The Rural Hudson Home of Designer John Mahoney
Ten years ago, after an upstate sojourn between city leases, designer John Mahoney decided to settle down for good in his 18th-century Hudson Valley weekend home located in a quiet town about 12 miles east of Hudson’s boutique- and restaurant-lined streets. “Hudson has changed drastically in the last ten years, but I live in a very rural setting that is still all farms and small homes,” says John, a fine artist by trade who made the move to applied art in 2004 with the launch of John Mahoney Designs, a coveted line of Eastern-influenced textiles, tufted rugs, and graphic wallpaper. “There have been very little changes here.”
Originally a one-room schoolhouse dating to 1789, the home has managed to retain a small footprint with an airy entry hall, open living space and kitchen, master bedroom, and an attic studio. And while window views are of an unchanging rural landscape made up of woodlands and working farms, inside, John’s house is continually in motion, from the artwork on the walls to the layout of the furniture. “My interior style is always evolving because life is always changing, so the environment has to change with it,” he says. Constant throughout the house, however, is John’s fondness for violet shades, bold metallics, graphic prints, and, of course, all things Japanese.
A self-confessed Japanophile, John has traveled extensively across the country, speaks conversational Japanese, and is an avid collector of both distinctive Japanese kokeshi dolls and of katagami, paper stencils used for dyeing textiles. “There’s such an art to their creation,” he explains, “they have to be as strong and utilitarian as they are beautiful.” It is an observation that could also describe his home, where every inch of space serves a purpose, where function and design go hand in hand. “As a small house, it has to work hard and adapt to the seasons. In the summer, I move furniture around to make space to open the French doors, and in winter, I bring chairs closer to the stove, find storage for firewood, and layer and remove rugs as the weather dictates.”
Metallics and just about every shade of violet are palette staples throughout John’s house. Rarely will you find a primary color. “I prefer the complexities of secondary colors,” says John.
A work room in the eaves serves double duty as a guest room throughout the year, with friends and family seeking retreats from the city. “I assumed people would want to stay downstairs on the sofa bed in the living room, which gets better light, but everyone seems to love the coziness of this room,” says John.
The master bedroom has windows on three sides with views of the treetops and the surrounding rural landscape. The owl motif serves as a rather appropriate symbol of wisdom in an old schoolhouse, as well as a nod to the owls that nest in the nearby woods.
Traditional Japanese buckwheat husk pillows are covered with John Mahoney “Foo” pillowcases, which combine a Japanese wave pattern and depictions of Chinese foo dogs. The Hakui robe that hangs above the bed is a souvenir from a 25-day bicycle trip John took across the Japanese island of Shikoku. “The stamps are from each of the temples on the trail,” he explains. “Traditionally, pilgrims would be cremated in their adorned hakuis for extra credit in the afterlife. It was a hard trip but a wonderful way to get to know Japanese culture,” he says.
The cobalt blue painting of a crankshaft on a Makita power tool is one of John’s own creations, a colorful counterpoint to the wall hanging of springbok hides and the dark wooden plaque, which belonged to his father. On the floor is a John Mahoney Sakura rug.
Looking from the new part of the house into the old schoolhouse, John was deliberate in his choice of matching wallpaper patterns in different colors — one subtle, one more bold — to represent the two aspects of the home.
The old schoolroom is at the heart of the house, with the kitchen in one corner and overlapping spaces for living and dining. “I do everything in this room,” says John. The natural indigo jacket on the wall is a vintage find from a flea market in Tokyo.
A collection of transferware plates from the late 19th-century aesthetic movement highlight the original beadboard in the living room. “After the opening of Japan in 1868, there was a huge Japanese craze, but designers didn’t have easy access to original material so they’d make a lot of it up,” says John. “I love the mix of motifs and eccentric elements like four-foot-tall butterflies and bamboo that looks like giant oak trees.
John’s collection of free-form kokeshi dolls are made by creative design house, Usaburo.
In the light-flooded dining area, John makes use of a chalkboard — original to the house — to create one-of-a-kind, ever-changing artworks. Done by hand every three or four months, John found inspiration for his most recent piece in the curves of the kokeshi dolls.
The traditional English wingback armchair was his father’s from the family home, itself transformed when John reupholstered it by hand using the rug from his father’s office. “It’s not a showpiece — I use it every day. Everything in a home should be used,” he says.
Each item has its place in the small kitchen, where John did the tiling, designed the shelves and worked with Hudson’s Pmi Inc. to create the unique brackets. The grandfather clock was a family heirloom that found its place in one of the only parts of the house with high ceilings.
Inside the kitchen cupboards, wine and sake labels are souvenirs from the many dinner parties John has hosted.
The downstairs bathroom is small and functional with an original light fixture and a custom soap stone corner sink of John’s design.
“I love natural indigo pieces. This might be a satchel,” he says, referring to one of his works in progress.
Rolls of wallpaper samples and textile patterns cover the surfaces in John’s upstairs studio. “There’s always something new in the works,” he says. “I’m exploring apparel next.”