Architect Peter Pennoyer and interior designer Katie Ridder spent years searching for the right setting and constructing their new Greek Revival house in Millbrook, New York. Here, the duo offers their tips for what every country house should have.
After decades of building and designing houses and interiors for clients around the world (Peter is an architect and Katie is an interior designer), we decided we were ready to build our own dream house. We spent years looking for the perfect property and in 2009 came upon a narrow, overgrown six-and-a-half-acre parcel of land with a ranch house in Millbrook, New York. Our new book, A House in the Country, chronicles the conception, design, decoration, and landscaping of that house, and here we offer a T&C exclusive on the 10 things we believe every country house needs.
Katie always uses strong color in at least one room in a house and pink is one of her favorites. In the living room, pink tea paper brings warmth and exuberance to the space, and also happens to be a great backdrop for the art and furniture. For people not quite ready to paint the walls, add pink touches through pillows, window coverings ,or a muted rug, like the pink-toned antique Oushak carpet we found at an estate sale. It was the very first thing we purchased for the house and was the base for the living room design.
A scholar of classical architecture, Peter has long been inspired by older buildings that incorporate sculpture into their facades, and wanted to add sculptural details to the house. He found the perfect subject in our family dachshund, Teddy, and they commissioned sculptor Abigail Tulis to immortalize Teddy chasing a rabbit in a bas-relief on the exterior. As charming as it is, this is a fantasy scene since Teddy has never actually chased a rabbit. He’s much more comfortable perched on a sofa.
Since the main objective of a country house is to enjoy being out in the country, we wanted to be sure we had outdoor space designed for just that. We created a simple trellis with bamboo for shade that, as it grows in, will be overtaken by wisteria. Set among the flowers of the garden and surrounded by roses, its proximity to the kitchen makes it ideal for entertaining. Even a small table or bench can make an outdoor space feel like a room.
Every country house should have a functional mudroom. The small, brick-shaped purple Moroccan mosaic tiles that we chose for our mudroom floor fit the scale of the room, bring personality to the space, and are as easy to clean as any true gardener would require. They also fitted the space with an old Victorian coat rack and a sturdy bench. Baskets (you could also use cubbies) help hide all the gardening essentials, like the 20 different pairs of gardening gloves Katie is constantly putting through the wash.
Family dinners are one of the best things about being in the country. Peter loves to cook and our mechanical dining room table allows us to add pie-shaped leaves to accommodate up to 12 people for dinner. The traditional mahogany finish is a perfect foil to table settings that include linens from Svenskt Tenn. Katie likes table linens to be a combination of solid and pattern to keep it casual.
Unlike a traditional house with a solid front door, Peter preferred the more open and welcoming feeling of a pair of glass doors, which flood the front hall and center of the house with light. With a transom above, the entrance is 10 feet tall and the flanking fluted Doric columns give the house scale and character. Even if you aren’t building a house from the ground-up, replacing a solid door is a good way to bring light into the center of a house and make the entrance more welcoming.
A stainless steel open étagère on the kitchen island is fitted with frosted glass shelves that provide convenient storage for heavier cookware. While unexpected, it works perfectly for a smaller kitchen and doesn’t break up the natural flow of the room. Built-in LED lighting at the base also makes this an attractive source of light in the evening without being overbearing.
Whether you have a large property or a small cottage with one bed, there is always room for flowers. Katie’s garden has a lush, dense mix of more than 200 perennials, annuals, rare plants, shrubs, and bulbs. One of the best things about a flower garden? It makes it easy to enjoy freshly cut flowers inside the house.
Every country house should have one great, deep bathtub. We chose a model with the plumbing at the center allowing double occupancy, an important feature in a pinch. A freestanding traditional tub set on a wood floor also makes a bathroom more grounded and country-like.
The simple pine desk in the kitchen is a perfect workplace for a laptop, but doubles as a place for Katie to organize her flower seeds and garden journals. The shelves above also have compartments for smaller vases and bowls, which are essential for flower arranging and best kept apart from kitchenware.