One of the most potent yet unheralded tools in a designer’s arsenal is restraint. Consider the case of the stately Gothic Revival manse that interior designer Ghislaine Viñas recently reimagined for longtime clients with adventurous tastes in contemporary art and design. Set on nearly 100 acres of rolling hills and spectacular trees in the bucolic village of Tivoli, New York, hard by the Hudson River, the stately 6,500-square-foot house was built in 1850 and fully restored a decade ago by Trimble Architecture, with landscape design by Pamela Burton. “I was flabbergasted by the beauty of the property,” Viñas recalls her first visit to the site. “The house was meticulously renovated, and the structure was in fine shape, so we had to determine what changes were really necessary.”
Ultimately, Viñas and her clients decided to tread lightly. “At first, we thought about switching the crisp, white paint to something a little softer. But the experience of the house is so much about the majesty of the land, and the white made such a nice foil to the lush vegetation and trees, we just went with it,” the designer explains. She and the homeowners likewise chose to maintain many of the home’s interior appointments, including an array of steel-framed beds, sisal carpets, and oatmeal-colored linen curtains. “Everything was very quiet and simple, perfect for the setting, so we kept it all. Honestly, this house didn’t need a lot,” Viñas adds.
Still, there was work to be done to align the complexion and character of the formidable dwelling with the frolicsome spirit of her clients. For that, Viñas relied on subtle splashes of color—primarily soft greens and blues inspired by the landscape—as well as bold contemporary artworks and modern furnishings alternately cheeky and seductive. Take, for example, the Moooi pig table that greets visitors in the foyer. “It’s such a jolly piece. It immediately puts people at ease and says, ‘Let’s have some fun here,’” the designer notes.
The attic bedroom offered another opportunity for a lighthearted coup de théâtre. Always game for a bit of decorative derring-do, Viñas wrapped the walls and ceiling of the space in a graphic Gucci paper emblazoned with lion’s heads. “It’s super granny, bordering on hideously ugly. But we loved that crazy-granny-in-the-attic vibe,” she says. Viñas accented the outré composition with a Gucci cat-print chair and a framed Catskills poster (with a cat head, naturally) created by graphic design maestro Milton Glaser as part of his work for the New York Board of Tourism.
Indeed, for all the porcine tables and Studio Job breast-form sconces and neon-orange Tom Dixon stools, the real soul of the residence is animated by the homeowners’ wide-ranging art collection, which encompasses works by a diverse roster of artists working in various media. A massive Jill Greenberg photograph of a bald eagle—a direct nod to the wildlife on the property—commands the dining room. The juxtaposition of a set of Kehinde Wiley portrait plates with a traditional 19th-century portrait painting—the sort of artwork that might have belonged to the home’s original owner, Eugene Augustus Livingston—makes a sly commentary on the changing definition of gentry over the past 200 years. Adding to the merry mix, a suite of photographer Henry Hargreaves’s images of contenders in Key West’s annual Ernest Hemingway lookalike contest adorns a stairwell.
“We share a love of whimsy with Ghislaine, but we were much more restrained in our choices than in our previous projects together. Basically, we added plenty of pops of color and interest without obliterating the character of the house,” one of the homeowners insists. “Many people over many years have touched this property. We think of ourselves as custodians of this historic place, and we’re incredibly grateful to steward it for the future.”