You’d expect the owner of a modern furniture store to have a house full of stark colors and straight-line furnishings, but the home of Michael Kalesti, the owner of Kent Home in Chappaqua, is full of vintage lamps, antique-y dressers, and old estate-sale finds. In fact, his 1927 three-bedroom Tudor-Colonial in Chappaqua looks like a hodgepodge of hip, country, and comfort. But it effortlessly showcases Kalesti’s design magic: making vintage pieces and accents look organic in contemporary rooms.
Of course, he can’t take credit for all of it. Kalesti’s wife, Kathy, a fashion consultant who helps up-and-coming designers build their businesses, does a lot of the picking and choosing at home. “But it’s always based on my approval,” laughs Kalesti.
The put-togetherness that you’ll see today certainly didn’t exist in 1998 when the Kalesti family first stumbled upon the house. “It was in pretty bad shape,” says Kalesti. “Everything was overgrown. The paint was coming off the walls. Inside was bad, there were no updates, things were falling apart, the roof needed to be replaced.”
In terms of location, though, the house was a find: It’s close to the train, a short walk to town, and part of a renowned school district. Plus, structurally, everything was intact. “It had really good bones, interesting lines inside and out,” says Kalesti. “It was a sound house; it just needed some TLC.”
So the Kalestis bought it and began renovating. They started with the outside, redoing three layers of old roofing, installing new flashers and gutters, and restoring the windows. “Twenty or 30 panes needed to be replaced,” says Kalesti. They painted and redid the pavers and the pool. “We had to cut back tons of shrubbery and bushes. There were vines growing on the house.” The outdoor sprucing took a year, and then, they were finally able to start on the inside.
The biggest problem for the Kalesti family, which includes son Marcus (now 17) and daughter Annick (now 15), was that the house lacked an open floor plan. Boxy rooms led to more boxy rooms. “We didn’t want to expand the house,” says Kalesti. “We just wanted to open it up and make it more friendly. It was like you were in a cube, and it wasn’t great for entertaining.”
Enter the house now, and you’re greeted by a cozy rectangular dining room just off the entrance. From there, a narrow opening leads through an old butler’s pantry, now used as a serving station for dinner parties, and into a kitchen. Originally, the kitchen was its own room and shared a wall with an office/play area. When the Kalestis began renovating, they removed the wall between the two rooms and gutted the space completely.
In the cooking area, they added a new tile floor (at a glance it looks like wood!), honed black granite countertops, new stainless-steel appliances, and a white subway-tile backsplash. A huge farmhouse sink in off-white porcelain with polished-nickel Rohl fixtures adds a little country flavor.
A breakfast counter stands where that separating wall used to be, and that old office? It’s home to an old farm table and vintage benches. Kalesti found them at an estate sale in Katonah and repainted them putty gray. “They’re some of my favorite pieces,” he says. “This is where we spend most of our time.”
Not everything in the kitchen is new, however. An old built-in spice cabinet, original to the house, not only survived the Kalestis’ renovation, but now adds depth, character—and even purpose—to the décor, as they still keep spices in it.
In the den, just off the kitchen’s eat-in space, two natural-linen couches—three-seaters from ABC Home—flank a matching rectangular ottoman/coffee table. You can face the flatscreen TV on one wall, or the fireplace (one of two in the house), depending on where you sit. If that doesn’t seem like enough seating for entertaining, there are always the window seats—simple storage blocks topped with cushions—along both sides of the fireplace.
A bar created out of an old sofa-back table delineates the den from the kitchen, and the room opens via a sliding-glass door outside to the pool and patio— a huge plus for summer entertaining. Removing the original wall certainly made the rooms more spacious and open, but what Kalesti loves most is the natural light. “Our goal was to open up the space and have more lighting and connection to the pool,” he says. “There are a lot of different lighting angles in this room. The wall was blocking that before.”
A Keith Haring—given to Kathy by the artist himself in 1989—hangs over the original fireplace, and vintage brass lamps topped with current hopsack-linen shades stand on the bar behind the couch. Both look as at home as the Kalestis’ pug, who sprawls out on any piece of furniture he darn well pleases. “It’s comfortable living,” says Kalesti. “It’s just mixing pieces that we liked: vintage pieces, new pieces, provincial pieces, country pieces. It’s comfortable, not stark. Some people’s homes become, ‘Don’t sit there,’” he says.
Mixing the old and new is something you’ll see upstairs in the three bedrooms as well. In the master bedroom, there is an old entertainment unit that the couple repurposed into an armoire. “We don’t have a lot of closets,” says Kalesti, which comes as a surprise given that both Kathy and Michael, a former executive for Calvin Klein, have roots in fashion. “I refinished the entertainment unit and repainted it a matte gray.“ He took the same approach with an old desk, now a makeup station for Kathy.
Every teenager should be so lucky to have a bedroom as hip and stylish as the one Annick calls her own. Bold brick-red walls set an artsy mood, and the color is echoed in the bedspread, the window treatments, and in a vintage Hollywood Regency velvet loveseat. “I purchased four of them at auction,” says Kalesti. The repurposed antique dresser fits right into the fashion-forward space because of the color: matte black. “My wife found this dresser at a sale. It was brown and she and my daughter painted it black. I was impressed with how nice it turned out.”
Annick’s room may be a stylistic departure from the muted tones in the rest of the house, but it still exemplifies Kalesti’s design scheme: Buy something old and play with it. “We buy things, but then we might change them a little bit,” he says. “We don’t buy too many new pieces.”
More proof of that is in the dining room, which has more country appeal than any other part of the house. The centerpiece, of course, is the room’s table: a 150-year-old farm table flanked by four simple chairs painted blue. “I stripped the tabletop down and kept more of the natural finish. I don’t like polyurethane,” says Kalesti. The vertical sideboard in the dining room was originally a shiny armoire that belonged to Kathy’s grandparents. “I made it more of a matte finish,” Kalesti says.
Matte finishes coupled with natural tones seems to be one of Kalesti’s design signatures—they’re present in every room. He prefers them because they help make furniture, accessories, and artwork pop. “We like that you can look around and see something everywhere you look,” he says. “Hopefully, it’s something interesting.”
Michael Kalesti’s Rules of Design
1. Start with one room and finish it. Ideally, you should pick the one where you spend most of your time. “Some people buy one piece here, one piece there, and never finish a single room,” says Kalesti.
2. Buy the biggest piece first. “A lot of people make mistakes buying coffee tables or side tables first, then they find it doesn’t fit with their couch.”
3. Shop around. “You don’t have to buy the most expensive piece of anything,” he says.
4. Move things around. “I go into people’s homes and find they may have something misplaced,” says Kalesti. If something’s not working, try it in a different area.
5. Paint and repurpose. You can give something a completely new look with the right color and finish. And maybe you don’t need a desk, but you do need a makeup table—as in the Kalestis’ master bedroom, the same piece may be able to handle both jobs.
Mary Lynn Mitcham Strom lives with her family in Northern Westchester. She has never refinished a table or changed a lamp, but loves people who do.