Weve been following Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen for years as they leapfrogged around LA. Amanda is an actress-turned-interior designer who has been on a decades-long remodeling tear. Her style is pleasingly simple, sustainable (since before it was a buzzword), and thrifty: see, for instance, Backyard Bunkhouse and11 Money-Saving Strategies from a Hollywood House Flipper. Her partner in the overhauling business is her husband: theyve lived in 25 places in their 31 years of marriage (along the way, they had four sons), and Corbinthough busy acting, writing, and running his own production companyis a Star Handyman.
After being MIA for a while, they recently resurfaced: When Finley, the youngest of our four, graduated high school and took off for NYC, Corbin and I looked at each other and agreed it was time for another adventure, she wrote.Our book, Open House, had just been released, so we decided to sell up in LA and take a book-signing drive across the country in search of our next project. They made it all the way to the Hudson Valley, where Amandas old friend Priscilla Woolworth has resettled, along with a surprising number of other LA defectors. After experiencing their familys first white Christmas, they decided to stay put.
They knew exactly what to do next: find a structure waiting to be given the Amanda/Corbin treatment. After four weeks of real estate hunting, they bought an 1880s little farmhouse in Germantown, New York, that needed everything. They camped out in a loft rental in nearby Hudson, found a local contractor, and started the demo. Weather dictates a lot here, which was an eye opener for us coming from Californiaand also learning that life has a slower pace here; love that, says Amanda. Heres what the place looks like a year later.
Photography by Amanda Westby, unless noted.Above: Corbin and Amanda and sons at their new residence (the photo was taken by their oldest sons girlfriend and became this years holiday card). Hands-on creativity runs in the family: two sons work as art directors/production designers in LA., another is in the start-up side of tech, and the youngest is at NYU film school.
The couple bought the house from third-generation owners (who live nearby and were selling when their mother passed away). It had been pale yellow with a front door that was purple and white with a bit of turquoise thrown in, says Amanda. Its now painted a greenish-charcoal called Deep River and the door is Grand Canyon Red, both from Benjamin Moore. Upstate gentrifiers have been accused of defaulting to noirish exteriors, but Amanda defends the choice: its a classic color that draws attention to the architecture and looks great against the backdrop of all these seasons. Plus for every dark house, there are ten white farmhouses around here. Photograph by Jessica Dube.Above: The couplehes 65, she just turned 60say they love their new surroundings and plan to stay upstate. Theyve become part of a community thats big on bartering: Amanda Westby, co-owner of Alder & Co, employs Amanda as a model in exchange for clothes (Amanda also took most of the photos shown here), and Amanda says she recently gave her doctors husband remodeling advice for medical care.
Im continually struck by the adventure of this new experience and discovering an entire life so different from palm trees, beaches, convertibles, and eternal sunshine, Corbin recently wrote on Facebook. My biggest problem, I guess, if Im allowed to go there, is that I have tons of time to think without all the distractions that Im used to.And when the snow falls, its even more quiet than the normal quiet that Im getting used to. You can hear your heartbeat, literally or perhaps thats the shoveling of snow forcing blood through my veins.Above: The back doors and basement bulkhead are also Benjamin Moore Grand Canyon Red: I knew if I was going with dark monotone windows, I had to find a place to uplift, says Amanda.
She learned about remodeling historic houses from her father, who was an actor-turned agent and the original house flipper in the family: I grew up in southeast England, and he used to drag me around to look at properties and would ask my opinion. So the whole house buying, fixing-up, reselling thing came from my childhood. And Corbin, coincidentally, learned carpentry from his mother and uncle.Above: The front door opens to the original staircase: as it was, the door banged into the stair, says Corbin. We fixed that and had to reproduce some of thebalusters. Above: Much of the art and furnishings have traveled with the couple from house to house. (Corbin has become a master packer and uses Pods as an economical way to move households.) Amanda bought the paintinga 1951 work by Brazilian Constructivist Lygia Clark30 years ago while filming a movie in Brazil. The zinc umbrella and cane holder is a long ago LA swap meet purchase.
Amanda tells us: Weve been at this practically since our first date, when Corbin showed me his house that he had just finished himself, and I said, I think were going to have to make some changes. It was full-blown Santa Fe-style and needed some tweaking and layeringsome soul. The English in me came out, and thats when we started blending our styles, and buying and selling things.Above: We went down to the studs and nothing else, says Corbin of the 1,700 square foot interior. This is the equivalent of a bionic house. Explains Amanda: We replaced or added: HVAC, all plumbing, all electric, insulation, new drywall, bathrooms, and the kitchen.
Their most dramatic move was to open up the main floor and introduce oak beams throughout that are both structural (the ones shown here) and cosmetic. The floor is the original sub floors stripped and sealed with Pure Matte Finish from Vermont Natural Coatings.Above: The vintage Franklin stove came from Hoffmans Barn in Red Hook, NY. The walls throughout are painted with lime wash from Portola in LA. Amanda had the curtains stitched from canvas drop cloths (each is a hemmed single panel).
I like a neutral balance, so drop cloths always work, she says. I usually make them into shades, but you hardly notice these curtains, and in the winter you can pull them shut to make the room feel warmer.
Above: The living space opens to a roomy dining area and kitchen. The cabinets are Ikeawith Ikeas vertical-groovedHittarp fronts in an off-white lacquer that Amanda painted herself. This isnt something they recommend, but it worked well: even the chipping looks authentic. I used a heavy Kilz primerno sandingfollowed by two coats of Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray in a satin finish.
Amanda found the center island marble slab on Craigs List for $150 and drove two hours in a U-Haul to get it.Above: The dining table is one of several pieces that the couple found during their first pilgrimage to the Brimfield flea market. We arrived in the rain witha list of items we needed, including maximum and minimum measurements for each piece, says Amanda.
Corbin bought the tablemaybe originally a schoolhouse piece, definitely Europeanusing money he had saved from the many years his mother tucked bills in his Christmas stocking. I finally realized I dont have to worry about never having a buck in my hand, and decided to honor my late mother with a table that we love.Above: The counters are butcher block from Ikea and Amanda finished the cabinets with painted wood knobs she bought at Home Depot. The Kitchen Aid stove and other appliances are also from Home Depot: I go when theyre having a buy two get the third free sale. Above: The aluminum hooks in the back entry came from a favorite hardware/antiques store in La Bisbal, Spain, within driving distance of their vacation house, A Fixed-Up Farm in the South of Francethe one project they say theyll never sell.
Recognize the dog painting? We doit appeared in Remodelista: The Organized Home and our postAmanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen Air Their Dirty Laundry.Above: The moody back room with new built-in bookshelves is the library/TV room and Corbins home office. The lime wash here proved tricky: the couples two oldest sons drove the paint across the country and it froze along the way. When they painted this room, it was streaky and lumpy in parts, says Corbin. I came back from LA with more paint and went over it. I didnt finish but realized it looked right: we like patched-together rather than perfect.
The Emmy is Corbins mothers lifetime achievement awardJeanne Cooper, the grande dame of daytime, was on The Young and The Restless for 40 years, and played Corbins mother on LA Law.Above: Amanda notes that the cold climate has inspired her to get back into pillows and blankets draped on sofas, and even living with stuff: its about feeling cozy. She got the sofa and chair at the Hammertown Barn in nearby Pine Plains: Theyre from the summer tent sale: I was the first in line at 7 am. Above: The lime-washed powder room is two-toned, another signature touch of Amandas. The Little Bo Peep collage was a recent surprise gift: One of the original owners came by and said, My mother made this tapestry piece and Id like it to remain in the house.' Above: Amandas deskpurchased for $150 at a local auctionis set in a bay on the side of the house. Most of the windows are original and have beautiful glass that ripples, she says. I hung bird feeders right outside, so I can watch the birds as I work. Above: There are three bedrooms upstairs. The red painting, by Peter Aspell, is another fave that goes with us from house to house. Above: The master bedroom has a conceptual headboard: Amanda dragged home from a walk along the Hudson River near their house. In lieu of doors, she enclosed the closets with curtains made from a Les Indiennes print purchased at the companys Hudson, NY, shop. It a very informal little house; curtains lend a relaxed feeling and they dont take up any room. Above: Corbins guitar in a corner of the guest room.The upstairs floors are painted Benjamin Moore Wrought Iron. The reclaimed beams used throughout came from The Hudson Companyand from sellers on Craigs List. Above: The rebuilt upstairs bath has a new-old look. The tub, along with three sinks, came from Hoffmans Barn: Amanda and Corbin hauled them to a local refinisher (but left the exterior of the tub stripped). The painted floors and beams extend appear here, too: Our contractor said, you cant have wood in the bath, and we said, Yes you can,'says Amanda. Above: The houses ceramic doorknobs are original. The giant medicine cabinet next to the sink is one of the couples Brimfield finds: its an antique jelly cupboard that came with decoupaged doors: Amanda whitewashed it and then tackled our kitchen cabinets, says Corbin.
Whats next? Amanda reports that theyre looking for a larger place in the area to tackle nextwed like to have enough room for the whole family and friendsand some rescue donkeys and goats The plan is to keep this house and down the line rent it out. I want to host people in cool environments, while I go gray and grow veggies, says Amanda.
More upstate style:
- Architect Visit: A Dutchess County Farmhouse Transformed
- Hudson Valley Hues: At Home with an Inventive Textile Designer
- Saved from Abandonment: A Historic Farmhouse Receives the Ultimate Make-Under
And for many places to stay in the area, consult to our Design Travel posts.