Dufner Heighes Transforms a Historic House in Pelham, New York into a Modern Family Home
Flip back a page, please. Now, kick up your feet, relax—here, have a cocktail—and observe this intriguing wood-paneled room: the resolutely leafy view, that groovy triangular window, the serene quiet, the vintage-heavy furniture scheme. Bet you think this is the living room of some cozy ’70’s-mod cabin on a remote rural plot, right? Well, surprise! In fact, this is the second-floor sitting room of a painstakingly preserved century-old Edwardian-style manse within shouting distance (although please don’t; the baby’s sleeping) of the Bronx.
Dufner Heighes was the firm tasked with future-proofing the historic Pelham, New York, house for a growing family. The 7,100-square-foot dwelling has an intriguing back story. Previous owners include the island nation of Barbados, which used it as an embassy, and a Coca-Cola executive who frequently hosted President Eisenhower there back in the 1950s. Another head of state, George Washington, reportedly stayed on the property, too, in a structure that once stood on this abode’s exact footprint. That provenance piqued the interest of Erica Holborn, CEO of Sandow Design Group (Interior Design’s parent company) and a self-professed real-estate enthusiast. “I’m a house-with-a-story person,” she admits.
When Holborn and her husband, Andrew, first saw the property listing, they deemed the eight-bedroom too big for their needs. Fast forward a year later. Their Dufner Heighes–designed Sutton Place apartment was getting a bit too snug for their expanding family (especially with WFH in the mix), and their upstate getaway, a 1970’s A-frame designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégés, was too far from the city for full-time residency. Plus, the Holborns got an offer on the latter that they couldn’t refuse. So when the price dropped on the Pelham place around the same time, they finally took a look—and were sold.
Among the structure’s many attributes was that it had been pristinely restored, from the oak millwork to the original hardware. “It was a perfect situation, because the previous owners had updated a few things, like the kitchen, but restored everything else—stripping layers of paint off moldings and all that stuff no one wants to deal with,” notes Daniel Heighes Wismer, firm copartner with Greg Dufner. In short, it was practically turnkey. Early site visits suggested the project would be primarily decorative and cosmetic: reupholstering some existing furnishings, buying new items to fill in a few gaps, replacing antique light fixtures with more modern designs, updating cabinetry, hanging artwork. Midway through planning the new kitchen, however, it became apparent the current footprint was underscaled for the size of the house and had an awkward, dinky island unsuited to cooking and dining. “During one of our meetings with the team from Bilotta, with whom we were designing the kitchen,” Wismer recalls, “someone questioned whether we could tear down a wall to annex the adjoining butler’s pantry—and that changed everything,” necessitating plumbing and electrical rerouting plus new structural steel. “My dream has always been to have a butler’s pantry,” Holborn sighs. “And then I finally buy a house with one—and promptly take it out!”
The monthslong renovation was well worth it. The new scheme is much brighter and airier, with a long Arabescato Corchia marble island that seats four, plus a window-wrapped breakfast nook. Dufner Heighes deployed two patterns of Artistic Tile terrazzo flooring, one incorporating marble chips, to create area rug–like accents that delineate spatial zones. Shaker-style cabinetry is simpatico with the period architecture yet modern enough to suit the décor. The same flooring and cabinetry also extend into an adjacent space, a former family room that now serves as a storage-packed mudroom.
The reinvention of a living space as service-oriented hub made sense, given the floorplan already offered a generous number of hangout areas, including the ground-floor salon and contiguous sunroom, a second-floor playroom for two-year-old Marlowe and baby Bodhi, a sitting room off the primary suite, and the family and game rooms that anchor the daylit basement level. “The challenge,” Dufner says, “was how to make each living space feel like it had a unique function and purpose.” Seating in particular was selected with specific activities and postures in mind. Thus the salon’s more upright Bob sectional, its firm, snakelike form perfect for perching with a glass of wine; the sunroom’s more lounge-y Bouroullec Brothers Ploum sofa, a holdover from the upstate house (albeit newly reupholstered); and the super deep, nap-conducive sofa in the family room, where TV viewing occurs.
Though the house has a traditional layout, with discrete rooms, they open graciously onto each other, and curating sight lines was particularly important. Many features were considered holistically so they would work together from room to room. On the first floor, for instance, “there are points where you can see the ceiling fixtures in the sunroom, living room, entry hall, and the dining room all at once,” Wismer explains. “So the lighting we specified all needed to work within their respective rooms and also as a cohesive group.” Furniture and other accents were chosen and placed similarly, he adds. “There was a balancing of where we could go a little wild and where something had to be toned down so it wouldn’t get too heavy or layered.”
Speaking of going a little wild, check out the dining room wallpaper. The pattern, a trippy graphic confection in riotous hues, tents the room, extending up from crisp wainscoting lacquered a mercurial green-gray color. The op art patterning is the perfect jazz riff on the abode’s 1914 bones. “The contrast between historic and modern is just so great,” says Wismer. A sentiment that summarizes the project top to bottom.
- & Tradition
- aj madison
- Artistic Tile
- bd barcelona through ddc
- blå station through scandinavian spaces
- Blu Dot
- Carl Hansen & Son
- casey johnson studio
- design for macha
- e15 through stillfried wien
- flavor paper
- garrett leather
- house of finn juhl
- iittala through fiskars group
- Jen Renzi
- John Ellis
- lee jofa
- ligne roset
- Louis Poulsen
- michael robbins
- mitchell gold + bob williams
- nessen lighting
- New York
- once milano
- residential design
- seungjin yang through the future perfect
- through design within reach
- through furniture from scandinavia
- through john derian
- through noguchi shop
- visual comfort through circa lighting
- zak & fox
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