When the property that would eventually become her home came up for auction, Stefania Skrabak knew she had to have it. Though the home had been completely destroyed by a flood, the designer could see the potential—and it was an unbeatable price.
“I bought it for $18,000, which is unheard of,” she says of the home, which is located in Phoenicia in New York’s Catskills Mountains. “As a designer, I wanted the challenge of a fixer upper. I’ve always been very hands-on and it was something I knew I could do.”
The home was unlivable when she purchased it, and the first thing the designer did was rip out everything that wasn’t structural. Once it was completely gutted, Skrabak had a blank canvas from which she created a new floorplan.
The goal was to create a house that could be a showcase for her business, but also work as a part-time home for her family because “two months into buying the house, I found out I was pregnant.” The result is a 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom property with a separate bungalow.
“I let the house speak for itself,” she says of the style inspiration for the project. “I think there’s a certain honesty with any interior or exterior—you’re not fighting against the elements.”
Staying true to the environment and Catskills setting, the designer knew that the home “had to be clean and white, and I knew it had to be modern,” she says of the design. “It’s very common up there to get dated and dingy, and I didn’t want that. And it had to be wood.”
To marry the upstate, rustic feel with more modern touches, Skrabak combined contrasting modern, masculine elements such as exposed metals and woods with soft fabrics and colors. “That’s something that’s very typical to my style,” she says. “The dichotomy in design. I love that, whether it’s in New York City or in a rustic house in upstate New York.”
To keep the design of the home from looking out of place yet still stylish, Skrabak sourced milled wood from trees cut down around the property. She then enlisted local craftsman to help incorporate the material into the interiors throughout the home.
The remaining furnishings Skrabak picked up from Wayfair, Overstock.com, Restoration Hardware Modern, as well as found objects from vintage and secondhand shops. Not one to shy away from getting her hands dirty, Skrabak taught herself how to wire a house. “When the electrician said, ‘I can’t be there for three months,’ I hired two guys, and we ran all the electrical because I had learned how to do it.”
“The biggest reward that I’ve gotten living in my own design is those simple moments that make me the happiest: sitting on the couch with the sliders open behind it and listening to the rain fall while having a glass of wine, or soaking in the bathtub, or having a morning cup of coffee,” she says. “More than anything, when I look at spaces, I look at them as experiences. I think about a space as how I’d want to live in it.”