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Remodelista Greatest Hits 2020: At Home in Upstate, New York, with Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen

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Remodelista Greatest Hits 2020: At Home in Upstate, New York, with Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen

December 29, 2020

We’ve 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 house-flipping tear. Her style is pleasingly simple, sustainable (since before it was a buzzword), and thrifty: see, for instance, Backyard Bunkhouse and 11 Money-Saving Strategies from a Hollywood House Flipper. Her partner in the overhauling business is her husband: they’ve lived in 25 places in their 31 years of marriage (along the way, they had four sons), and Corbin—though busy acting, writing, and running his own production company—is a Star Handyman.

After being MIA for a while, they resurfaced last winter: “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 us. “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 Amanda’s old friend Priscilla Woolworth has resettled, along with a surprising number of other LA defectors. After experiencing their family’s 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 California—and also learning that life has a slower pace here; love that,” says Amanda. Here’s what the place looks like a year later.

Photography by Rebecca Westby, unless noted.

corbin and amanda and sons at their new residence (the photo was taken by their 9
Above: Corbin and Amanda and sons at their new residence (the photo was taken by their oldest son’s girlfriend and became their 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’s 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. It’s 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: “it’s 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.

the couple—he&#8\2\17;s 66, she just turned 6\1—have been quarantining  10
Above: The couple—he’s 66, she just turned 61—have been quarantining upstate and say they plan to stay. They’ve become part of a community that’s big on bartering: Rebecca Westby, co-owner of Remodelista favorite Alder & Co., employs Amanda as a model in exchange for clothes (Rebecca also took most of the photos shown here), and Amanda says she recently gave her doctor’s husband remodeling advice for medical care.

“I’m 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 wrote on Facebook. “My biggest problem, I guess, if I’m allowed to go there, is that I have tons of time to think without all the distractions that I’m used to. And when the snow falls, it’s even more quiet than the normal quiet that I’m getting used to. You can hear your heartbeat, literally…or perhaps that’s the shoveling of snow forcing blood through my veins.”

the back doors and basement bulkhead are also benjamin moore grand canyon red:  11
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.”

the front door opens to the original staircase: &#8\2\20;as it was, the doo 12
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 the balusters.”
much of the art and furnishings have traveled with the couple from house to hou 13
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 painting—a 1951 work by Brazilian Constructivist Lygia Clark—30 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: “We’ve been at this practically since our first date, when Corbin showed me his house, which he had just overhauled himself, and I said, ‘I think we’re going to have to make some changes.’ It was full-blown Santa Fe-style and needed some tweaking and layering—some soul. The English in me came out. That’s when we started blending our styles, and buying and selling things.”

&#8\2\20;we went down to the studs and nothing else,&#8\2\2\1; says cor 14
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.

the vintage franklin stove came from hoffman&#8\2\17;s barn in red hook, ny 15
Above: The vintage Franklin stove came from Hoffman’s Barn in Red Hook, NY. The walls throughout are painted with lime wash from Portola Paints 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.”

modern farmhouse kitchen, upstate ny remodel by amanda pays. rebecca westby pho 16
Above: The living space opens to a roomy dining area and kitchen. The cabinets are Ikea—with Ikea’s vertical-grooved Hittarp fronts in an off-white lacquer that Amanda painted herself. “This isn’t something they recommend but it worked well: even the chipping looks authentic. I used a heavy Kilz primer—no sanding—followed by two coats of Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray in a satin finish.” 

Amanda found the center island marble slab on Craig’s List for $150 and drove two hours in a U-Haul to get it.

the dining table is one of several pieces that the couple found during their fi 17
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 with a list of items we needed, including maximum and minimum measurements for each piece,” says Amanda.

Corbin bought the table—”maybe originally a schoolhouse piece, definitely European”—using money he had saved from the many years his mother tucked bills in his Christmas stocking. “I finally realized I don’t have to worry about never having a buck in my hand, and decided to honor my late mother with a table that we love.”

the counters are butcher block from ikea and amanda finished the cabinets with  18
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 they’re having a buy two get the third free sale.”
the aluminum hooks in the back entry came from a favorite hardware/antiques sto 19
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 France—the one project they say they’ll never sell.

Recognize the dog painting? We do: it appeared in Remodelista: The Organized Home and our post Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen Air Their Dirty Laundry.

the moody back room with new built in bookshelves is the library/tv room and co 20
Above: The moody back room with new built-in bookshelves is the library/TV room and Corbin’s home office. The lime wash here proved tricky: the couple’s 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 didn’t finish but realized it looked right: we like patched-together rather than perfect.”

The Emmy is Corbin’s mother’s lifetime achievement award—Jeanne Cooper, the “grande dame of daytime,” was on The Young and The Restless for 40 years, and played Corbin’s mother on LA Law.

amanda notes that the cold climate has inspired her to &#8\2\20;get back in 21
Above: Amanda notes that the cold climate has inspired her to “get back into pillows and blankets draped on sofas, and living with stuff: it’s about feeling cozy.” She got the sofa and chair from Joan at the Hammertown barn in nearby Pine Plains: “They’re from the summer tent sale: I was the first in line at 7 am.”
the lime washed powder room is two toned, another signature touch of amanda& 22
Above: The lime-washed powder room is two-toned, another signature touch of Amanda’s. The Little Bo Peep collage was a surprise gift: “One of the original owners came by and said, ‘My mother made this tapestry piece and I’d like it to remain in the house.'”
amanda&#8\2\17;s desk—purchased for \$\150 at a local auction—is set in 23
Above: Amanda’s desk—purchased for $150 at a local auction—is 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.”
there are three bedrooms upstairs. the red painting, by peter aspell, is &# 24
Above: There are three bedrooms upstairs. The red painting, by Peter Aspell, is “another fave that goes with us from house to house.”
the master bedroom has a conceptual headboard: amanda dragged the driftwood hom 25
Above: The master bedroom has a conceptual headboard: Amanda dragged the driftwood home from a walk along the Hudson River. In lieu of doors, she enclosed the closets with curtains made from a Les Indiennes print purchased at the company’s Hudson, NY, shop. “It a very informal little house; curtains lend a relaxed feeling and they don’t take up any room.”
corbin&#8\2\17;s guitar stands in a corner of the guest room. the upstairs 26
Above: Corbin’s guitar stands 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 Company and from sellers on Craig’s List.
the rebuilt upstairs bath has a new old look. the tub, along with three sinks,  27
Above: The rebuilt upstairs bath has a new-old look. The tub, along with three sinks, came from Hoffman’s Barn: Amanda and Corbin hauled them to a local refinisher (but left the exterior of the tub stripped). The painted floors and beams appear here, too: “Our contractor  said, ‘you can’t have wood in the bath,” and we said, ‘Yes you can,'”says Amanda.
the house&#8\2\17;s ceramic doorknobs are original. the giant medicine cabi 28
Above: The house’s ceramic doorknobs are original. The giant medicine cabinet next to the sink  is one of the couple’s Brimfield finds: it’s an antique jelly cupboard that came with decoupaged doors: “Amanda whitewashed it and then moved on to our kitchen cabinets,” says Corbin.

What’s next? Amanda reports that they’re looking for a larger place in the area to tackle next—”we’d like to have enough room for the whole family and friends—and 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:

And for many places to stay in the area, consult to our Design Travel posts.

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