The Catskills aren’t the typical habitat for an acclaimed Hollywood actress, but the lush green hills turn out to be the perfect setting for Amanda Seyfried, who fills her stone house with handcrafted furnishings and beloved animal companions
Amanda Seyfried’s stone house in the Catskills
The hand-off – the moment a designer presents a completed project to the client – is often as staged as a Broadway show. The doors fling open wide, and ta-da! Everything from teaspoons to tissues is in place, ready for the drama of life to begin. But when designer Sarah Zames passed along a project in the Catskills to its owner, actress Amanda Seyfried, the transition was altogether different. Yes, the 1920s house was inhabitable, but it was not ‘done’ in the ordinary sense of the word. Indeed, it was barely furnished and half the work had not even begun. Which is exactly how everyone wanted it. Seyfried had previously collaborated with a soup-to-nuts interior designer on residences in Manhattan and Los Angeles, but she craved a different experience here. ‘I wanted to see what it would be like to add to the house slowly,’ she says. ‘Sarah’s eye lends itself to that: it’s easy for me to layer on top of what she’s done.’ And layer Seyfried does, from textiles, art and found objects to items she knits or crochets herself. Nor are her additions limited to inanimate details. She adopts rescue animals, welcoming them into her menagerie of horses, goats, chickens, cats and a dog. Not incidentally, she also acquired a husband recently, actor Thomas Sadoski, and gave birth this past spring to their baby daughter. ‘Every time I visit, Amanda has added something,’ says Zames, founder and principal of the Brooklyn-based firm General Assembly. ‘The project takes on warmth really well.’ ‘Warmth’ wasn’t a catchword of Zames’s early career. Trained as an architect, she worked for cutting-edge modernist giants such as Rafael Viñoly and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. But big, corporate projects didn’t inspire her. ‘A connection to home is the reason a lot of people go into architecture in the first place,’ she says. Still, she
brings an architect’s sense of balance and alignment to every aspect of her work. ‘I’m always thinking about the overall space and the light,’ she says, ‘and how materials and patterns will enhance them.’ The result is a kind of cosy modernism: clean, simple planes composed with evocative, handmade and rustic materials. For this assignment, she applied her sensibility to two separate structures: a stone house and a barn. Zames tackled the house first, adapting her approach to each of the floors. ‘Downstairs was thick walls and defined spaces,’ she says, ‘so we weren’t able to alter the footprint.’ Instead, she aimed to make the rooms brighter, cleaner and more efficient, adding built-ins and refinishing all the surfaces. The upstairs, by contrast, was completely gutted. Three bedrooms became two, the ceilings were opened to the rafters and the walls were pushed out into the eaves. Yet the resulting rooms are hardly grand. ‘Amanda cares more about the character of a space than its size,’ says Zames. It’s an attitude that freed Zames to focus on subtle, graceful details, like shiplap that carries from a sunroom into a bedroom, deep, angled bookshelves that echo the window openings, and a custom bathroom vanity whose midnight-blue steel legs match the refinished tub. It also allowed her to introduce handmade tile, a favourite material. ‘I love using it to define and contain a space,’ she says. Guest beds rest atop radiant-heated tile ‘rugs’ set within wooden floors. A swathe of hexagonal tiles wraps around a woodburning stove and a band of graphic tiles adds a pop of energy to the tiny kitchen. For Zames, the renovation of the barn was a dream project. ‘I’ve always been drawn to barns,’ she says. ‘Every detail serves only the exact purpose the farm needs. And once that’s over, barns take on a different life – the wood splits and you get slivers of sun; the form changes and degrades. Architecture is always about this idea of permanence. Barns are the opposite.’ Of course, since it now serves as a guesthouse, Seyfried’s barn needed to prolong its hold on permanence. Zames shored up the structure, then gave the interior new life. The living area was encircled with a band of white wall, to contrast with the rough wooden floors and ceiling. A pair of former foaling stalls was transformed into guest rooms. A whole side of the barn was opened to the rolling, wooded landscape with glass doors that fold flat, accordion-style. That landscape is what drew Seyfried to the property in the first place. ‘Before I even went inside the house, I knew I wanted it,’ she says. Although family and work keep her in California – currently the series Twin Peaks plus films The Clapper and First Reformed – she considers her Catskills property home. ‘I always want to come back here,’ she says. Not surprisingly for a project that omitted the dramatic unveiling, Zames, too, keeps coming back. She appreciates the opportunity ‘to experience the peace of the house now that construction is done’, she says. But she’s also drawn by another compulsion: her designer’s instinct for perfection. ‘There’s always some little detail that isn’t exactly right,’ she says. ‘Some drawer pull, some tile...’ With any luck, there always will be.