New England Classic
A personal perspective inspires designer Annie Selke’s renovation of her traditional Berkshires home
The hilltop colonial in Lenox, Massachusetts, was a spot designer and author Annie Selke knew well. “I lived in a midcentury-modern house down the street,” she explains. But the familiarity went further: Selke’s mother had resided in the home during the last 10 years of her life. Partly out of sentimentality and partly out of pride—her mother had been a master gardener, and Selke couldn’t bear to see her careful labor undone—she decided to purchase the house and renovate it to suit her own refined aesthetic.
The challenge (and the fun) began once she and architect John Gilmer had taken the place down to the studs. The experienced remodeling duo had collaborated on her midcentury property, a process that had been the subject of a yearlong series in House Beautiful. “I’m very familiar with studs,” Selke says with a laugh. The pair envisioned an open floor plan, a new master suite, and an indoor-outdoor sensibility that would take advantage of the natural surroundings. Luckily, as a consummate flea-market shopper and home decor entrepreneur, Selke, founder of the textile companies Pine Cone Hill and Dash & Albert and the decor line Fresh American, had little trouble outfitting the interiors with pieces from her personal collection. The result is a retreat where she can relax and recharge—with three dogs and a small lifestyle empire at her feet.
1. Establish the Mood “After my mother died, I found a Filofax in which she articulated what she wanted to feel when she entered the house,” says the designer. “Now I’d say everyone should do that. Decide what you want the house to convey before you start.”
2. Come Together “[Before the renovation] you had to walk though the front hall to get to the living room and sitting room, so they weren’t used that often,” says Selke. With Gilmer’s help, she opened up the floor plan and removed two obtrusive fireplaces so the living room, dining room, and kitchen would all flow easily into one another.
3. Raise the Roof In dismantling the closed-off layout, Selke and Gilmer discovered that the low entry ceiling wasn’t load-bearing. “We took that out and opened it all up,“ she says. Now the foyer features a space age–inspired light fixture and a gallery wall that pays homage to its four-legged residents—basset-hound puppies Googie and Impy, and a Clumber spaniel named Emmet.
4. Cater to the Crowd When planning a room’s decor, “consider who’s using it and what the space requires to function,” Selke counsels. The vintage Harvey Probber sofa in the living room is upholstered in a durable Clarence House indoor-outdoor fabric, because, as she confesses, “the dogs sit in there more than I do.”
5. Go Beyond the Pale Selke keeps most things neutral in the main living areas. “I work with color all day long,” she explains, so the muted rooms act as a palate cleanser. She created depth and interest by layering patterns (the cowhide on the pillows and wingback chair is paired with a gridded rug) and textures—a rich black leather on the ottoman, for example, with a sleek Nublado marble on the hearth.
6. Take It with You The dining room’s de Gournay panels had covered the walls in one of the designer’s previous homes, a Victorian farmhouse. After checking that the new owners didn’t intend to keep them, she had them removed and mounted on boards for reuse here.
7. Carve Out a Refuge Selke and Gilmer transformed the original living room into the spacious master suite of Selke’s dreams. A new addition houses a bath and walk-in closet. “It sounds diva-esque, but I travel a lot so I wanted it to be an everyday haven,” she says. Gilmer found the circa-1930, hand-painted chinoiserie panels in a Palm Springs, California, antiques shop and used them to underscore the boudoir-like mood.
8. Reinvent Favorite Pieces The floral-patterned sofa in the guest room with the ivory bed hangings had been in Selke’s mother’s house when she was growing up. “She always said, Buy a really good one and keep recovering it. In my life it’s had five different outfits; now it’s a Benison fabric from two houses ago.”
9. Build from the Ground Up “Because I’m in the rug business, I often start a scheme based on a rug,” says Selke. Such was the case in the aforementioned guest room, where a plaid Bunny Williams design sets a feminine tone.
10. Get Back to Nature Selke felt that the home’s previously white exterior stood out too much in its hilltop location, so she resurfaced the facade in poplar-bark siding. “It lasts at least 75 years and allows the garden to take center stage,” says the designer. She selected a standing-seam style for the roof so as not to add a competing texture.