A Material World Designed by Fisher Weisman  /  Elle Decor

Jeffry Weisman and Andrew Fisher take advantage of Gretchen Bellinger’s increasingly opulent sensibility to decorate her New York Home. Their drastic overhaul of the two-story Colonial Revival accommodates their grand visions as well as their client’s hundreds of books and collections of Asian furniture, antique parasols, and Erie Canal engravings.

Evolution happens. Minds mature, tastes change, attitudes change, attitudes alter. Take celebrated textile designer Gretchen Bellinger. For 20 years she lived in a midtown Manhatten apartment by starchitects Powell/Kleinschmidt. Sleekly sculpted and swathed in earthy neautrals and jewel tones, it was “a classic modern space that corresponded with Gretchen’s style when she started out in business” in the 1970s, says interior designer Jeffry Weisman, a longtime friend. “But her fabrics are more overtly glamorous now, with lots of metallic and embroideries.” So when Gretchen Bellinger moved her business to Albany, New York, and eventually asked Weisman and his partner, Andrew Fisher, to decorate the house she purchased in the adjacent hamlet of Loudonville, the men knew it was time to take advantage of her increasingly opulent sensibility.

But the home wasn’t exactly the best stage for the sensuous rooms they imagined. “It was basic, but I had to buy something and get out of my rental,” Bellinger explains, adding she was attracted by the property’s proximity to her office – a five-minute drive in her black Jaguar sedan – rather than its physical details. Built in the ‘20s on an A-list avenue lined with stately mansions, the two-story Colonial Revival would need a drastic overhaul to accommodate Fisher and Weisman’s grand visions – let alone their client’s hundreds of books and collections of Asian furniture, antique parasols, and Erie Canal engravings.

The renovation was indeed dramatic, inside and out – though the landscape remains a work in progress (“I hate to garden, but it has to be done,” Bellinger says). Crisp taupe stucco was smoothed over the façade, and a fanciful Regency-style copper portico went over the front door, now flanked by stone foo dogs. Upstairs, a warren of tiny rooms made way for a guest room, two baths, an office, a dressing room, and a master bedroom that faces the tree-lined back of the property rather than the noisy road out front. And the graceful new staircase has clear tempered-glass balusters in emulation of crystal versions Bellinger had seen in a book about 1930s Chicago architect David Adler.

Radical revisions took place on the first floor too. Because Bellinger prefers for no more than six, Fisher and Weisman reduced the size of the dining room, an idea that freed up sufficient space for built-in bookcases, storage closets with Chinese fretwork doors, and a white-lacquer sideboard that opens to reveal custom-made clots for serving trays and other paraphernalia for entertaining. “It was really important to her to have as much storage as possible,” Weisman notes. “The house is like a bespoke shoe. It’s tailored to her lifestyle and her stuff.” The dressing room, for instance, inspired serious organizational envy, its shelves laden with meticulously labeled fabric-covered boxes containing shoes and hats. Not even the seats of the exercise equipment were overlooked, receiving upholstery that resembles black silk satin. Observes Fisher, “You couldn’t do that in a man’s house.”

Throughout the home, the indulgent décor bears little resemblance to the contemporary Manhattan apartment or rustic Adirondack camp Bellinger once owned. “We don’t believe in moving to a new place and replicating the one you left behind,” Fisher says. “Where’s the fun in that?” The textiles maven was captivated by the seductive look the decorators had in mind – a bit of Forbidden City here, a ‘20s echo there, smoky browns, flashes of mirror. When they suggested gilding her Saarinen table and replacing the light marble top with a dark-brown one, she was game. “It was time for a change,” she says.

A youthful semester spent in Japan left Bellinger with an unshakable case of Asiaphelia, so Fisher and Weisman had a rich resource in the Far East objects she had amassed over the years. A little huanghuai, however, goes a long way. “She’d be in Hong Kong sending a thousand e-mails with pictures of what she found and wanted to buy,” Fisher says, laughing. I finally had to say, “Stop with the Chinese!” A more international atmosphere was what the decorators were after, pairing Sino treasures (horseshoe chairs, a towering screen, mirrors inlaid with mother-of-pearl) with sprightly cultural contrasts (a Regence-style desk, a curvaceous sofa modeled after one Jean-Michel Frank designed for the salon of couturière Elsa Schiaparelli). Toss in some curtains with a bronze-lamé sparkle, and all that’s needed to complete the sophisticated mise-en-scène is a cocktail shaker and a bias-cut dress.

“I absolutely love this place,” Bellinger says with a grin. “It’s a good thing my office is close, because all I want to do at the end of the day is get home.”

Text by Mitchell Owens   /   Photography by Joshua McHugh

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