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Despite its romantic name, Rose Cottage seemed more like something out of an old horror movie — neglected, deserted and hidden away on 60 wildly overgrown acres in Orange County, New York. The stone house, built in 1847, was unlikely to appeal to the faint-of-heart.“It looked like a haunted house,” recalls Guy Clark, the Manhattan-based interior designer who first came across it six years ago. “There were trees engulfing it, vines were growing through the windows and into the attic, the front porch was falling off, and nothing worked.” And then there were the squatters: squirrels had chewed the windowsills, bats had invaded the attic, and 17 big snakes had set up camp in the dirt-floored cellar. Read on to see how Clark and his partner, fashion designer Harrison Morgan restored this New York farmhouse to its former luster.

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The house had certainly seen better days. Originally, it was built for a prosperous gentleman farmer named Seth Green, who was so proud of his new possession that he had his name carved into the stone on an exterior wall. His builder, C. Wilkison, incised his own name, too. In the 1990s, it was owned by an eccentric folk singer named Carolina Manchester -Casperson, aka Sara, who added a studio and a guest house, both featuring hand-forged hardware, antique glass and timber salvaged from old barns. Surprisingly, she tore out half of the heating system in the main house in an apparent effort to live like a 19th-century farmer. Subsequent owners included the British designer, Laura Ashley, and famed makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin.

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By the time Clark and Morgan assumed ownership, the property presented a formidable “to-do” list. For starters, they had to clear the home of dirt, debris and wildlife. They ripped vines off the house, replaced the roof (the old tin one was rusting) and added new plumbing and electrical wiring. They also rebuilt the fireplaces, re-pointed the stones (both inside and out) and resurrected the porch. Some of the home’s finer features were worth saving, including the stenciled chestnut floors and the marble-and-slate fireplace surrounds. In the spacious kitchen, stenciled floors, hand-hewn beams, stone walls and a wide fireplace create a very welcoming country feel. Clark brightened the overall effect by using historically accurate wallpaper over the dark, drab paneling. Rustic cabinetry hides top-of-the-line modern appliances. Other touches, like the hot pink Jacuzzi in an upstairs bath and the mauve wallpaper in the master bedroom, were gone in a flash.

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Light was definitely a problem, as the house was quite dark. The kitchen, with its wood paneling, stone walls and small windows, was particularly gloomy. The solution? Wallpaper. “I wallpapered over most of the paneling with a historical wallpaper by Schumacher,” Clark explains. “The off-white background really added light to the room.” In the dining room, they applied nine coats of linen-white paint to the angled and paneled deep-set windows. Now, light bounces off the wood and into the room, just as the builder intended. Clark and Morgan also installed skylights in the third-floor bedrooms, flooding the spaces with sunlight.

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In the basement, site of the original kitchen, they covered the dirt floor with cement and painted the stone walls and ceilings white, creating an exercise room, as well as a studio for the sweaters Morgan designs.

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In the living room, Clark chose a lively blue-and-white Schumacher wallpaper pattern to camouflage the fact that the space used to be two separate rooms, each with its own style of windows, doors and trim. “It’s beautiful,” says Clark of the blue and white paper, “but it also distracts the eye from looking at the room’s architectural flaws.”

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The outbuildings required much less work. “We did put new kitchens in both of them and painted the trim with a dark stain to match the aged cedar outside,” notes Clark. He and Morgan often use the studio building for their multiple areas of design work. The two-story guest house, once the furniture is removed to clear a dance floor, is perfect for their big parties. (Every year they invite 100’s of people to celebrate the house’s birthday.)

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The landscaping was also very chaotic. Years of neglect had obscured carriage trails and the once-thriving apple orchard. “We are constantly finding more apple trees in the woods,” says Clark. The biggest fans of those trees are probably the countless number of  rescue horses that happily romp across the property’s pastures. The varying breeds of horses will gladly come running at the prospect of a piece of fruit.

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Though designing big-city apartments is the mainstay of Clark’s livelihood, he prefers working on old houses. “They have so much more soul,” he explains. “I do it hoping to save the house, to give it life again.”

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As far as Rose Cottage goes, he and Morgan have indeed given it new life. They did it, says Clark, by channeling their respective talents and enthusiasms. Whether it’s designing clothes, jewelry, furniture or interiors, it’s all part of the same process. “All these things are just outlets for our creative energy.”

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22 Responses

  1. Beautymarx says:

    What a completely beautiful house! You've done a gorgeous job!

  2. MARIA LUISA / FL says:

    "PRECIOSA" Thank you for sharing such a serene and warm work of love

  3. Guy Clark says:

    Thank you all for your lovely postings!
    We have just listed Rose Cottage for sale, and hope to be finding another "project" in our area to restore and bring the rescue horses too as well. Anyone that wants more nformation can email me at decoratorguy@aol.com thanks! GUY

  4. Eastman5 says:

    I wonder what happened to the ATTIC!
    I believe it use to house a very important Hollywood collection of one sort or another!!
    It truly is a vision to behold. The kitchen has a stone sink that is not to be missed and the overall
    feeling of the house is Historic MY FAVORITE! For those of you who love flowers there is a trumpet flowered tree outside the kitchen that captivates the soul with its bright red flowers. Don't miss the fire-palce in the kitchen it will transport you to another era. If your lucky enough to visit the property do not miss the 3rd house. on the back pourch there is a old spinning wheel that was used to sharpen knives–well as you see I could go on for as many years as the house is standing but I shall not. Oh before I forget that driveway is so long and all those branches that fall after a wind storm– the snow drifts–my my:)

    • Guy Clark says:

      Hi Eastman 5
      Who are you??? :)

      • Eastman5 says:

        Hey Guy its Joey!

        I will be moving to Las Vegas Jan 2012.
        Do you still have any of my funiture that you are willing to part with?

        I see that your house is up for sale ,good luck and remember Mrs Jones is looking down wishing you the very best.

        Joey

        • Guy says:

          Joey!
          You are moving to Vegas? WOW ..How do you know this 2 years in advance?? I take one day at a time these days…its so much easlier.
          So all the fun green furniture went to a nice young man and his daughter that were starting out in a new life and had nothing. At least you know that it went to good use.
          Life continues to improve with me, as I hope it does for you too.
          Write me at decoratorguy@aol.com if you would like to keep up. I speak to Brenda once in a while and she is much the same, but calmer.
          Best wishes, with fond memories…
          GUY

  5. MICHAEL says:

    JUST FOUNDTHIS love to see house isstill being cared for
    I WORKED ON HOUSE FOR 2 OWENERS
    WE DID WORK LAST IN90S
    MICHAEL CLINTON

  6. Guy says:

    The house was also features on open House New York, <a href="http://www.NBCNewyork.com,” target=”_blank”>www.NBCNewyork.com, and the hit Swedish TV series ALLT FOR SVERIGE

  7. boilers says:

    excellent blog! big follow of your writing

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