A Catskills house full of storybook charm
Artist Heather Ross lives in Forestburgh, New York, with her husband, TC, and their daughter, Bee. “When we first walked in, this house was in ruins,” she says. “I loved taking something forgotten and making it beautiful.” Here, she gives us a glimpse of her Catskills house straight out of a fairy tale …
On the slow decoration: It took all the money we had to buy and insulate this house, so everything else has had to be done bit by bit over the past 10 years. I feel like this house will only allow us to bring in old things, so almost all of our furniture is from my grandparents, antique stores, flea markets, or Craigslist.
On old houses: My husband and I moved around a lot when we were kids. I wouldn’t be able to describe my childhood bedroom because I had so many in different states. I think that’s why we were both drawn to a house with a story.
Chandelier: Restoration hardware.
About the color: I spent my early childhood in Vermont. Vermont summer is that sacred brief few weeks, so I would spend the whole year thinking about it. The colors looked miraculous after a long harsh winter. I am always drawn to the rich alpine greens. When I design things I want to remember lying in the grass when I was six.
On the mismatch: The runners going up the stairs are deliberately mismatched. I like it when things aren’t perfect. I love when houses seem like they have a layered history, things from each decade in the same room. Also, I know this is not an original idea, but I believe if you buy things that you like and have a use for, it will eventually all match.
On family history: It’s my grandmother’s engagement portrait on the wall. We had a very formal relationship because she wasn’t particularly fond of children. There are always children in this room and I love that she is always there with the air I remember her: selfless.
Sofa: Hardware Restoration.
On the family room: This room, right next to the kitchen, was supposed to be a formal dining room, but we didn’t need it, so we ended up turning it into a large family room. In winter, with the New York Times and a roaring fire is our room all day.
About Josef Frank: The pillows are made from fabric designed by Josef Frank, and I consider them to be works of art, meant to make a statement. It used to be prohibitive to buy your stuff, but now Etsy sellers are making products from its fabrics at reasonable prices.
Butterfly print: natural curiosities. Quilt: Denyse Schmidt.
On the drawing from life: This house can seem a little dark and serious at times, so pieces like this butterfly print add a nice balance. Much of my work is inspired by the natural world – nature fascinated me as a child and continues to inspire me every day.
Pouf: handmade from a Pendleton blanket. Carpet: Kilim. Wallpaper: Nathalie Lete for Anthropologie, similar.
About DIY Artworks: The owl print was actually ripped from the John Derian picture book and then we framed it. The book was designed for people to do just that.
Donkey Print: Anne Menke. Carpet: Kilim.
In the kitchen : I try to cook simply. When I was growing up my mom had an amazing vegetable patch which kind of turned me into a vegetable snob. Fortunately, there are so many wonderful farms in the Catskills, especially in the summer. When we moved in I dreamed of transforming this room into a beautiful English kitchen, but like everything else, we ended up tinkering with it bit by bit.
Console table: World Market. Log Cabin Quilt Wallpaper: Heather Ross. Dishes: Nathalie Lete for Anthropologie.
On a deceptive wallpaper: The quilt in the background is part of the wallpaper line that my company is launching; it’s actually made from a bunch of pasted photographs of a real quilt and can almost be mistaken for the real thing.
About the guests of the house: We keep the fridge stocked with milk, beer and champagne because we have people here all the time and want things to be as self-service and efficient as possible. Anything in the fridge is a free game.
About homemade gifts: The wooden spoon frame was a Father’s Day gift for my husband, TC. We found old spoons and portraits painted with Martha Stewart craft paint. My daughter, Bee, made mine and her father’s; and I made Bee’s. I love the way she has drawn my dark hair even though I’m blonde. When I told her I didn’t have black hair, she said “Well, you have it below!”
In summer: The photo on the fridge shows me, my sister and my cousins, at the swimming pool near my grandparents’ house. I keep it here because it reminds me of how my childhood summers were spent: no one ever looks at the clock, no structure.
On a reading corner: 10-year-old Bee is an avid reader, so we came up with the idea to make her room look like it used to be a library and she took it over for herself. She is sleeping over the corner and the stool is on which I have to stand to say goodnight to her. We call it the “kiss-goodnight window”.
Bed: Vintage Jenny Lind Toddler Bed: Similar. Peel & Stick Pony Wallpaper: Heather Ross.
On favorite books: Bee really likes graphic novels. Most recently, she loved the huge illustrated take on the Harry Potter series. It’s super captivating with a wide format and totally rich illustrations.
Bedding: Nani Iro and Liberty of London, similar. Sofa: Pottery Barn, similar. Chandelier: Global Market, similar.
On a reflective system: This house was designed with pre-air conditioning which means it was built to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. On a warm day, we open the windows to our bedroom and to the other side of the house, and cool breezes come right on you. Most of these old places are designed that way, it’s an amazing system.
In a summer camp atmosphere: We have a magical porch with beds and trundle beds that can accommodate eight people and looks like a camp. My great-grandmother has 20 great-great-granddaughters, ages 2 to 25, and a boy. This porch is their usual summer destination. There is always someone sleeping.
On the life of the lake: There is a collective agreement in the community that if you have a house near the lake it cannot be seen from the lake because we want it to be exactly the same as it was 100 years ago.
Thanks a lot, Heather!
PS A family’s dream home and John Derian’s cottage in Provincetown.
(Photos by John Gruen for Cup of Jo.)