Interiors Stylist Hilary Robertson Takes Us Inside Her 1800s Schoolhouse—and Shares Insights from Her New Book

living room with chestnut walls and neutral-colored decor
Dana Gallagher

I have spent much of my life wondering where I should live, so much so that it rarely occurs to me to stay still. But six years ago, I knew my family needed a weekend place in the countryside to escape the summer heat of New York City. My husband, Alistair, and I, both interior buffs, attempted to buy enormous derelict houses upstate, and couldn't find anything. Then Al randomly found this property in Connecticut. A schoolhouse from the 1800s, it was an intriguing, undone sort of place, with eccentric corners and a European feel. There was a large kitchen extension, an orangery (sunroom), a tiny unfinished guesthouse that was a glorified shed, a serpentine garden wall, and four acres to mow. Sign us up!

We bought it without further ado. There were plenty of projects ahead. The unfinished knotty-pine walls would require many coats of white paint, the basic kitchen needed cabinets and countertops, and the bathroom with the glossy red paint was so hideous it might have defeated us. My husband, who relaxes by mending or building things, spent endless weekends with a sledgehammer and a paint gun. I'm more of a horizontalist, so I reclined on the sofa and planned the more decorative aspects. I aimed for a European modern country look, a blend of all the places where I had either lived or dreamed of living, from Norway to Sweden to Denmark. There is a vase from Tunisia, a bamboo lantern from Singapore, and a Danish–inspired leather campaign chair. Many of the pieces we picked up at flea markets and junk shops. It has a cozy, rustic, Scandinavian, eclectic-English aesthetic that all just comes together.

If you were to drop in for the weekend, you might happen upon our bohemian salon in action. All our friends would be gathered, and we would be comparing notes about our travels over violet macarons and wild-crafted kombucha. We would talk about where we've been, and where we are going to next: Tuscany or Tripoli, Porto or Patagonia—wherever we can create that elusive rest home for retired nomads.

Some people would have painted our living room's chestnut walls and floors white. That would have been tragic, because this space gets the most magical light. Even with all the wood, it never seems dark. I'm obsessed with sofas and am never not researching them. I didn't expect to buy one in blue linen, but this Cisco Home style was extremely comfortable and on sale at ABC Home. The metal-slat coffee table is a shelf from an industrial fridge, with marble slabs on top to make it more user-friendly.

01 of 06

Moving Parts

danish daybed in front of bay window
Dana Gallagher

Our living room's sunny bay window is the perfect spot to lounge on a Danish daybed, such as this one from Menu. I'm fond of daybeds because of their long, slim shape, and because they're easy to move around. I like the pillow, from Küdd:krig Home, for its abstract design.

02 of 06

Nomad Kitchen

white subway tile kitchen with marble countertops
Dana Gallagher

I prefer kitchens that don't scream "kitchen." It's a room, not just a place for cooking, and I didn't want it to look like a lab with cupboards on the wall. The red-oak freestanding cabinets, made by Coquo, are removable, separate pieces of furniture, which is great for nomads—you can take them with you when you leave. My husband added the marble work surfaces. He's a big cook, and obsessed with those skillets; he gets very cross if they're washed incorrectly. I hate recessed ceiling lights in kitchens, so we added the swing lamp, which is a copy of a vintage version. The speckled off-white glazed ceramic tiles are from Clé.

03 of 06

Calm Quarters

white guest bedroom with rust colored accent pillows
Dana Gallagher

The walls in the guesthouse are knotty pine—a look that is making a comeback, but not for me. I had Al paint them all white. The CB2 metal bed is a hand-me-down from a friend. I like to dress it in layers of wool and linen from Parachute, in colors inspired by the landscape outside: rust, charcoal, and cinnamon. The chubby chair is from Jack Rabbit Studio, and the nightstand is a CB2 outdoor table.

04 of 06

Just the Essentials

ad hoc desk made from an old door perched on trestles
Dana Gallagher

A second-floor bedroom in our main house is just big enough for a bed and an ad hoc desk made from an old door perched on trestles. The bamboo lantern arrived via Etsy from Singapore.

05 of 06

Spa Retreat

bathroom with plasterboard walls and concrete tub
Dana Gallagher

Our guesthouse's bathroom, with its 20-foot ceiling, plasterboard walls, and concrete tub, was a labor of love. Getting the plumbing under the existing flagstone was an ordeal, and it took us a while to decide how to configure it. But as we are soakers, we placed the tub at the far end so there'd be a view out the window. The elongated black-marble trough sink was made in Portugal and intended for the kitchen, but it was the wrong size and landed here. The faux-rattan lantern is from Article.

06 of 06

Leaf Motif

orangery with daybed and plants
Dana Gallagher

The orangery, with its brick floor and walls finished in a white limewash, is sometimes a dining room and sometimes an extra bedroom. We change it around, but the jungle of plants, including fig, olive, and lemon trees, is always happy here. The carved white wooden chair is from Beck & Cap; the daybed is a shelf from an industrial fridge, which I topped with an Urban Outfitters cushion; and the felt pendant overhead is from Menu.

See the inspired spaces in Hilary's new book, out July 12 and available for preorder now. Excerpted from Nomad at Home: Designing the Home More Traveled by Hilary Robertson ($40,, published by Ryland Peters & Small, 2022.

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