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Cozy, Barefoot Style in a Weekend Escape

A stylish blend of vintage, rustic, and midcentury modern elements turns a drab builder home into a dream getaway.

Written by Nancy Christie
  • John Bessler

    For interior designer John Willey, it was all about the bones.

    For six months, John and his partner, Frederick Aronstein, had been searching for the ideal weekend getaway in upstate New York. But none of the houses he toured resonated with his vision until he viewed a 1990s Millerton, New York, home on a real estate site.

    Since the first-floor ceilings were low and the windows lacked height, homeowner and designer John Willey hung the shades above the window frame, tricking the eye to create a more normal proportion.

    Photograpy: John Bessler
    Field editor: Anna Molvik

    Interior design: John Willey, Willey Design, LLC, New York City; 212/579-4159; willeydesign.com

  • John Bessler

    Appealing Living Room

    While the pleasing proportions of the 2,000-square-foot Colonial-style house first caught his eye, the interior tipped the scales during his first onsite visit—despite the less-than-ideal color choices and a few key areas in desperate need of updating.

    The black vertical beaded board provides a pleasing complement to the gray exterior walls and a contrasting background for the light-color sofa and artwork.

  • John Bessler

    Smart Mix

    “It was painted in horrible colors,” John says. “The walls were a buttery yellow and all the beams and the floors were dark brown—very heavy looking. But I could see the bones through that and envision something better.”

    The mix of country and midcentury modern pieces in the living room produces an interesting style palette.

  • John Bessler

    Cozy Fireplace

    That “something better” included changing the interior colors to match John’s preference for the pure-looking tonal colors typical of Scandinavian homes. “I wanted just whites and grays and blacks—a very calming color scheme since we deal with color and pattern through the course of the day here at the office,” he says.

    Updating the original mantel from brown to ebonized black sets off the original stone surround and adds a classic feel to the rustic fireplace.

  • John Bessler

    Entryway

    Beaded-board walls throughout the home were painted either black or light gray, and the ceilings and exposed beams were painted high-gloss white for a modern, airy feel. John took a modern approach to furnishings, too, pairing midcentury modern pieces, such as the vintage walnut chairs in the dining room and the Adrian Pearsall floor lamp, with bold artwork and distinctive light fixtures.

    Incorporating unique, modern artwork throughout the house, such as in the foyer, introduces accent colors and some unexpected details to the overall design.

  • John Bessler

    Striking Kitchen

    In the kitchen, a green laminate countertop gave way to natural granite with gray and cream tones, and the existing cabinetry traded its dowdy chocolate-brown finish for high gloss black.

    In keeping with the black-and-white color scheme, John changed out the old appliances for new black ones, resulting in a more streamlined, integrated, and timeless look. The high-gloss white ceilings maximize natural light in the kitchen.

  • John Bessler

    Cheerful Collection

    A collection of vintage glass bottles forms an eye-catching arrangement in front of the kitchen windows. 

  • John Bessler

    Breakfast Area

    The breakfast area just off the kitchen provides a comfortable place for morning coffee. The pendant light with its rope-wrapped iron frame and matching rope shades adds to the casual feel of the space

  • John Bessler

    Formal Dining Room

    In the dining room, the vintage, midcentury walnut chairs and floor lamp are stylish counterpoints to the country ambiance created by the beamed ceiling and woodwork.

  • John Bessler

    Look Up!

    The vintage starburst chandelier in antique brass, which John affectionately calls “the Christmas ornament,” imparts a beautiful glow to the dining area and offsets the rustic black farmhouse table below it.

  • John Bessler

    Upstairs Landing

    Upstairs, ebonized black floors and light gray walls mirror the crisp palette throughout the main floor. However, rather than paint the second-floor ceilings white, John chose to leave the original stained pine intact, preferring the natural warm glow imparted by the wood tones.

    The staircase was brought back to life with a fresh coat of gleaming white paint for the spindles and high-gloss black for the handrail. The “duchess” pendant, with its smoked glass cylinders, nickel detailing, and filament lightbulbs, is as much a statement piece as it is a source of illumination.

  • John Bessler

    Master Bedroom

    It’s been two years since the home was finished, and John and Frederick are savoring their country getaway. “It’s fantastic to come up on a Friday, light a fire, relax with friends, or just enjoy the sounds of nature,” John says. “Every little corner—the whole place—brings me joy.”

    Original stained pine ceilings in the upstairs master bedroom deliver rustic character and warmth. 

  • John Bessler

    Drawer Pull

    The master bedroom dresser, with reclaimed wood drawers and brass hardware, continues the vintage midcentury modern theme.

  • John Bessler

    Bedroom Accessories

    Mixing vintage accessories, such as this small bedside clock, with fresh flowers and plants, provides a pleasing counterbalance between old and new.

  • John Bessler

    Master Bath

    New dark-toned porcelain floor tiles and floor-to-ceiling white subway tile with black grout add vintage allure to the master bath.

    In the master bath, the vanity and side table provide enough storage for bath linens and toiletries without overwhelming the small space. The vintage schoolhouse sconces are a charming touch. 

  • Kritsada