A mere four months after meeting my now husband, Jeremy, I found myself stomping through knee-deep snow to check out a big white house on a hill in Millbrook, New York. Boasting 100 acres of fields and woods, two ponds, a creek, and tons of furry residents, the property had a winter coat that left a lot to the imagination. But Jeremy and I were falling in love and feeling just a little bit crazy. I still don’t know why I didn’t immediately run back to my TriBeCa rental. But like all great love stories, the house, which we called Whiskey Ridge, required diving in blindly, headfirst.
A blistering summer day six months later proved to be the end of the honeymoon, both for our relationship and our new home. I cried hysterically on move-in day when we discovered that not only was there no internet in the house, but it was also impossible to run the cables up the mile-long driveway. As the digital editor of Harper’s Bazaar, being offline was career suicide. How did we not think to ask about the Wi-Fi? Country houses, it seems, suffer no fools.
My obsessive interest in interiors and passion for fashion was also sorely outmatched by a complete lack of home-improvement experience—a liability in renovating 7,000 square feet of historic architecture. (The home was an amalgam of three 19th-century structures that had been moved to the site in the 1980s from Syracuse, New York.)
My 13 years as a fashion editor should have prepared me to carefully, meticulously, and tastefully curate a home. But my Pinterest boards were all over the place. Was my vibe rustic, modern, traditional, eclectic, or bohemian? Was my preference for all white or all color? I loved both. I needed help. Not to mention: My husband. Had. Opinions. He works in mergers and acquisitions; I was up against a professional.
Gregory Shano, a former Gap executive turned interior designer at Steven Gambrel’s firm, swept in to the rescue. He helped me focus on room layouts, eschewing trends for furniture and fabrics that would last. He was also a huge supporter of my growing wallpaper habit. Shano really should have charged us for couples’ therapy as I pushed my husband to take design risks while he urged me to prioritize comfort. We ended up doing a little bit of both.
Today, whenever I arrive at our upstate getaway, the front door painted in a cherry-red lacquer signals a relaxing weekend ahead. It opens onto an entry hall hung with a trio of Moorish-style lanterns from Granada, Spain, that I found during an internet deep dive. Below them is a handcrafted bench by Sawkille, a woodworking studio in nearby Rhinebeck that we wandered into one day after brunch.
We ditched the formal dining room, transforming the space into a blue barroom hung with wildlife paintings by Jeff Gandert, my husband’s uncle, who handcrafts his own frames at his studio in southwestern Ohio. The sunroom—a squirrel-watching spot for our goldendoodle, Isla—is vivid with color and a riot of fabrics, from a Jane Churchill batik motif to a Harlequin butterflies print.
With Shano’s help, the house began to materialize as the perfect expression of my mind’s desires—a modern mix of rustic cool with nods to my fierce love of pattern and art. And for my husband, it became a great house for a party.
Selina van der Geest, a local friend and eclectic interiors wizard, was the vision behind our glorious new kitchen. (She later designed the nursery and master bedroom.) We renovated the old kitchen after tiring of its wood paneling and lack of windows. The finished product, a sexy blue-and-brass cooking haven with gorgeous natural light, felt like a design triumph. We definitely splurged on key details throughout the whole process: Biedermeier candlesticks from our wedding tabletop were the finishing touch on both our collective sanity and budget.
The luxe bohemian master bedroom features my favorite carpet in the house— Alexander McQueen’s Monarch Fire— a luxury I relish every time I step out of bed onto the plush work of art. I was looking for something to push me out of the blues territory and have always been enamored with the work of Sarah Burton. The dramatic motif came from her first fashion collection after Lee’s death and introduced me to the exciting possibilities of fiery orange.
And about that wallpaper fetish: The hours logged online to find just the right patterns—a classic toile modernized in graphic black and white, a chinoiserie parrot print now enjoyed during every soak in my tub, a whimsical forest mural for the nursery—I will never get back, but the pleasure of the search was its own reward.
Enjoying the land is the real bliss. Lilacs, hydrangeas, and peonies signify the beginning of summer and days spent by the pool; pear and peach trees round out the warmer months; pink and orange foliage (and firepits) mean fall has arrived. Then the ponds freeze over and the fields go white for winter sledding and snowshoeing—or, if I’m being honest, snuggling up under my collection of Alicia Adams alpaca throws by the fire with a glass of wine or whiskey.
Here, we are surrounded by our favorite things—art and furniture that spark memories of our life together. There are the living room’s fluffy (and slightly ridiculous) Carlo Mollino shearling stools, purchased at John Salibello before I even had a sofa to sit on; the vintage cowhide chairs, once deemed un-sittable by my husband; and the wall-size photograph of Cash Meier Barn in Nebraska by Andrew Moore, which we bought to celebrate our first Christmas as a couple. A pair of red Adirondack chairs, picked up on the side of a road, now perch on the ridge where Jeremy asked me to marry him.
Meanwhile, my latest design addition is a reflection of where we are headed: an Amish-made southern-pine swing, where we plan to spend countless summer hours outside with our baby girl, Sienna Jane.
This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of ELLE Decor.
As Executive Editorial Director of HarpersBAZAAR.com, Joyann King has ushered America's first fashion magazine into an era of digital excellence. A decade overseeing the website, social media and video platforms, and special product launches like Bazaar Bride and digital covers has garnered her and her team critical recognition. In 2015, she was named one of Adweek’s New Publishers to Watch. King can be seen on ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS discussing trends and the ever-changing relationship of technology and fashion. She was previously an editor at InStyle.com, ELLE.com, Glamour.com, and SELF.com. When she's not plugged in, the Texas native can be found relaxing with her family in upstate New York.