Everything Celerie Kemble touches turns to design gold. So when close friends asked the celebrated interiors maven to brighten up their historic Locust Valley, New York, house, they trusted they were in good hands. “I’ve known them my whole life—our grandparents were best friends,” says Kemble, principal of Kemble Interiors. A young couple with a growing family, the clients sought to transform their summer home, a lush retreat surrounded by tall trees, into a cozy and sophisticated year-round residence. Naturally, they share Kemble’s affinity for a crisp, classic aesthetic, and gave her the freedom to design playfully preppy rooms threaded with color.
While the working relationship was predictably easy, the 100-year-old house posed some interesting challenges. “The scale of the rooms was all cottage-little,” Kemble says. “But the needs of the family were pile-on-the-sofa big.” The owners loved the house’s layout and charm, with its low ceilings and funny angles, and opted to keep its bones intact. With that in mind, Kemble focused largely on cosmetic changes, repainting walls and making the home feel more personal to the couple—in her words, “a little more decorated and fun.” She and Kemble Interiors senior designer Lindsey Herod filled the house with pieces that balance refined and casual elements, such as the 19th-century Latvian armoire in the entry, a distinctive centerpiece that’s also large enough to hold the family’s hockey equipment. Coral seersucker curtains in the dining room are similarly “comfortable and familiar but a little rarefied,” says Kemble, summing up the overall style.
Without any construction, Kemble gave spaces new identities. She put particular emphasis on the large entry foyer that links the downstairs rooms, which the family is constantly passing (or skating) through, adding furniture as handsome as the diamond-checkerboard floors. People often overlook transient hallways, Kemble says, but “we treated that with a lot more design intent and made it more of a central heartbeat to the house.”
Throughout, Kemble balanced color, pattern, and texture so that rooms flow between seasons. In the den, an eggplant-hued alpaca sofa and black patterned ceiling offer a snug place to read by the fire, but the soft mint walls suggest spring, when the alcove doors open onto a shaded lawn. “It’s unconventional to put the darkest bit on your ceiling,” says Kemble, who covered it in William Morris wallpaper. “But it’s such a sweet shape. We wanted to make it a feature.”
Color also helps lighten the mood of a home scattered with antiques, which Kemble used judiciously, and breathes air into tighter spaces—the house’s small side entrance, for example—that could potentially feel cramped. In the master bedroom, a vintage wood chair sits next to blue-striped walls; the floors are painted white, says Kemble, so “everything just floats off it.” Blues and reds echo through the downstairs rooms, giving them extra depth. The coral seersucker reappears in the kitchen, ruched behind cabinet glass, and a deeper red-orange perks and warms up the family room. The range of hues click unexpectedly. “It’s like when people cook to taste,” Kemble says of mixing colors. “You keep putting bites in your mouth, and there’s a moment when you realize you’ve created something special.” With thoughtful adjustments and a few risks, Kemble designed a home that’s the perfect mix for her friends.