Photos by Stefan Radtke
A husband-wife team turn an old stone house into a haven featuring a European minimalist design with a rustic twist.
Ewa Sleszynski and her husband, Tomasz, met in 2003, after coming to the United States from Poland. They were living in a small Brooklyn apartment with two young children when they decided it was time for a change. “With my background as a fashion and brand consultant, and my husband owning his own construction business,” Sleszynski says, “we were excited to finally work on a project together — our very own home.”
After a long search in Westchester, the couple found a 7,000-square-foot stone house in Croton-on-Hudson. Built in 1959, the home was situated on more than an acre of land, with a private pond in the backyard and a gate leading to trails for hiking and mountain biking. The Sleszynskis bought the house in 2014 and spent six months remodeling the interior. “Combining my modern European aesthetic with a hint of vintage charm and the natural beauty of the Lower Hudson Valley, we’ve created this unique space.”
Sleszynski says that despite the complete interior reno, she and Tomasz decided to retain certain elements that capture the home’s original spirit. For example, the house was dark inside and featured sections of brown-brick walls that ran throughout. “In order to lighten up the space, we had all the bricks hand-painted white by rubbing the paint on with a cloth. We didn’t want to cover the look of the bricks, so we had to go very gently,” she says. They also kept the rough-hewn pine beams in the family-room ceiling and on the bases of the windowsills around the house but had the dark paint sanded off to return the beams to their natural light color.
To further brighten the interior, the Sleszynskis tackled the Brazilian cherry floors, which were stained dark brown when they purchased the home. “What we did was sand the floors and put on two coats of water-based light-gray paint covered with a double layer of matte sealer. It’s a very fragile floor and very easy to scratch, but the nicks and scuffs just add to the rustic element of the home,” she says.
While her husband focused on overseeing the construction, Sleszynski concentrated on the interior design. “Basically, I get most of my inspiration from my travels to Europe,” she says.
Many of the design choices in the home were the result of Sleszynski’s searches on furniture websites, like 1stDibs.com, and lighting websites, such as YLighting.com and Flos.com. She also shopped in stores such as Duplex Design and Moonlight Woodworking in Brooklyn, as well as the now-defunct ABC Carpet & Home warehouse outlet in the Bronx. Sleszynski says, “Not everything has to be high-end modern design. I like to find vintage and antique furnishings and mix them together.”
The home’s family room, kitchen, and dining room are all located on the second floor, and Sleszynski loves how they connect in an open-space plan. “I have always liked very light spaces, because they are relaxing to me. I’m not into color; I like a very minimalistic palette,” she says. “Even though this space has three skylights and really high windows, it doesn’t shed as much light as you would think. It needs a pure look with brightness. I knew we really needed to go with white walls because they were going to make the space look very open and airy.”
Sleszynski decided to fill the rooms with furnishings in various shades of white, gray, black, and brown, along with unique, European, modern, lighting decor. One of the highlights in the family room is the black-leather-and-walnut Eames lounge chair and ottoman, truly one of the most iconic midcentury-modern furniture designs. Sleszynski also added a dark-gray couch from Rove Concepts and a gray, wool-blend rug she got at a thrift store. A vintage oak coffee table adds a rustic touch and echoes the color of the pine beams in the ceiling. Completing the living room’s high-design elements is a signature lamp from Denq by Oluce, created by renowned Japanese designer Toshiyuki Kita, in the shape of a giant light bulb.
The living room flows into the dining room, where the Sleszynskis have a beautiful table created by a friend from reclaimed chestnut-wood planks left over at a construction site. Six different white chairs, each very European and minimalist in style, surround the table. There is also a beautiful industrial-chic floor lamp complemented by a trio of oversized lighting pendants, which hang from the ceiling and add international modern design elements to the living space. Completing the dining area is a vintage mirror, featuring black spots and scratches, to add character, and a detailed metal finish, which Sleszynski found at a flea market.
Also featured in this open floor plan is the Sleszynskis’ remodeled kitchen. The couple tore down cabinetry that was partially blocking the windows and preventing the natural light from entering. “Those windows now offer a beautiful view in the winter of the nearby Croton Reservoir and the house’s lush, green gardens in the summer,” says Sleszynski.
The kitchen features stainless-steel appliances by Bosch, while the sleek custom cabinets have a high-gloss white paint on the wood. Complementing the kitchen’s modern European elements is a rustic bench Sleszynski found at a garage sale. A unique element of the kitchen are the floors, which are covered with a Moroccan plaster finish in gray called Tadelakt. “It’s really easy to apply and to wash, and it’s also very flexible; if you drop something, it’s not going to break,” Sleszynski says. “Now that the house has settled, you can see the cracks in the material, but it all looks great.” (They also used Tadelakt on the floor and walls of the adjacent powder room.)
Off to the side of the wide living space are the two children’s bedrooms; there is also a long hallway, with an all-white minimalist workspace (with a chair and three shelves) and rows of windows paired with light-colored oak benches.
At the end of the hall is the primary bedroom, a bright and airy space that has a very relaxed feel. In a departure from the rest of the house, Sleszynski painted the large wall behind the bed a dark shade of blue. “This is a huge space, and if I were to keep it white, it wouldn’t have a cozy feel,” she says. Also warming up the room is a wood-burning fireplace, as well as a pair of modern European lighting fixtures featuring an elegant gold stem and hanging bulb, one on each side of the bed. Beautiful lacquered-oak coffee tables by Muuto serve as nightstands. Off on the far side of the bedroom is a vintage sofa Sleszynski bought from a friend of hers and reupholstered in navy-blue velvet.
The primary bathroom carries the same design scheme as the rest of the house. The all-white plumbing fixtures are from the German-based Duravit, including the elegant and streamline oval bathtub in the middle of the room, as well as the double sinks and toilet. “They all have a very sleek and modern look that I love,” Sleszynski says. In addition, the twin lights hanging over the tub are super-minimalistic and modern, dangling down on wires with artistic, twisted bulbs.
Looking for a way to warm up the room, Sleszynski added some plants and kept the rough-hewn wooden beam on the bottom of the windowsill, as well as a vintage wooden bench, where she keeps her towels. “I enjoy it so much because you can take a bath and really relax and stare out our large window, which has a beautiful view of the backyard. It’s like a spa,” she says.
Throughout the house, Sleszynski brought in plants to add a touch of color and life. There are multiple vases filled with sprigs of tree branches and beautiful blooms. “I love to bring in all sorts of plant cuttings from our yard,” she says. “I never really buy flowers; I just bring whatever nature is around us in the gardens and the woods.”