The house was uninhabitable, destroyed by a flood and left to fend for itself. But when the property came up for auction, Stefania Skrabak knew she had to have it. The designer could see the potential—“I wanted the challenge of a fixer-upper. I’ve always been very hands-on and it was something I knew I could do,” she says—and the price was unbeatable.
“I bought it for $18,000, which is unheard of,” Skrabak says of the home, which is located in Phoenicia in New York’s Catskills. The first thing the designer did was rip out everything that wasn’t structural. Once the house was completely gutted, she had a blank canvas from which she could create a brand-new floor plan. She wanted a space that could be a showcase for her business, but also work as a part-time home for her family, which became even more imperative when she found out—just two months after buying!—that she was pregnant.
The result: a 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom getaway, complete with an additional separate bungalow.
“I let the house speak for itself,” she says of her inspiration for the project. “I think there’s a certain honesty with any interior or exterior—you’re not fighting against the elements.” In order to stay true to her Catskills surroundings, Skrabak kept the space clean and white. She paid further homage to the setting by incorporating milled wood from trees that had been cut down around the property throughout the home. Not one to shy away from getting her hands dirty, she even taught herself how to wire lighting. “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.”
Last but not least, Skrabak turned to retailers such as Wayfair, Overstock.com, and Restoration Hardware Modern, as well as vintage and secondhand shops, to outfit her new digs. “The biggest rewards of living in my own design are those simple moments that make me the happiest: sitting on the couch with the sliding doors 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 homes, I look at them as experiences. I think about a space as how I’d want to live in it.”
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