Louise Copeland Hudson Valley Home Tour
When the designer Louise Copeland first teamed up with client Elizabeth Brown, senior vice president at holly hunting, it was for an apartment in bustling Manhattan, but the Browns ended up buying a mid-19th-century farmhouse in Germantown, New York. The alum from Stephen Gambrel’s eponymous design firm says she was already up for the journey at this point and while a neo-Gothic project didn’t look architecturally like her wheelhouse, Copeland was thrilled to take on the challenge. challenge with this historic gem.
“What’s interesting about this house is that it’s almost 200 years old, and the Browns are only the sixth owners in that time,” Copeland says. “The man who built it in the 1830s was a ship’s captain and built a wharf on the property, which is the highest point in the area to see all the ships come in. Then a naturalist bought, followed by a director of horticulture, so everyone has had the property for long periods of time, putting their own spin on the house and the landscape.
However, Copeland says that as older homes evolve, they’re usually modified by each homeowner to better suit their individual needs. By the time the Browns took over, many of the original features of the house had disappeared and the layout no longer made much sense – the designer compared it to a maze of rabbits. Needless to say, the clients’ initial hopes of simply redoing the kitchen were dashed at the end of the first meeting with the architect. Bohl chip in favor of doubling the size of the house to create the ultimate bucolic retreat. Now Copeland really had his work cut out for him.
First, Copeland had to strategize how to bring this house into the 21st century without losing any of its originality. Instead of removing the 1830s front door which faces the road towards the river, she added a new porch to face the road which mirrored the original and created a new entrance hall so that the owners have another option in addition to the cloakroom to create a warmer welcome for customers.
“The kitchen was really small and dark, so we added a whole new side of the house that had a kitchen looking out over the meadow and the pool that is so beautiful with all these water gardens around it,” Copeland says. “We also added a proper master bedroom above, as the existing rooms were all very small. It’s not a large bedroom because it wouldn’t fit the spirit of the house, but it’s cohesive and functional.
When it comes to determining the “spirit of the house,” Copeland says she often can’t find the words to express the feeling she wants to evoke with projects. It’s about making them contextual and looking more put together than designed with a mix of old and new. However, it all started to fall into place when she kept coming across incredible antiques from around the same period the original house was built.
“As we learned about the history of the house and its previous owners, the design began to take shape in my mind, and as we went along I wanted it to feel like if each owner had left things over the years to the present day, so it didn’t feel too fussy,” she says. “We bet on early 19th-century antiques to match the age of the house. The dining room, for example, shows nothing of what was made after 1890.”
However, it was also important to Copeland that there was a mix of younger antiques and newer upholstery, as well as an assortment of more contemporary Holly Hunt pieces to be comfortable for a modern young family. The designer says she was lucky to have such amazing clients who were not only willing to take the hits and try new things, but had an impeccable sense of style themselves. The Browns are also collectors and once they purchased the Hudson Valley property, they began collecting works from the historic Hudson River School of Art which is no longer in operation. By the time the project was complete, the Browns had an incredible collection of local art that perfectly matched the aesthetic of the house, and there was a place for just about every piece.
“What I’m most proud of is the spirit that everything creates inside this house,” says Copeland. “It feels like it’s been there forever while still having all the benefits of modernity that we need today. The house is really original but we didn’t want to correct too much, so it still looks very old.
As for landscaping, it became a passion project for the Browns, who teamed up with Judy Murphy of Old Nursery Farm to create lush, layered gardens. With one of the previous owners being a naturalist and the other a horticulturist and rosary who worked with the New York and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, there was an excellent base which, like the house itself, the owners have preserved intentionality and integrity while bringing new life to outdoor spaces to make them dreamier than ever, with quirky walkways and swoon-worthy chicken coops.
For a project that took place during the pandemic, openness and adaptability were the themes of the day, but Copeland says it was actually to everyone’s benefit. Being forced to wind down work has led to the discovery of more unique items, such as a 150-year-old salvaged coat found by Elizabeth that Copeland says was ‘so imperfectly perfect’ that it completely changed the design and atmosphere of the show. There was more time to find the perfect antique and vintage items, big and small, to showcase the house’s roots and personality. While Copeland says his work technically took two years to complete, it was a nearly 200-year-old project, and that notion shines through in every thumbnail of this home.
Lauren Wicks is a Birmingham-based writer who covers design trends, must-have products, travel inspiration and entertainment. She is obsessed with globally inspired textiles, hosts French dinner parties and cocktail parties.