A 19th-Century Upstate New York Farmhouse Gets a Makeover—’90s Italian Villa Style

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For one bicoastal family, an 1870s farmhouse in Germantown, New York, seemed like the ideal place to spend their summers. The small, bucolic town, with its creative community and stunning views of the Hudson River, would offer a quiet reprieve from buzzing Los Angeles. The only thing standing between them and a blissful July in the countryside was a full renovation of the historic home.

The family reenlisted Tandem Design, the studio that had overhauled their primary residence and two of their office spaces, to update the dwelling’s traditional interiors—but they didn’t provide a specific brief. “Our client said, ‘Just surprise me,’” remembers founder Jessica Hansen, who assigned the project to her East Coast–based designer Shelley Young. “We built up enough trust, having worked with them so much, so I let Shelley go for it.”

Shelley settled on a ’90s Italian villa aesthetic, but she still sought to maintain as many original features as possible. She restored the nail-filled pine floors, the rustic wood ceiling beams, and the ornate banister along the staircase. She also kept the antique wood stove, the pedestal bathroom sinks, and the clawfoot tub.

When it came to sourcing finishes and furniture, Shelley primarily shopped vintage, local, black-owned, and made-to-order. “I try not to purchase anything new or modern unless it needs to be there from a functional point of view,” she explains, citing the West Elm pull-out sofa in the TV room as an example. “I wanted to balance the comforts and the luxury of a hotel with personal touches and wabi-sabi. When things come out imperfectly, it’s okay. Vintage lends itself to that. There are imperfections, but that provides warmth.”

In the living room, Shelley juxtaposed an ivory velour Chesterfield sofa with postmodern gems like a Robert Sonneman Torchiere Floor Lamp, a glass-and-wood side table, and a set of Zanotta lounge chairs with cushions that look like wafer cookies. She commissioned custom Scottish Lion iron curtain rods and peppered the hemp rug with French wood stools instead of a coffee table. “I didn’t want to soak up the space with a huge piece,” she reasons. “They can be used to set glasses on, to sit on, for kids to color on. There’s a lot of flexibility.”

The nearby kitchen is anchored by eye-catching revolution wave quartzite countertops. The graphic, rust-hued stone is paired with a Clé natural zellige tile backsplash and custom maple cabinet fronts that Shelley adorned with mismatched vintage metal pulls and wood handles fashioned from the single original beam that had to be removed in construction.

Shelley curated a compelling dining area by hanging a 1970s Hustadt-Leuchten suspension lamp above a custom pine dining table by Brooklyn carpenter Zachary German. It’s surrounded by six 1960s Kazuhide Takahama Tulu Chairs and two Baleri Italia chairs. “I love mixing and matching chairs, just for a little personality,” she says. “The ones on the long ends of the table and at the heads are different, but are all black leather and chrome, from the same era.”

Wood dominates the primary bedroom, where vintage burl nightstands flank a custom platform bed and a craft-slatted sculptural high-back chair is pulled up to a walnut-toned desk. A new closet with an undulating red oak valance and dark-stained birch doors completes the earthy look. “Birch is such a basic wood, but I was like, ‘Well, we can have respect for birch. Let’s see if it takes the stain well.’ And it did,” she says.

The two kids’ rooms are youthful yet sophisticated. A vintage robot divider turned headboard, pyramid-shaped Yves Saint Laurent display shelves, and a 1970s Gijs Boelaars Lundi-Sit chair (that resembles a rocket ship) are the highlights of the primary-colored boy’s room. Meanwhile, vintage blue wicker beds, patchwork quilts, and a French armoire with a hand-painted bow make for a sweet girl’s room.

Both bathrooms evoke a Mediterranean spa, with brass accents and elaborate tile work. Upstairs, large terra-cotta floor tiles mingle with 1930s Herman Busquet sconces and a luxurious shower made of arched windows and sandy bricks. Downstairs, matte and glossy zellige tiles come together for a playful checkerboard pattern. A custom wavy oak medicine cabinet only adds to the fun.

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