Rochelle Udell and Doug Turshen just may have the perfect commute. The couple, who’ve been married 39 years, live in the Sparta Historic District of Ossining in an 18th-century red brick Georgian. Each morning they need only walk a few steps, to the property next door, to reach their workplaces. She’s an artist and former fashion and publishing executive (she founded Epicurious.com and held leading roles at Self, Vogue, and other publications); he’s a designer who produces coffee table books on interior design, architecture, and landscapes, working with prominent experts such as Bunny Williams, Jeffrey Bilhuber, and Carolyne Roehm.
Today, the fact that they have individual studios facing each other — hers a modern black box that sits perfectly in line with his, a small circa-1795 house — can be chalked up to both serendipity and careful planning.
Above: Rochelle sits on one of her slipcovered Wassily chairs.
A decade ago the couple downsized from Harrison to their current house, which they spotted one day while out walking in Doug’s parents’ neighborhood. “We’re not the most savvy in terms of negotiating. We looked at it and said, ‘We’ll take it,’” Rochelle says, laughing. “We absolutely love it. The house has a lot of history.”
She notes that its rounded room was added in the 1920s by architects who went on to design the Empire State Building. They had been living in the house only a few months and were searching for a studio for Doug when they heard that their neighbors were thinking of moving to Florida. They offered to buy the property next door, and the rest is part of their rich history. Now the couple live blissfully in one house and work happily in the other.
The White House
The historic white house that’s now Doug’s office occupies just 420 sq. ft., too small for many people’s living requirements but ample for Doug’s book-design work. “I love that because I don’t live in this house and didn’t need to do much renovation, I have been able to keep a house in a historic district in its most original form,” Doug says.
The two-room downstairs has been preserved, and the front room remains mostly as it was in the 1700s. Wide-plank floors that were worn and uneven were painted white. “Rochelle always thought that I should take down the wall and make one big room, but I’m afraid that the house would fall down,” says Doug with a laugh, adding, “I don’t mind small rooms, while Rochelle likes a big space.”
Doug is a collector who loves antiques; Rochelle is a modernist and minimalist. However, Doug’s office is reasonably pared down: His computer rests on an old door sitting on two antique sawhorses that belonged to his father, and he sits surrounded by books that he designed. His simple decor includes a tray of collectibles — objects found around the house, such as an iron hammer, nuts and bolts, and a piece of wood. “A lot of natural objects that I picked up around here,” he says. “They’re very sculptural.”
When Doug first set up his office in the white house, Rochelle was still working in publishing and fashion. Years later, as she prepared to shift from an executive role to pursuing her art, the couple eyed the yard behind the white house, which was home to a dilapidated old barn, as a possible studio site. Then they turned to architects Dick Bories and James Shearron, who had helped them renovate the interior of their Georgian, to conceive a structure that would complement the antique house while fulfilling Rochelle’s desire for something contemporary.
Thinking Inside The (Black) Box
The black box, as Rochelle refers to her studio, functions both as a space for creating art and an art installation. “The little white house faces this black cube,” says Doug. “They are the same exact width and in line with each other precisely.” The black studio, built in 2016, can barely be seen from the street. Inside the black-and-glass shell, Rochelle employs a rolling cart and a chair on wheels. “I’m attached to wheels, pieces you can move around,” she says. “It’s the way I love to work. I work on multiple things at once, and they need to cook or percolate for a while so I know what to do.”
It’s in her studio that she has created collections of art that celebrate everyday objects. In her “Chairs” collection, for example, classic chairs — the butterfly, the Adirondack, the spindle, the Louis Ghost, the Wassily — are depicted in gold leaf and ink on paper.
In contrast to the black exterior, the inside of the studio is painted pure white. “I spent so many years at Condé Nast, and everyone who knows me walks in here and says, ‘Oh, my God. It looks just like your office.’ It’s bright white inside, and there’s stuff all over the place, but it’s just my work,” she says.
Her latest art project focuses on the inside of boxes. She recalls helping out at her family’s bakery when she was young folding boxes for the cakes. “I was fascinated by boxes,” she says, noting that she still has a tin box her mother brought to the United States when she fled Russia. “I’m also really concerned about the number of boxes that Amazon delivers to me on a daily basis. I’m interested in what happens inside the boxes.”
While Rochelle works on her art inside of her box (she’s also busy volunteering to help launch the Sing Sing Prison Museum and Criminal Justice Center), Doug creates books in his house. The studio windows face each other; a lawn and small patio sits between them. The white and black structures exude a sense of balance, of yin and yang, and create that feeling for the couple as well. “I love that I face nature and the studio,” says Doug. “Rochelle’s studio looks so much like Rochelle, and I look out the window and I feel like there’s my wife. It’s a really, really pleasant place to work.”