Thoroughly Modern

The Hudson River Valley has been known for excellence in creativity, art, and design for more than a century. From the Hudson River School of 19th-century painters through the Arts and Crafts movements, which were so prevalent in local architecture and art, it can come as no surprise that veteran art administrator Marella Consolini (The Skowheghan School of Painting & Sculpture; The Whitney Museum of American Art; The Chinati Foundation) and her husband, James (Jimmy) Rodewald, former drinks editor of Gourmet magazine and author of the book American  Spirit: An Exploration of the Craft Spirit Revolution, chose this area as their new home after having lived in Brooklyn for nearly 25 years. 

Marella and Jimmy discovered their mid-century home through an ad, and though it didn’t look like much in the photos, they were intrigued enough to schedule a visit and see the property for themselves. They walked into what, from the front, appears to be a ranch house, and were immediately drawn to the back wall with its floor to ceiling windows and saw, for the first time, the amazing scenery surrounding it. This 1961 abode is nestled into the bank which slopes down to a roaring stream, with rocky outcroppings and boulders that fall away to a deep narrow river bed. The trees visible from those enormous windows grow from within the ravine, placing their canopies at the height of the windows. This gives anyone standing in the living room the impression that they are suspended somewhere among the treetops. “In the winter the snow sits on the pines and it looks like a Japanese Ukiyo-e print,” gushed Marella, alluding to the many other Japanese influences seen throughout the house. 

The couple purchased the house in 2016 and did a lot of work on it before finally moving into it in the winter of 2020. Much of the work was upgrading all of the original systems, but the creative work began with a new, reimagined entrance. Though Marella and Jimmy felt comfortable doing a lot of the design themselves, they did feel the need for an experienced architect on the entranceway revamp. “Jimmy and I did a lot of research, and we really wanted an architect who was local,” commented Marella. The architect whom they finally chose, Frank Mazzarella, had spent a lot of years working in Spain, and has a very sophisticated take on mid-century design. Originally, Marella couldn’t imagine that he would be interested in their small project (which grew larger as time went on), and it took her a while to work up the courage to reach out to him. “But when  we finally got to know Frank, we discovered we all were kindred souls.” 

The design process began with an exchange of ideas, and quickly a design was born that Frank, Marella, and Jimmy all loved. Everyone thought the design project was complete… until the quote from the builders came, and the couple learned that their dream entry would cost more than they had paid for the house! Naturally that was out of the question, so it was back to the drawing board once more, having been reassured by Mazzarella that this actually happens quite often, and often both he and the client are happier with the second round in the end. 

Mazzarella’s vision drove the final design, with enthusiastic input from Marella and Jimmy. The entrance, which consists of an 8-foot-square window and elegant, Modernist double doors, gently nods to the slightly Japanese esthetic found in other elements of the house’s original design. The floating entrance combined with the angles seen in the cedar woodwork create a serenity in the house that is truly unparalleled.  The frosted glass ushers light into the side of the house that had virtually no light coming into it before while remaining discreet and subtle. “It’s a very different design than the one we had before, but we are very happy,” says Marella. “There is a calmness to his design that we find wonderful, and equally important, love living with.” 

When Marella and Jimmy first purchased their 1961 home, the floors were entirely covered in shag carpet. Pulling them up was one of the first things they did, which revealed the original cork floor tiles, a renewable material frequently used in mid-century homes. Sadly these could not be salvaged, so the couple chose to replace them, sustaining the style of the house. The pair had installed cork floors in the kitchen of their Brookly apartment many years before. “It’s a material that we like esthetically, practically, and environmentally.” So this was a nod, not only to the mid-century period, but also to their previous home. 

Something that truly defines the experience of entering this home, as it was with the Brooklyn loft that preceded it, is the art. Each wall is hung with a carefully curated collection of vintage antique show finds, family pieces, established artists, works by friends, and so many more. When pressed on what makes a piece of art make the cut, Marella, after much hemming and hawing and careful thought, says, “Ultimately for me, the question always boils down to, do I want to live with it? Is it going to make me happy to look at? Even if it is a challenging piece.” Marella does have some dark and challenging pieces in her personal collection, but she finds those pieces are often the most provocative ones, and make herself or the viewer think. She also has the curious habit of moving her art around frequently. “I never want my eye to get bored.” 

The couple frequently move the art around their home, until it feels just right, doing all of the hanging themselves with a measuring tape and a level. But with all that moving comes a lot of spackle “I’ve got the putty knife technique down so I don’t even have to go back and sand,” says Marella with pride. 

The ceiling in the open kitchen and living room is lined with cove lights, a period way of building in tube lights, behind the molding around the ceiling. This provides a wonderfully warm, ambient glow to the entire space, without breaking up the clean modern lines of the ceiling with a light fixture. They put the lights on a dimmer, and say it feels like living inside a James Turrell light sculpture. 

So often, mid-century homes that are true to the period end up in a range of warm brown and beige tones. In this home, that could not be further from the truth! The kitchen counters are an incredible shade of green, and the living room area at the end of the space is a wash of bright and rich pinks and maroons. During the design process Marella ordered dozens of formica samples in all shades and patterns before finding the perfect shade! “We wanted to have some fun with it. This isn’t about restoring a mid-century house to pristine condition. We did this house for us, so we wanted to have a little color,” relates Marella.  Once the color choices for countertops had been narrowed down, Marella was originally leaning toward an oxblood red, but it was Mazzarella who cast the final vote for the green, and now they can’t imagine it any other way. The brilliant formica countertops were fabricated with eight-ply birch plywood by D-Cor in Germantown, New York. 

On their first visit to the house, Marella was slightly horrified by the pristine, and completely original, tiled bathroom, but it was Jimmy who wanted to give it a chance. Later they both agreed, that although one could argue about the aesthetics, it truly is a work of art, composed of intricate one-inch concrete tile, with curved edges where the wall meets both the floor, and  the countertops. Even the sinks and fixtures are original 1960s Kohler.  After the initial phase of getting used to it the couple loves the bathroom just the way it is, and Marella even feels a little protective of it when people are there to visit and see it for the first time. “I feel like I do have to say: this is original!” 

Though so much of the house remains true to its original design, it is remarkable how much its two inhabitants’ style is visible. When you get to know these two, their unique personal style is truly striking, the mixture of boho, urbane sophistication meets folk-art funkiness, and the traditional art world, is perfectly translated into their interiors.