Selina van der Geest: A House Designed for Living
In 2000, British interior designer Selina Woodruff emigrated to the U.S. to marry the love of her life, Eduard van der Geest, a director of Graff Diamonds, who himself had emigrated from the Netherlands some years before. Six weeks later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple then did something very wise. They flew to Paris for the weekend. Sitting in a cafe, they drew the plan for the house they would build the moment the nastiness was behind them. And nasty it turned out to be. But one year later, just as they’d planned, they purchased some land in Stanfordville (Dutchess County), NY and began construction on the very house they had drawn on a paper napkin that awful day.
Selina van der Geest’s shop NL-GB (short for the Netherlands - Great Britain) in Bangall, NY will be celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this weekend with a trunk show of summer dresses by Katherine Hooker London, one of the Dutchess of Cambridge’s favorite designers, and an exhibit of paintings by fellow-Brit-ex-pat and Stanfordville neighbor Leora Armstrong. NL-GB shares a parking lot with Red Devon restaurant, which will also be celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a special menu.
“I grew up in centuries-old stone houses. I’m used to something solid, with some age,” says Selina. To give their new-from-the-ground-up house that essential gravitas, they used the board-and-batten siding from an antique Canadian barn to sheathe the exterior. The entry doors of the rear elevation, above, are on axis with the swimming pool (below).
The pool, here from a different angle, and, in the foreground, a four-foot stone ball Selina had made for Eduard as an anniversary gift. The stones, all found as is on the property, knit together so tightly each seems to have been sculpted into the correct shape.
Inside, the frame from the same Canadian barn, a stone fireplace surround from Bordeaux, and several 19th-century Chinese doors are incorporated into the design of the “one big room”—an airy living-dining room and kitchen that accounts for much of the plan’s 3,000 square feet.
After working for Osborne & Little, the English fabric concern, Selina started her own interior design firm, Johnston Woodruff Designs, with a partner. This was followed by a decade of designing installations for Colnaghi, a gallery in London that has specialized in Old Masters since 1760. Though she maintains that her decorating style is not “typically English,” a certain English-ness informs it. Like the Queen herself, van der Geest is modest, hard-working, grounded, and unflappable—“typical English traits” that show in her work. There’s an insouciance, a lack of fussy, superfluous detail; a preference for solidity (such as the metal cabinet at right, part of a range she designed and shows at her store), a lack of gloss and glitz. As she asks, “How many people would choose to have a completely unfinished oak-plank floor?”
And how many would put an IKEA kitchen into a house this chic? For the cabinet beneath the Bosch cooktop, she switched materials to stainless steel. The concrete island is sufficiently large to accommodate an assortment of glass jars holding cereals and grains. “I sanded every drawer and painted them myself,” says the intrepid van der Geest, who also does her own mowing and snow-blowing—no small feat on a 38-acre property with a very long drive. “I don’t think you have to spend a fortune on a kitchen,” she says, “I’d rather spend money on a 19th-century Turkish kilim rug. I like being creative with the budget, finding things that are not too expensive but with a lot of character.” In addition to just such a rug, among the things in their house that lay claim to character is an art collection, mostly 19th-century drawings, that Selina has been building for the past twenty years. “I’ve taken elements from the big English houses and put them into a simple environment.”
Simple, in its way: Dotting the property are woodstacks reminiscent of those Selina knew growing up in the north of England. Split logs are stacked side-by-side to form a circle. Once the circle reaches a certain height, a layer of logs stacked end-to-end is added, then the side-by-side layers resume. “The end-to-end layer corrects for a natural tendency of the stack to narrow as it gains height,” says Selina. Making much of what is simple (after all, it’s just firewood) and little of what is actually quite grand—that’s giving it English. —Marilyn Bethany