The Lavender Ghost: In the Hudson Valley, a Creative Couples Victorian Home with an Old Soul

When Amy Ilias began her search for a weekend home in the Hudson Valley, her husband, artist Jim Denney, had one request: Just not an old Victorian with plaster moldings.

Fair enough, she thought. So the couple, who back then counted Brooklyn as their home base, looked at industrial spaces instead, even though Amy had already fallen in love with a Zillow listingof an old Victorian with plaster moldings, no less. But out of respect for Jim, I let it go, she recalls.

Fortunately, their broker intervened and insisted on showing them the house. The minute they stepped inside, Jim had a change of heart: Can you imagine if it were painted white? (She could.) And when they discovered that the home was owned by Brice and Helen Marden (a power couple in the New York art world), the deal was all but sealed.

I had seen a feature on one of their homes in The World of Interiors in 2009 and was so taken with it that I saved it for years. Were drawn to similar thingsa very eclectic mix of modern and vintage, lots of pattern and indigenous textiles, and art. It almost felt predestined, says Amy, who as executive vice president of art and design at ABC Carpet & Home, had her hands in everything creative at the storied New York City retail destination, from vintage and antique buying to event and store design.

The couple purchased the house in 2017 and have since been steadily renovating it while taking care to keep its spirit intactincluding its signature purple exterior. (The inside, per Jims original vision, has been painted all white.) The Mardens chose the exterior color and painted the house. Its an amazing choiceit often almost disappears against the sky, says Amy, who documents the renovation on her Instagram account The Lavender Ghost.

Amy left her job recently, and the couple are now happy to be living full-time upstate. Lets take a tour of The Lavender Ghost, a unique home thats a little bit bohemian, a little bit punk rock, and always artful.

Photography by Amy Ilias.

Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Foyer Above: Amy and Jims eclectic stylea mix of vintage and modern, street and hippie, all against a lot of white spaceis apparent as soon as you cross the threshold. The walls, ceilings, and moldings are painted Benjamin Moores Super White. On the left is a painting by Jim, whose art is displayed throughout the home. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Living Room Above: Three cats share the home with Amy and Jim. This is 3 (yes, his name) roaming the spacious living room, which is appointed with vintage and antique finds. The one new piece: a sectional by Saba, the couples only investment in furniture for this home. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Living Room Above: The house gets amazing light through its many large windows. Here, a quiet corner next to the fireplace in the living room. Jim made the yin yang painting for me. We later used it as our wedding invitation. It hovers alone on a large wall like a protective planet, Amy wrote on her Instagram. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Living Room Corner Above: On the other end of the floor, open to the living room, is this sitting area, anchored by a daybed/sectional. We designed it. Jim made the base, and Cisco Brothers made the mattresses. I went to summer camp as a kid, and loved it. This was an homage, except that they have an organic fill, and they do not smell moldy, says Amy. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Living Room Corner Above: The old Victorian cabinet is lined in blue velvet and holds some of Amys favorite treasures, including mother-of-pearl snuff boxes, antique textiles from Turkey and Japan, antique bowls from Vietnam, and abalone shells from her childhood. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Living Room Above: The view from the sitting area to the rest of the living room. A statue of Guan Yin, the Bodhisattva of mercy and compassion, watches over the scene. This open space is Amys favorite room in the house: It gets incredible light and has beautiful plaster work. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Library Above: The sofa [in the library] is Art Deco and belonged to my Great Aunt Susanne. I inherited it when she left everything to another aunt who did not want any of it, says Amy. Today, the sofa is cocooned in a linen slip cover. The drawings between the windows are by Jim. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Library Above: Billie Pilgrim, a calico, sits atop a cabinet from her childhood home. Most of our mid-century furniture was inherited from my parents. They were complete modernists and had a very minimal aesthetic. My collecting probably started as a form of rebellion, says Amy. The wooden shutters are an eBay score: Five sets for the price of one new set! Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Dining Room Above: The dining room and kitchen are housed in an extension that was added in 2003. Unlike the rest of the home, the walls in this two-story addition are painted gray. It doesnt fit in with the rest of the house, so Im running with thatId like to really clean it up and make it a modern, somewhat Brutalist glass box. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Dining Room Above: Every piece has a story. Amy rescued the Eames chairs out of a dumpster in midtown Manhattan. Now they sit with other mid-century chairs covered in silk velvet by Jack Lenor Larsen, my parents dining room chandelier, and a table made by Jim from reclaimed wood and recycled steel, she wrote on Instagram. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Dining Room Above: Adjacent to the dining room is the stainless steel kitchen, presided over by McCabe, a Maine Coon. The floors in this part of the home are made up of 3- by 7-foot porcelain tiles that resemble concrete. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Back Stairs Above: I love mid-century glassware, Aesthetic Movement transfer ware, old scraps of fabric, Chinese embroideries, printed velvets, handmade rugs, handmade ceramics. I love patina, signs of life and history like fading and fraying. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Second Floor Above: The second floor landing with both sets of stairs visible. The wood floors are all original to the home. Amy and Jim had them sanded, then rubbed in a little white into the wood to knock down the warmth, and added a matte finish. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Bedroom Above: In their bedroom, an Art Nouveau tooled leather-covered armoire, painted white by Amy more than 20 years ago, houses their television. The neon yellow art of the couple as a two-headed creature is by Jim. Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Bedroom Above: A Paul McCobb dresser, another mid-century hand-me-down from Amys parents, abuts the wall to the ensuite bathroom. On the other side of the pocket door is a cabinet from India, behind which is a stacked washer/dryer (the cabinet acts like a partition). Amy Ilias of the Lavender Ghost, Office Above: In Amys office, an embroidered Chinese textile panel works as a makeshift curtain. Above: A peek of the lavender exterior. The couple continue to work on the home and plan to next focus on the outside. Our idea is the same inside and out: Keep and stabilize everything that is original and modernize what is dated and broken. All but one of the windows in the old part of the house are original, says Amy.

For more inspired renovation and restoration projects in the Hudson Valley, see: