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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.”
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.”