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Photography by Read McKendree

Interior designer Michael Ellison didn’t always plan on quitting New York City. “But I was reaching an age where I wanted to get married and become an adult. I began looking for homes in Tivoli and Hudson, and they were either out of my budget or didn’t justify the cost and effort,” says Ellison, the founder and principal of his eponymous New York–based studio. His fate changed one January morning in 2020 when he stumbled upon a listing for a knotty pinewood log cabin in Sullivan County, roughly two hours southwest of where his original search began. 

Photography by Sarah Elliot | Striped Cushion Fabric, ALT for Living; Custom Sofas, Naula Workshop; 1960s Iron and Oak Stools, Cleo Baldon.

When he drove over to see it, it wasn’t at all what he expected—at least not at first. The long driveway was completely snowed-in and the porch was threadbare with nothing more than a dusty La-Z-Boy and an antique turn-knob TV for decor. As uninspired as it was, the interior offered a glimmer of hope. “The moment I set sight on the living room, with its high ceiling and cantilevered loft space and central fireplace, I knew this was it,” recalls the designer, who swiftly made an offer $100,000 under the asking price. To his surprise—and delight—it was accepted. Dreaming ensued.

Photography by Sarah Elliot | Lamp, Danny Kaplan.
Photography by Sarah Elliot | Plates, Barneys.
Photography by Sarah Elliot | 1950s Chairs, Gio Ponti; Doric Lamp, Jordi Mirabell and Mariona Raventós; Painting by J Ross.

The first priority, of course, was bringing some cheer into the 1,700-square-foot home. “It had the sort of look that made you feel like you could just drown in your sorrows,” Ellison recounts with a laugh. In a bid to conjure away the gloom and add dimension to the pine palette, he set about whiting out the walls with precisely three coats of white, so as not to end up with a pinkish tint. “That was not my idea of country living either!” he says. Then he painted over every other available surface: The trim and doors got a lick of steel gray, while a moody black was designated to the dropped kitchen ceiling. Likewise, the fireplace, originally a pink-red, was hushed in a soft cream hue. 

Photography by Sarah Elliot | Cerused Oak Sculptural Lamp, Yasha Heifetz.
Photography by Sarah Elliot

With so much wood everywhere, Ellison loathed the idea of using chunky log cabin furniture. “Instead I wanted to make it feel like a jewel box in the woods,” he says. As someone who loves to entertain, he needed it to feel elevated enough to impress but modest enough for comfort. The middle ground was bringing in layers, starting with the living room. He gave the coffee table a charcoal-toned granite top to act as a brooding counterpoint to both the chunky grass pouf underneath and the hammered metal table to the side. Then he paired French woven rope chairs from the 1950s with leather bomber chairs to dial up the curiosity.

Photography by Sarah Elliot | Cerused Oak Sculptural Lamp, Yasha Heifetz; Painting of Bookshelf by Sophie Dumont; Large Painting (with yellow background) by Peter Robert Keil; Painting of Girl in Party Hat by Kevin Foote.
Photography by Read McKendree | Lamps, Danny Kaplan; Sconces: Circa Lighting; Central Artwork by Peter Robert Keil.

Ellison could never come to terms with the exterior, painted a grubby mud brown. “It was something I never understood. Why paint a wood house a color that isn’t found in natural wood?” he reflects. And so, with the intent of creating a retreat far removed from the world, he camouflaged the home into the woods by painting the facade pencil-lead black. “One thing that really killed me was the trellis on the front of the house, so I added two stacked stone walls to create flower gardens,” he adds.

Photography by Sarah Elliot | Vanity, RH.
Photography by Read McKendree | Sconce, Circa Lighting.

These days, the designer and his husband enjoy a slower pace, away from the hassle and hubbub of the city. “It’s an important milestone in my life,” Ellison reflects of finally owning a place of his own. “Our cabin is more than just decorated, it’s collected, and it’s where we finally feel at home.”

Photography by Read McKendree

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