White Out

A rundown farmhouse in Columbia County gets a New England-style makeover on the outside and Scandinavian redo on the inside.



White Out

 

Swedish country style and New England architecture peacefully coexist in the Germantown home of David and Martina  Arfwidson Weiss    

 

by Jorge S. Arango Photographs by Randall Perry

 

 

 

It¡¯s as much a clich¨¦ as it is an unwavering truth that marriage requires compromise. But when the subject turned to paint colors and d¨¦cor, the relationship between David and Martina Arfwidson Weiss required something resembling surrender.

 

Martina, president of the cosmetics company Face Stockholm, was raised in Sweden. ¡°It¡¯s dark there,¡± she observes, ¡°so our colors are whites, grays, taupes, and sages.¡± Plus, she works around vivid colors all day, so when it comes to her home, she favors less intense shades. As for furniture, she admits to a weakness for the simplified neoclassical lines and whitewashed woods of late 18th-century pieces.

 

Martina met David while dining at his restaurants ¡ª Santa Fe in Tivoli and Max¡¯s Memphis BBQ in Red Hook, both in Dutchess County. When she started dating him three and a half years ago, she says, ¡°All the walls in his place were painted yellow. I just wanted to cry.¡±

 

Raised in Vermont, the son of a potter (his mother Joan, whose work is inspired by early Etruscan wares), David¡¯s predilections run toward bright folk art and crafts. He has a particular passion for textiles from Mexico, Central America, and North Africa. ¡°I had a sophisticated color palette before we met,¡± he jokes as he plants a kiss on his wife¡¯s lovely face.

 

Even if you weren¡¯t standing in the blizzard of white that surrounds them, that statement would tell you who won out on this particular issue. ¡°He has been very generous in shedding all his Mexican art and letting me play with my white and black furniture,¡± Martina says appreciatively.

 

Their home in Germantown, Columbia County, is not the couple¡¯s only foray into predominantly white living, but its d¨¦cor differs decidedly from the first one ¡ª a large Georgian house in Selkirk, near Albany. ¡°That was my dream house,¡± says Martina. ¡°I drooled when I saw it.¡± Unfortunately, they soon realized that their furnishings, acquired while living in farmhouses, didn¡¯t fit within its grand rooms. ¡°All my small cottage furniture was suddenly out of proportion,¡± says Martina. Additionally, she remembers,

¡°I¡¯ve never felt so alone; it was too far away.¡± Her commute between Selkirk and Face Stockholm¡¯s offices in Hudson (and several stores in New York) was grueling, and David found it hard to keep an eye on his restaurants, which were considerably south and clear across the river.

 

 

What finally tipped the scales was another of marriage¡¯s great compromising agents: a child. Deciding they would need a more manageable home for Theodore Arfwidson Weiss, who was born last May, the couple sold their dream house and moved into a place David had been refurbishing for resale at Sharps Landing in Germantown. When the couple first met, he was living next door to the derelict property. ¡°I¡¯m attracted to houses that have been neglected and have so much potential,¡± he says.

 

As a child, David Weiss had dreamed of being an architect. With his restaurants established and running smoothly, he shed his chef¡¯s whites and started Clay Hill Properties, an architectural design and construction company that also buys and renovates properties in the Hudson Valley. He decided to complete the Germantown house for his own soon-to-be-larger family.

 

¡°I think the best thing about the design of the Sharps house is that it brought me back to my Vermont roots,¡± explains David. ¡°I have been obsessed for years with classical and Palladian architectural forms, and Sharps Landing was just a tiny mess of a farmhouse. It had no symmetry at all.¡± The solution he settled on, he says, ¡°referenced the long, interconnected farm buildings of my hometown of Chester. Those houses would be built just large enough to keep in a cow or two, then they¡¯d add on as the family grew. They continually changed.¡±

 

The building had been poorly enlarged in the 1950s with an addition that was rotting off the side of the original turn-of-the-century structure. Its angle was odd too, and not oriented toward the spectacular views of the Hudson River. David remedied this by removing most of the addition, erecting a larger annex, and canting it 30 degrees from the original farmhouse. What had been a dark den became an airy, expansive kitchen, next to which David added a loft-like living room topped by a master bedroom and bath.

Huge windows and French doors on both sides of the new addition flood the spaces with light. ¡°I always wanted to live in a greenhouse,¡± says Martina, with obvious excitement.

 

¡°And the light here is just out of control!¡± Inside, the house is, of course, primarily different shades of white. The wide-plank floors are painted lichen gray-green and there are accents of black (a round neoclassical coffee table, enormous ballroom mirrors, an old card catalog) and natural woods (an entryway cabinet, an eight-foot farm table, and chairs in the kitchen).

 

¡°I forbid him to paint the walls,¡± says Martina, with mock sternness.

 

¡°The one thing we could agree on,¡± adds David, ¡°was the beauty and depth of unpainted rough plaster.¡± So the walls were washed in a white plaster compound called Structolite.

The white helps highlight Martina¡¯s fondness for aged textures, such as the crackled paint of an old mirror frame or the curved metal wire of a lacy chandelier. The furnishings ¡ª sturdy country pieces and sofas and chairs slip-covered in white cotton ¡ª are minimal and utilitarian, a concession to baby Theodore.

 

 

In fact, the arrival of Theodore forced his parents to reconsider some of their positions on design ¡ª Swedish, New England, and otherwise. ¡°Before I had a child, I would never have thought about convenience,¡± says Martina. ¡°Now conveniences are just lovely.¡± She has new appreciation for the space her husband built behind the kitchen that serves as mudroom, pantry, laundry quarters, flower-cutting room, and a place to stash dirty dishes when entertaining guests. And she is reconsidering carpets, which she has never particularly liked. ¡°Theo¡¯s always on the floor,¡± she notes.

 

The new configuration of this small family has also pointed up unforeseen impracticalities with David¡¯s longhouse concept. The nearest bedroom to the master lies beyond living room, kitchen, and upstairs entry hall, so for now Theo sleeps in a crib next to their bed. ¡°It would also be nice,¡± muses Martina, ¡°to have the kitchen further away from the master bedroom so one of you can sleep while the other is feeding the baby.¡±

For now, though, they¡¯ve decided to work with what they have. ¡°Theo¡¯s needs seem to change fairly quickly,¡± says David, ¡°and we¡¯re so inexperienced as parents.¡±

 

Other compromises, and perhaps a few surrenders, are surely in store. ¡ö

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