected to convey a lived-in aesthetic.
Curiously, the bedrooms tell a different story. “That’s where they’d typically swap stuff out,” Hendricks says of previous owners. As more personal spaces, it was common for sellers to take their bed sets and dressers and for new owners to move theirs in, meaning with every generation of owners, the sleeping quarters got a little more modern. “In order to maintain that authenticity, we deployed the same approach,” Hendricks says.
While much of the project was more about dusting off than reimagining, there is one large difference in the newly updated house: the finished basement. Once a sandpit, it marries the best of both Hendrick’s interiors and Churchill’s architecture. Accessible only through a disguised wardrobe, the Negroni Room, as the cellar has been named, is the adult escape for the multigenerational family. “We added the stained glass window in there because that view is of the underside of the porch, and it wasn’t so pretty to look at,” Hendricks adds. “But at the same time, those parameters led to a wonderful design accent.” Furnishings that had been collected throughout the length of the project were used to fill the stone-clad, secret room in the home.
As the duo step back from the home and the family officially moves in, the designers have their own interpretation for that just reaction. “It’s an honor to be involved in a legacy project,” Hendricks says. “We feel like we’ve been tapped on the shoulder, and we just helped this house along into the next generation.”