Designer Lyn Peterson's Scarsdale Home

New, old, and repurposed items mesh perfectly in designer Lyn Peterson’s Scarsdale home.

Certain words come to mind when you see a 7,000-square-foot Colonial in Scarsdale, complete with six fireplaces, a 3,000-square-foot farmhouse guesthouse, a pool, and a tennis court: Expensive. Stately. Sprawling. Expensive. Glamorous. Extravagant. Expensive. But rarely does such a picturesque estate conjure up images of good, old-fashioned, practical living.  

And that’s what makes the home of Lyn Peterson—interior designer, author, and founder and owner of Motif Designs—so interesting. Sure, she lives in the kind of sprawling dream house that you’d think would come with a host of trendy showroom furniture and a string of doting servants. But instead, Peterson has designed it with hand-me-down family heirlooms, a few client “rejects,” and always a firm sense of purpose. “You have to find out how you want to live. Then you decorate,” she says.
Without a single major renovation, Peterson has made this larger-than-life mansion—which has been featured on the pages of Good Housekeeping, Victoria magazine, Country Living,  Seventeen, and the New York Times—personal and cozy. “My house says ’warmth’ and ’family.’ My door is always open, and the answer is never ’no,’” she says.

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Lyn Peterson, interior designer, author, and founder and owner of Motif Designs.

The main house, as seen from the back, looks out over the pool and guesthouse.

That open-door policy has been with Peterson from the get-go. When she and her husband, Karl Friberg, bought the 1920 Colonial two decades ago, they were drawn to it because of the guesthouse across the lawn, a perfect home for Peterson’s parents. “It was the guesthouse that drew us here. My parents could live there, so we moved with my parents,” she says.

Since then, Peterson has raised four kids in the main house. Although now only she and her husband (along with their “grand-dog” and “grand-dogger”) occupy the home, there’s still plenty of family passing through.

The entryway has a “backwards” grand staircase that faces the back of the house. “There’s been a long history of two families living here,” Peterson says, “with lots of visits between the houses.”

While tear-it-down-and-rebuild-it renovations seem to be a trademark of designers these days, Peterson has only done smaller, practical projects in the main house, like converting one of her eight upstairs bedrooms into a laundry room. “We had the space,” she laughs. In the kitchen, she added large windows, French doors, and a terrace. “There was no access to the backyard. We lead an indoor-outdoor life,” she says. And instead of redoing the whole dining room, she just expanded the entryway, which made the formal area statelier than a team of designers ever could. “It had an unfortunate 1970s ‘re-muddling.’ We enlarged it and romanticized it with columns and over-door details—my trademark,” she says.

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Other than that, she’s taken what she has (say, an old sectional in the den), what she’s been given (an antique church kneeler from England), and what she needs (throw blankets and pillows from IKEA), and made it all work. “By necessity and desire,” she explains. “I hate the way store-bought looks. It’s not engaging,” she says. “ I like when people walk in and say, ‘Oh, where did you get that?’”

Peterson likes how the casualness of the oak chest in the living room contrasts with the fineness of the mirror and her grandmother’s rose glass lamp.

Peterson’s kitchen is spacious and practical, though not as modern as one might imagine. “I think people would be surprised that’s it’s not more contemporary,” she says. Her oak tombstone cabinets are 52 years old, for example, and even she’s surprised that she hasn’t replaced them. “If you told me they’d still be here nineteen years later…” she laughs, her voice trailing off. While she may have kept her cabinetry, she indulged in other updates that include replacing a “McDonald’s-type commercial terra cotta floor” with Mexican Saltillo tile, adding subway tiles to her countertops, and bringing in stainless-steel appliances and a large limestone island with a gas cook-top. “I wanted a clean, laboratory look for the counter. While more fragile than marble or granite, the limestone has served me well, albeit with a few dings,” she says.

Pendant lights hang over the island, and the walls are done in a red-and-beige-patterned wallpaper from Peterson’s company, Motif Designs. “What Pottery Barn does for consumers, we do for designers,” she explains about Motif. “We weed through furnishings, lighting, and accessories for designers, so they don’t have to.” As for wallpaper, which you’ll find throughout the house, Peterson confidently declares, “It’s back.”

Peterson painted the 52-year-old tombstone cabinets black and added the limestone island for a “clean laboratory look.”

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The breakfast room, just off the kitchen, is Peterson’s favorite. Home to an elevated fireplace and hearth, this is where she likes to cozy up with a book or two in the winter. Two armchairs sit in front of the fireplace, and off to the side, an old server has found a new life as a TV stand. “When you move, you need to throw everything up in the air and see where it lands,” she laughs.

An antique wood table, from Main St Cellar Antiques in New Canaan, Connecticut, sits in front of French doors leading out to the terrace. “I’m sure it was in a garage or a workshop,” she says. “These are twenty-eight-inch planks. That’s amazing.”
Peterson’s practical ways continue all the way up to the master bedroom, which is still home to a cluster of small, original closets. One big closet is better than all of these little ones, she says, but these work. And while in the bedroom you’ll find yet another fireplace, Peterson has made this one strictly ornamental. “Anyone who can go to sleep when a flame is flickering is a mystery to me,” she says. “To me, fire is an active thing. It needs to be fed, nurtured, and watched. It should be in an active room.”

Now, who can argue with that?

The guesthouse is just across the lawn from the main house.

The china collection in the dining room is both decorative and used for meals.

Bamboo furniture passed down from her family and an old Yellow Monkey Antiques pine kitchen table fill the screened porch. The glass-doored pine cabinet is filled with artwork created by her children when they were little.

Natural light streams in through windows in the front of the living room and through French doors toward the back and off the side of the room.


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