Artist Heather Ross lives in Forestburgh, New York, with her husband, TC, and their daughter, Bee. “When we first walked in, this house was a ruin,” she says. “I loved taking something forgotten and making it beautiful.” Here, she gives us a peek inside her straight-out-of-a-fairytale Catskills home…
On slow decorating: It took all the money we had to buy and insulate this house, so everything else had to happen little by little over the past 10 years. It feels like this house will only allow us to bring in old things, so almost all of our furniture is from my grandparents, antique stores, flea markets or Craigslist.
On old homes: My husband and I both moved around a lot as kids. I wouldn’t be able to describe my childhood bedroom because I had so many in different states. I think this is why we were both drawn to a home with history.
Chandelier: Restoration Hardware.
On color: I spent my early childhood in Vermont. Vermont summer is this brief sacred few weeks, so I’d spend all year thinking about it. The colors seemed miraculous after a long severe winter. I’m still drawn to rich alpine greens. When I design things, I want to be reminded of lying in the grass when I was six.
On mismatching: The runners up the stairs are purposefully mismatched. I like when things aren’t perfect. I like when houses look like they have a layered history, things from every decade in the same room. Also, I know this isn’t an original thought, but I believe if you buy things you love, and you have a use for them, everything will end up matching.
On family history: That’s my grandmother’s engagement portrait on the wall. We had a very formal relationship because she was not particularly a fan of kids. There are constantly children in this room and I love that she’s always around looking the way I remember her: disinterested.
Sofa: Restoration Hardware.
On the family room: This room, right off the kitchen, was meant to be a formal dining area, but we don’t have any use for that, so we ended up turning it into a big family room. In the winter, with the New York Times and a roaring fire, it’s our all-day room.
On Josef Frank: The pillows are made from Josef Frank-designed fabric, and I think them as pieces of art, meant to make a statement. It used to be prohibitively expensive to buy his stuff, but now Etsy sellers are making products from his fabrics for reasonable prices.
On drawing from nature: This house can sometimes seem a bit dark and serious, so pieces like this butterfly print add a nice balance. So much of my work draws on the natural world — nature mesmerized me as a child and continues to inspire me every day.
On DIY artwork: The owl print was actually torn from the John Derian Picture Book, and then we framed it. The book was made for people to do just that.
On cooking: I try to cook simply. When I was growing up, my mother had an amazing vegetable garden, which sort of turned me into a vegetable snob. Luckily, there are so many wonderful farms in the Catskills, especially in the summer. When we moved in, I had dreams of turning this room into a beautiful English kitchen, but like everything else, we ended up cobbling it together gradually.
On deceptive wallpaper: The quilt in the background is part of the wallpaper line my company is launching; it’s actually made from a collaged group of photographs of an actual quilt and can almost be mistaken for the real thing.
On house guests: We keep the fridge stocked with milk, beer and champagne because we have people here all the time and want things to be as self-serve and efficient as possible. Whatever is in the fridge is free game.
On homemade gifts: The frame of wooden spoons was a Father’s Day gift for my husband, TC. We found some old spoons and painted portraits with Martha Stewart craft paint. My daughter, Bee, did mine and her dad’s; and I did Bee’s. I love how she drew my hair black even though I’m blonde. When I told her I don’t have black hair, she said ‘Well, underneath you do!’
On summer: The photograph on the fridge shows me, my sister, and cousins at the pool near my grandparents’ house. I keep it here, because it reminds me of how my childhood summers were spent: no one ever looking at the clock, no structure.
On a reading nook: Ten-year-old Bee is a major reader, so we had the idea to make her bedroom feel like it was once a library and she had taken it over for herself. She sleeps above the nook and the stool is for me to stand on to kiss her good night. We call it the ‘kiss-goodnight window.’
On favorite books: Bee’s really into graphic novels. Most recently, she loved the huge illustrated rendition of the Harry Potter series. It’s super captivating with a wide format and totally rich illustrations.
On a thoughtful system: This house was designed pre-air-conditioning, which means it was built to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. On hot days, we open the windows in our bedroom and on the other side of house, and cool breezes come right on top of you. Most of these old places are engineered that way, it’s kind of an amazing system.
On a summer camp vibe: We have a magical sleeping porch with beds and trundles that sleeps eight and feels like camp. My great grandmother has 20 great-great-granddaughters, from ages 2 to 25, and one boy. This porch is their regular summer destination. There’s always someone sleeping over.
On lake life: There is a collective agreement in the community that if you have a house near the lake, it can’t be seen from the lake because we want it to feel exactly the same as it was 100 years ago.
Thank you so much, Heather!
(Photos by John Gruen for Cup of Jo.)