“Times change, and we with them,” says the ancient Latin adage. The Woodstock house Manhattanites Robin and Rick Shobin bought as their weekend getaway in 2008—a rustic little 1930s log cabin with a stark, boxy 1980s cedar addition three times its size—illustrates the point. Previous owners had updated the quaint cabin by “turning it into an open living space and tacking on an addition to hold bedrooms and bathrooms,” explains Robin. But the wings didn’t relate to each other at all or suit the Shobins’ 21st-century lifestyle.
“They love to cook and entertain and are big on group activities,” says their interior designer, Brendan Kwinter-Schwartz. Favorite pursuits range from old-fashioned dinner parties, late-night poker games and poolside bashes to frequent bouts of intense video gaming and bois- terous paintball parties in the surrounding woods. Not surprisingly, the awkward hybrid, which also sported a dilapidated 1940s concrete swimming pool encircled by a scanty bluestone terrace, “wasn’t working for them,” says Kwinter-Schwartz.
“The kitchen was outdated, the living area had such a bad layout that they never used it, the bedrooms were bland, and the grounds were totally inadequate,” recalls the designer. In addition, rather than country-quaint like the cabin or blatantly modern like the addition, the Shobins wanted the de´cor to be “fresh, sophisticated and hip, with a little campy glamour thrown in,” she says.
With major structural issues to amend in the cabin—from ever- widening holes between the logs and a decaying wood floor laid over a dirt crawl space—and lackluster architecture to overcome in the addition, the Shobins hired contractor and project supervisor John Bilotti to rethink the building and renovate. “There were no initial plans or a budget, except for kitchen drawings they got from a cabi- net company. It was one of these projects that just unfolded,” says Bilotti, who worked with Dominique Vos on the home.
Kwinter-Schwartz came into the job while they were in the midst of gutting the kitchen. True to the times, “we found her on the Internet and loved her portfolio,” says Robin. Kwinter-Schwartz laughingly recalls: “Rick called me out of the blue, was stumped about which French doors to pick for the kitchen, and asked me to come and see the place sooner rather than later.” She was there within a week.
On that first visit, she reshaped the media room’s lighting plan; advised on countertops, appliances and finishes for the kitchen; and reworked the entire layout of the cabin to turn it from a little-used space into the heart of the home. “They’re not formal, so I designed it to feel like a lounge instead of a living and dining room but kept its charismatic vernacular style,” she says. Key to the plan were the right furnishings, which eventually ended up being a pair of cushy L-shaped custom sofas and a vintage Karl Springer dining table that can open to seat 12 but sees the most use for poker games.
The designer also told the Shobins on that first visit that the hodgepodge property needed as much work outside as inside and recommended landscape architect Mark Hartley. “It was a huge job,” he says. “The grounds were a wreck. We had to unify the structures, fix the wonky geometry of the terraces and enlarge them, build an outdoor kitchen and add plantings that would enhance the property yet be low-maintenance and resistant to deer.”
Kwinter-Schwartz solved the first problem by recommending they paint everything but the cabin dark taupe, and Bilotti tackled the second by reconfiguring and enlarging the terraces. “That required more of the original indigenous bluestone from the 1930s, so I found something compatible from a local supplier and mixed it in when we re-laid them,” he says. For the greenery, Hartley surveyed the woods to see what was there and took his cues “from what the deer had left,” he says.
Today, the living area and kitchen see as much action as the media room and home gym in the addition, which is where the Shobins spent most of their pre-renovation hours. And the screened porch between the two wings, which was originally part of the log cabin and now has sleek glass doors adjoining it to the kitchen, has proved to be the most popular gathering spot in the house, even when the temperature drops. But the Shobins are most enamored with their burgeoning art collection, prompted by their designer, who worked with art consultant Marla Helene.
“Woodstock has always been known as an artists colony, and they expressed an interest in starting a collection, so I thought it would be nice if they continued that local tradition,” Kwinter-Schwartz says. Times change, but traditions also come full circle.