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Empty Zest

With their daughter off to College, a New York couple enjoy an active life in the house they’ve made a home

Written by Krissa Rossbund / Produced by Stacy Kunstel
  • John Bessler

    As they race around the tennis court smashing serves and sailing volleys, Mary and Jim Emlock look like indefatigable college kids. But it’s their daughter, Katherine, who’s off to school.

    With their nest empty, Mary and Jim found time to dig out their rackets—and dig into a long-put-off redecorating project.

    They had done a lot of renovation on their home, an 1890 structure in Huntington Bay, New York, with inspiring views of Long Island Sound, right after they bought it in the early 1990s. Back then, however, interior design wasn’t a priority.

    They were in the life stage that Katherine is experiencing today—the “yes, I’ll take it” phase of decorating, where hand-me-downs rule. “When you are young, you get furniture where you can—things that are given to you, things that you pick up that aren’t necessarily in great condition,” Mary says. 


    French doors and transoms allow natural light to flood the interiors. 

  • John Bessler

    Sometimes those pieces languish, as they did for the Emlocks, until the right motivation for change comes along—like the day Mary and Jim met New York-based designer Garrow Kedigian.

    “I was hired to design the foyer,” Kedigian says. “But I kept the rest of the house in mind just in case.” When his aesthetic earned him the job of reenvisioning additional rooms, he was ready. “I had a game plan in mind, and even with the pace of one space at a time, in the end, the transition from room to room was seamless.”

    Oftentimes a foyer, a teaser for what’s to come throughout the rest of the house, lacks the proportions to command design focus. But a spacious layout makes the Emlocks’ entry seem like a living room. The existing piano and classic mantel inspired Kedigian to add built-in bookcases to house some of Jim and Mary’s favorite things, including a collection of vellum books in gray and black bindings. A geometric rug now anchors a roomy seating area—two matching sofas in peach-and-beige stripes and an antique armchair with a slight shimmer.


    The foyer’s menagerie of patterns and furniture suggests a collection acquired over time. The pattern portfolio moves from an oversize geometric motif on the rug to a herringbone that mimics men’s suiting on twin sofas to a pale blue dot on a French armchair. A silk bolster pillow in an octagonal motif cushions the armchair.

  • John Bessler

    Mary’s taste, be it for garments to wear or antiquities for her home, discerns whether something is worth adding to her collection of pretty things. But she admits her style was more regimented before Kedigian encouraged her to bring a bit of daring attitude to mix.

    A Zuber panel that she snagged became Kedigian’s springboard for the formal living room. Like an Old Master painting, it’s layered with rich color. Underfoot, a rug with a pattern in coral and blue forgoes seriousness in the spirit of modern-day traditional style. A coral sofa, ivory sofa, and blue velvet chairs with happy zigzag-
    pattern pillows enhance the scheme.


    Blue and coral coloring in the rug inspired a palette that includes light blue drapery panels layered over windows with painted blue frames.

  • John Bessler

    “Color is a last component of design but so important to the process,” Kedigian says. “It’s most successful when it feels like it was put together over time. When everything matches, it feels like an airport lounge, not a home. It’s always my goal to make it look like I was never there. I want it to appear like the homeowner collected a little bit here and a little bit there to put it together herself.”


    Turquoise shelving built on the diagonal is an architectural eye-catcher in the room that houses Katherine Emlock’s instruments. A red chair offers a jolt of youthfulness.

  • John Bessler

    For the dining room, Mary had chosen a Gracie wallpaper before Kedigian came into the picture. He fine-tuned the coloration, making it an elegant champagne hue to mesh with the furnishings he imagined. A vintage black lacquered table is surrounded by chairs with backs in blush velvet for a touch of glamour. A custom strié finish was applied to moldings.


    Lighting in a room that begs for nighttime use comes from two examples of vintage design—an amethyst Murano glass chandelier and a pair of Georg Jensen candlesticks. “This space is best after dark,” designer Garrow Kedigian says. A carved wood valance that depicts birds and flowers secures silk window panels.

  • John Bessler

    Jim and Mary’s project is now complete—an adult house with adult furniture that they love to share with friends and family.

    “Garrow’s talent opened my eyes to layering possibilities that make the home more comforting and intimate,” Mary says. “He taught me so much about how to combine elements. He gave me confidence to pick out the things that I love, and he was able to weave all of those things together so it worked. It was a wonderful experience.”


    Mary and Jim Emlock’s home, built in 1890, is classic with white siding, a red door, and dark green shutters.