I seem to be on a rustic interior rant this weekend.
But, Christmas is approaching at break neck speed. I will race home today to put up the tree, decorate and prepare for Cyber Monday shopping.
24 days and counting….Happy December.
FASHIONABLE LIFE: CELERIE KEMBLE
It’s the kind of house that seems to have been airlifted straight out of a fairy tale. A sprawling, high-luxe fantasy of twigs and bark, taxidermy and cashmere, tucked in a pine forest with a view of the Adirondack Mountains as far as the eye can see. The kind of place where you want to curl up with a glass of wine by the fire and never move again. “That was the fantasy, ” laughs Celerie Kemble, who helped her mother, Mimi McMakin, dream up the house, known as Treetops, 10 years ago. The idea was to create a family retreat far from their frenetic lives in Manhattan and Palm Beach, where Kemble and McMakin—the forces behind Kemble Interiors—are known as society’s favorite witty-WASP decorators. “The reality is a little more chaotic, ” adds Kemble, whose three fearless children with her money-manager husband, Boykin Curry (Rascal, seven, Zinnia, five, and Wick, three), are more likely to be found up on the roof, attempting to build a ski jump, than sitting quietly by the fire. “My kids are pretty good at keeping anything from looking too perfect.”
Perfect or not, the house is divine. An irresistible combination of Adirondack Great Camp style and Brothers Grimm whimsy, Treetops came about, McMakin says, as the result of “many sketches on napkins over many cocktails” with local master builder Peter Torrance. Located outside the little town of Keene, in the heart of northern New York’s High Peaks region, the house centers around an enormous “great room” with a 25-foot cathedral ceiling, deep-cushioned window seats lined with bookcases, and a massive stone fireplace. Here, a grizzly bear pelt with a head the size of a Mini Cooper lies atop a kaleidoscope of Turkish kilim rugs, and overstuffed furniture from McMakin’s Lane Venture line jostles comfortably with family antiques and folk art found in local barns and craft shows. “The aesthetic of the Adirondacks is all about ‘much, ‘?” says Kemble, who has just launched her own sleek lines of furniture and accessories for Henredon and Maitland-Smith. “There’s a whimsical, intricate feel up here that really encourages layering and abundance.”
For the Kemble-Curry-McMakin clan, that means every nature walk has decorating potential. An abandoned hornet’s nest gets hung in a corner of the dining room; an entire bathroom is lined with river stones collected on the property. And then there are the trees. “Originally I said I wanted to live in a tree house, ” recalls McMakin, but when that wasn’t feasible (have you ever seen a seven-bedroom tree house?), “we decided to bring the trees inside.”
In the great room, a birch tree (with leaves still on the branches) stands beside the fireplace; down the hallway, a walk through a bower of real trees reveals a bedroom covered floor to ceiling in silvery birch bark. The railings along the staircases and balconies are a tangled masterpiece of lacquered twig work, as is the screened-in sleeping porch, which opens onto a forest. (McMakin has dubbed it “Ode to a Spider” because it features a twig-work spiderweb in one corner.) Indeed, McMakin and her husband, Leroy, are so fond of the room, they’ve been known to sleep out there in the deep of winter. “There’s something in the air up here, ” says Kemble, “that makes you sleep like the dead.”
“The aesthetic of the Adirondacks is all about ‘much, ‘” says Kemble. “There’s a whimiscal, intricate fell up here that really encourages layering and abundance.”
It’s a far cry from the formal, high-gloss showplaces Kemble and McMakin have decorated back in civilization, but that, says McMakin, is part of the point. “For us, the Adirondacks is about being with people you love, reading books, doing puzzles, going for walks, cooking, ” she explains. “So the house was designed with that in mind—as a place to spend time together as a family. It was important to have it feel as if it had been lived-in and well loved.” Treetops is invariably buried in snow and fringed with icicles during the holidays, when the family converges to eat, drink, play, and recharge far from the distractions of modern life. Celerie’s younger sister, Phoebe (who runs the culinary arm of the family business, Kemble Kitchens, in London), flies home to take on the role of master chef, whipping up comfort-food feasts of chicken potpie, thyme-scented brussels sprouts, and chocolate soufflé with candy cane ice cream, while Kemble’s best friend, the event planner Bronson van Wyck, arrives to deck the halls in yards of magnolia garlands and erect a gigantic Christmas tree in the great room, decorated with birch balls, pinecones, ferns, and pheasant feathers.
“The thing that’s so great about Mimi and Celerie and Phoebe is that in addition to creating these incredibly beautiful houses, they always make you feel immediately at home, ” says van Wyck, who has collaborated with Kemble to create the Holiday Workshop, a pop-up shop of festive decor, gifts, and home furnishings on New York’s Upper East Side that opened in November. “You arrive at their house and the Gipsy Kings are playing, and there’s a fire roaring in the fireplace, and there are kids running around naked with coonskin caps on, and somebody hands you a glass of wine, and somebody else makes you taste the pasta sauce that’s bubbling on the stove, and it’s just—heaven.”
“Well, when we’re not busy tearing each other’s hair out, ” cracks Kemble, who nevertheless clearly cherishes the time she spends here with her family. “There’s a sense of clarity to the air here—a real feeling of isolation that never feels desolate, ” she says. Mornings are devoted to sledding or snowshoeing, often followed by a trip to the local library so the kids can pick out books. In the afternoon, Kemble and McMakin may go antiquing in nearby Essex or Lake Placid. Or they may all decide to stay home and build snowmen. “The myths that kids grow up with feel real here, ” says Kemble. “We are not far from the North Pole, and the kids love that.”
Come dinnertime, the children head over to swim in McMakin’s enormous Jacuzzi while the adults gather in the kitchen for wine and Phoebe’s truffled popcorn and smoked salmon blinis. Perhaps at some point they will wander off to change for dinner—but perhaps not.
all images via Harper’s Bazaar by Douglas Friedman
Isn’t it fab? I just wish we could see more.
It does remind me of Amanda Brook’s house from Amanda Brooks Adirondack Shack…Not.
Those who know me or follow my blog know I have a real weakness for western, lodge or rustic interiors.
Here are some of the most loved ones:
Remember to use my KEEP Gift Guides for Holiday Shopping ideas.
and last but not least…my personal wishlist