Photos by Stefan Radtke
A husband-wife team transforms an old stone house into a haven of minimalist European design with a rustic touch.
Ewa Sleszynski and her husband, Tomasz, met in 2003, after moving to the United States from Poland. They were living in a small Brooklyn apartment with two young children when they decided it was time for a change. “With my background as a fashion and brand consultant, and my husband owning his own construction company,” Sleszynski says, “we were thrilled to finally work on a project together — our own home.”
After a long search in Westchester, the couple found a 7,000 square foot stone house in Croton-on-Hudson. Built in 1959, the home was situated on over an acre of land, with a private pond in the back yard and a gate leading to hiking and mountain biking trails. The Sleszynskis bought the house in 2014 and spent six months remodeling the interior. “Combining my modern European aesthetic with a touch of vintage charm and the natural beauty of the lower Hudson Valley, we created this unique space.”
Sleszynski says that despite the extensive interior renovation, she and Tomasz decided to keep some elements that capture the home’s original spirit. For example, the house was dark inside and had sections of brown brick walls running everywhere. “In order to lighten the space, we had all the bricks painted white by hand by rubbing the paint with a rag. We didn’t want to cover up the look of the bricks, so we had to take it very slowly,” she says. They also kept the roughly hewn pine beams in the family room ceiling and on the window sill bases around the house, but had the dark paint sanded down to restore the beams to their natural light color.
To further brighten the interior, the Sleszynskis tackled the Brazilian cherry floors, which were stained dark brown when the home was purchased. “What we did was sand the floors and put on two coats of light gray water-based paint topped with a double coat of matte sealer. It’s a very fragile floor and very easy to scratch, but the nicks and scrapes just add to the rustic element of the house,” she says.
While her husband concentrated on supervising construction, Sleszynski concentrated on interior design. “Basically, I draw most of my inspiration from my travels in Europe,” she says.
Many of the home’s design choices were the result of Sleszynski’s research on furniture websites, such as 1stDibs.com, and lighting websites, such as YLighting.com and Flos.com. She also shopped at stores such as Duplex Design and Moonlight Woodworking in Brooklyn, as well as the former ABC Carpet & Home warehouse store in the Bronx. Sleszynski says, “Not everything has to be high-end modern design. I love finding vintage and antique furniture and mixing it up.
The home’s family room, kitchen, and dining room are all located on the second floor, and Sleszynski loves how they connect in an open-concept plan. “I’ve always liked very bright spaces, because they relax me. I don’t like the color; I like a very minimalist palette,” she says. “Even though this space has three skylights and tall windows, it doesn’t provide as much light as you might think. He needs a pure look with luminosity. I knew we really had to go with white walls because they were going to make the space feel very open and airy.
Sleszynski decided to fill the rooms with furniture in varying shades of white, gray, black, and brown, as well as unique, European, modern lighting decor. One of the highlights of the family room is the Eames Black Leather and Walnut Lounge Chair and Ottoman, truly one of the most iconic mid-century modern furniture designs. Sleszynski also added a dark gray sofa from Rove Concepts and a gray wool-blend rug she bought from a thrift store. A vintage oak coffee table adds a rustic touch and echoes the color of the pine ceiling beams. To complement the high-design elements of the living room, a signature lamp from Denq by Oluce, created by renowned Japanese designer Toshiyuki Kita, is shaped like a giant light bulb.
The living room flows into the dining room, where the Sleszynskis have a beautiful table created by a friend from salvaged chestnut planks left at a construction site. Six different white chairs, each very European and minimalist in style, surround the table. There is also a beautiful industrial-chic floor lamp complemented by a trio of oversized pendant lights, which hang from the ceiling and add elements of international modern design to the living space. The dining area is complemented by a vintage mirror, with black spots and stripes, to add character, and a detailed metallic finish, which Sleszynski found at a flea market.
This open floor plan also includes the Sleszynskis’ remodeled kitchen. The couple tore down cabinets that partially blocked windows and prevented natural light from entering. “These windows now offer wonderful views in winter of the nearby Croton Reservoir and the house’s lush, green gardens in summer,” says Sleszynski.
The kitchen is outfitted with stainless steel appliances from Bosch, while the sleek custom cabinetry has high gloss white paint on the wood. Complementing the modern European kitchen elements is a rustic Sleszynski bench found at a yard sale. A unique element of the kitchen are the floors, which are covered with a Moroccan plaster finish in gray called Tadelakt. “It’s really easy to apply and wash off, and it’s also very flexible; if you drop something, it’s not going to break,” says Sleszynski. “Now that the house is installed, you can see the cracks in the material, but everything looks great.” (They also used Tadelakt on the floor and walls of the adjacent powder room.)
To the side of the large living space are the two children’s bedrooms; there’s also a long hallway, with a minimalist all-white workspace (with a chair and three bookshelves) and rows of windows paired with light-colored oak benches.
At the end of the hallway is the master bedroom, a light and airy space that has a very relaxed feel. Unlike the rest of the house, Sleszynski painted the large wall behind the bed a dark blue. “It’s a huge space, and if I were to keep it white, it wouldn’t have a cozy feel,” she says. A wood-burning fireplace also warms the room, along with a pair of modern European light fixtures with an elegant gold stem and hanging bulb, one on either side of the bed. The beautiful lacquered oak coffee tables by Muuto function as bedside tables. On the other side of the bedroom is a vintage Sleszynski sofa bought from a friend of hers and upholstered in navy blue velvet.
The master bathroom carries the same design scheme as the rest of the house. The all-white plumbing fixtures are from German company Duravit, including the sleek, sleek oval tub in the middle of the room, as well as the double sinks and toilets. “They all have a very sleek, modern look that I love,” says Sleszynski. Plus, the twin lights hanging over the tub are super minimalist and modern, hanging from wires with artistic, twisted bulbs.
Looking for a way to warm the room, Sleszynski added plants and kept the roughly hewn wooden beam at the bottom of the windowsill, along with a vintage wooden bench, where she keeps her towels. “I love it so much because you can take a bath and really relax and look out our big window, which has a great view of the backyard. It’s like a spa,” she says.
Throughout the house, Sleszynski introduced plants to add a splash of color and life. There are several vases filled with sprigs of tree branches and beautiful flowers. “I love bringing all kinds of plant cuttings from our garden,” she says. “I never really buy flowers; I just bring what is natural around us in the gardens and the woods.