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House Call: At Home in the Hudson Valley with Designer Deborah Ehrlich

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House Call: At Home in the Hudson Valley with Designer Deborah Ehrlich

May 22, 2017

We’ve long admired the work of Deborah Ehrlich, the Hudson Valley–based designer best known for her fine crystal glassware and refined household essentials (her porch light is a Remodelista favorite). I first connected with her at Remodelista’s New York market last spring; we struck up a conversation, and that’s how I found myself, a couple of weeks ago, driving across I-90 from Boston to Accord, New York, to photograph my new friend’s home. Join us for a tour.

Photography by Justine Hand for Remodelista.

Suspended over the dining table is a gossamer lighting installation: a long mobile featuring floating plexiglass panels or &#8
Above: Suspended over the dining table is a gossamer lighting installation: a long mobile featuring floating plexiglass panels or “panes” that mirror the light from the windows. Deborah is now creating a site specific version for a client.

Deborah bought her Hudson Valley house in 1998. “I had just returned from Provence, and the house reminded me of France,” she says. She now considers it the perfect complement to her work. “I like the fact that it’s so sturdy and raw while my work is so delicate.”

A vintage cabinet showcases Deborah&#8
Above: A vintage cabinet showcases Deborah’s crystal pieces, which are handblown by master craftsmen in Sweden. Despite their delicate appearance, they are remarkably durable. “Crystal is much stronger than glass,” she notes.

Deborah’s designs are not about building up, but about reducing. Paring them down to their most minimal, pure form, she pushes the envelope of what the materials can seemingly withstand.

A suite of chairs of Deborah&#8
Above: A suite of chairs of Deborah’s own design flank a generous 12-foot hops table discovered at a local antique shop. “It must have been a humorous scenario watching me drive home with this giant table strapped to the roof of my 1987 Jaguar,” she says. Except for Deborah’s original designs, almost nothing in the house is new.

Like her work, Deborah’s own house defies convention. It’s an exercise in deconstruction rather that renovation. “When I bought the house, it was a series of chopped-up little rooms. I could see the bones of the house, and I just began tearing things down to get to them. I knocked down walls to open up the entire downstairs, exposed the beams and original plaster walls, and sanded the floor. Then I just left it. I kept thinking I would repaint the evergreen trim, which was left over from the previous owners, but I never did. Now I like the archeological history of it.”

A wider view of the dining area shows how the light from the generous windows travels throughout the space.
Above: A wider view of the dining area shows how the light from the generous windows travels throughout the space.

After earning a degree in anthropology from Barnard, Deborah studied at a private studio of a master sculptor and later worked on large installations in France. Her background in sculpture is evident in all her work, which walks a fine line between utility and art. Deborah’s yearlong stint at a design school in Denmark is also reflected in her designs, which exhibit elements of both Gustavian and Danish midcentury styles.

Deborah recently returned to earlier experiments in wood; here, her handmade Chair in Hickory Heart or Ash, complements the wide-planked floors, which were left unfinished except for a regular wash with Danish soap; $loading=
Above: Deborah recently returned to earlier experiments in wood; here, her handmade Chair in Hickory Heart or Ash, complements the wide-planked floors, which were left unfinished except for a regular wash with Danish soap; $1,200.
The designer also spent a good deal of time studying early American tools and how these utilitarian objects employ minimal materials and simplicity of design to achieve maximum structural integrity. Likewise, Deborah’s pieces, though they look delicate, are actually quite strong. When she designed her chairs, for example, she asked her master woodworker, a RISD grad based in Rhode Island, for the “wood equivalent of crystal.”

Recently, as part of Egg Collective&#8
Above: Recently, as part of Egg Collective’s “Designing Women” exhibit, Deborah presented “Glacier 100,” an installation of 100 crystal pieces, similar to what’s shown above on her own table.

In her early twenties, Deborah worked to restore the stained glass windows in St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna. Perhaps that’s why, whether crystal or wood, all her work explores the dynamism of light—how it travels through an object or is reflected back. The culmination of this play of light can be seen in her dining room.

Deborah&#8
Above: Deborah’s pieces are available at her shop and at E.R. Butler & Co.The Line, and Blue Hill in New York, March in San Francisco, and Kneen & Co. in Chicago.
On the opposite side of the front door, a prototype for Deborah&#8
Above: On the opposite side of the front door, a prototype for Deborah’s next design, a desk, sits under one of the room’s generous windows.
A still life with desiccated daffodils; Deborah loves the sculptural husks of faded flowers.
Above: A still life with desiccated daffodils; Deborah loves the sculptural husks of faded flowers.
Deborah picked up the vintage couch on the side of the road and reupholstered it herself. The art on the walls is by her friend Julie Hedrick.
Above: Deborah picked up the vintage couch on the side of the road and reupholstered it herself. The art on the walls is by her friend Julie Hedrick.
Deborah designed and commissioned the utilitarian table; it&#8
Above: Deborah designed and commissioned the utilitarian table; it’s surrounded by a suite of vintage chapel chairs.

When she bought the house, the current kitchen was used to store wood. With its generous light and cross breeze, Deborah recognized its potential as a gathering space. The painted floor and ceiling enhance the functional, farmhouse feel.

Deborah&#8
Above: Deborah’s Maple Cutting Boards hang above a vintage sink, a housewarming present from a friend. Available at March in San Francisco; $125.
Deborah displays her utensils (inherited from her grandmother) within easy reach on the countertop.
Above: Deborah displays her utensils (inherited from her grandmother) within easy reach on the countertop.
Deborah continues the workshop feel of the kitchen with open shelving and counters; note the improvised wood oven pull.
Above: Deborah continues the workshop feel of the kitchen with open shelving and counters; note the improvised wood oven pull.
On the kitchen table, Deborah&#8
Above: On the kitchen table, Deborah’s White Wine Glasses mingle with a pair of Ted Muehling candlesticks; $130 per pair.
A vintage Saarinen Tulip chair holds a bowl of onions in the kitchen.
Above: A vintage Saarinen Tulip chair holds a bowl of onions in the kitchen.
A vintage canopy bed, lamp, and chair comprise the only furniture in Deborah&#8
Above: A vintage canopy bed, lamp, and chair comprise the only furniture in Deborah’s white bedroom. “It’s like waking up on a cloud,” she says.
Deborah&#8
Above: Deborah’s daughter inherited a bit of her mother’s flare for design: The rose lamp shade is her work.
Deborah designed a small green daybed for her daughter when she was young; it now serves as a reading nook.
Above: Deborah designed a small green daybed for her daughter when she was young; it now serves as a reading nook.
One of Deborah&#8
Above: One of Deborah’s earliest pieces of furniture on display in the property’s Dutch barn.
The original stone house was built in
Above: The original stone house was built in 1722.
The farmhouse was later expanded with a clapboard addition.
Above: The farmhouse was later expanded with a clapboard addition.

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