Hay House: how designer Sheila Bridges made room for herself

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For more than two decades, interior designer Sheila Bridges, creative beacon of Bill Clinton, Tom Clancy and Sean (Diddy) Combs, the hip-hop mogul currently known as Love, divided his time between Harlem and the Hudson Valley. Most of those years, Ms. Bridges, 57, retired to an old farm in the town of Germantown, Columbia County, where she raised horses, sheep, goats and chickens. But in 2019, she moved into a 1,600 square foot village house near Hudson, NY, which was built for her from the ground up. (Since 2015, she’s also maintained a small residence in Reykjavik, Iceland.) Speaking of her weekend property, she talked about designing to appeal to the ultimate client: herself. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Why did you name your new Hudson Valley home Hay House?

It was kind of a joke. So many people have these very fancy names for their homes. It’s the opposite of a farm, but I have bales of hay, which I brought here. And the house looks like a barn.

Was it a struggle to limit the size to 1,600 square feet?

It was a challenge, but the goal was to reduce my life to a certain level. I am a person. The larger the property, the more maintenance headaches there are. I’m trying to get away from that as I get a little older.

Did you at least leave room for a workspace?

I didn’t design the house thinking I would be here 24/7, but luckily the attic is open space. During the pandemic, I turned it into a working studio. I brought in California Closets and built storage for our wallpapers, fabrics and umbrellas, and set up desks. It worked very well. It does not encroach on the rest of my living space. One of the challenges we’ve all faced is how to separate these spaces when you’re sitting in front of a laptop 12 hours a day.

I couldn’t help but notice that the ground floor wall treatments are, for you, quite simple.

With architecture and design, it made sense to have white walls. I guess you noticed the amount of art I have on the walls; all colors and textures come from art, sculpture, rugs, upholstery. The rooms are very colorful. So basically when you walk into my house it looks like a white box but as soon as you open a door you’re struck by the color and the pattern in a way that I think most people associate with my work.

Which came first: the rising ceiling or the decision to make mobile a focal point?

Both.

Sorry, it can’t be both.

I’ve always had cell phones in my rooms, even as a child. I knew I wanted to have mobiles in this house and having 17 foot ceilings or whatever gave me the opportunity to do that. This is the first house I’ve designed for myself that was built from scratch. I wanted to surround myself with things that I love and that mean something to me. It’s a home to a lot of art that I’ve collected or passed down from my parents and acquired over the years.

Many people struggle with what to do with inherited objects. Do you have any tips for incorporating family heirlooms into your home?

I think whether it’s inherited or not, if it’s something you love, you have to make room for it. I’m sitting here staring at a lamp in my living room that’s been in the living room of my parents’ house in Philadelphia for 50 years and it works. That’s the beauty of mixing times. I like to mix old and new, vintage and modern, and it’s easier to embrace things that may have belonged to your family if you’re not so rigid about not having only one style of furniture in your home.

The exposed beams in your living room and the ceiling on the upper floor remind me that you are not someone who is afraid to paint wood.

It all depends on the architecture and what you want the space to look like. In my city apartment, the woodwork is painted in a Farrow & Ball Oval Room Blue, but it works because of the very classic type of architecture. The woodwork is mahogany, but it was not in good condition. I didn’t have the money to restore it, so I decided to paint it, which really helped hide a lot of those flaws. This space is brand new, so the white paint seems to work just fine. There is no precise rule.

Seven years ago, you designed a sequel to your Harlem Toile de Jouy wallpaper called Hudson Valley Canvas which gently poked fun at the townspeople who flocked to the area. You showD a “American Gothic” gay farm couple, a station wagon driver looking for foie gras, and Rip Van Winkle waking up on a crowded Rip Van Winkle Bridge, which spans the river between Hudson and Catskill. Unaware for a moment that this work is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum, would you design the same designs today?

These scenes are like visual tropes. They have become a bit cliché. We have all seen them play. Canvas is a fun way to document them. I should add that the covered structure on the bridge behind Rip Van Winkle was recently demolished. Someone recently commented that one of the great parts of documenting these things in wallpaper is preserving what no longer exists.

Although you no longer own a farm, you still have almost an acre to cultivate. What are you doing there ?

My property gets a lot of water, so there is a rain garden. I also have raised beds and last year I grew tomatoes, kale, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers and all kinds of herbs. Nothing super complicated. It’s fenced in because I’ve always had dogs and want to keep deer away. I just looked out the window this morning and saw a doe nibbling on my neighbors hedges across the street. My neighbors are wintering in Florida and I’m sure they’ll come home with newly formed shrubs and trees.

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