With a nod to classic country French design and natural materials, Louisa Benjamin-Bohm, the president of a mammoth moving company, makes her move, in this case, to a Harrison Mediterranean house with timeless appeal.
Shleppers Moving & Storage has become an institution among New Yorkers, its bright orange trucks emblazoned with the company’s quirky name moving along the city streets for nearly 30 years. But there’s not a trace of blinding orange or blazing, well, anything in the home of Louisa Benjamin-Bohm, Shleppers’ president. Quite the opposite. The Harrison home is most defined by its simple Provencal design and its serene, calm character, borne of natural materials such as stone and wood. It’s the antithesis of the fast pace and the in-your-face attitude of Manhattan, where Bohm does her business. And it’s
that way by design.
“When you live in the city, there’s no downtime,” Bohm says. “You’re always on the move. A house in the suburbs has a different feeling. You can really put your feet up.”
It’s hard to imagine Bohm ever putting her feet up. With a business to run, a family of six, and philanthropic activities (particularly her involvement with Habitat for Humanity, the Mayor’s Council in Westchester, and Dress for Success-New York, a non-profit organization that provides professional attire for disadvantaged women), she needed a place that begs her to slow down. “I wanted a welcoming place for a big family with a lot of friends,” she says. “You know comfort food? I wanted comfort furniture.”
Bohm possesses an almost tangible spirituality that’s reflected in both her personal style and her outlook on life. Meditation plays an important role in her life (hence the meditation room off the master bedroom). Mirroring her personality, her home combines the uncommon pairing of tranquility and downright fun:the use of limestone, terracotta, wood, and rattan produces a Zen-like atmosphere, while touches such as contemporary art, whimsical details (e.g., the bar area’s cabinet doors made from old wine crates), and mementoes from the family’s travels, lighten the mood.
In 1988, 10 years after founding Shleppers, Bohm’s life was shattered by a devastating car crash that killed her husband and three young children. The moving business they had built together with a used van, a bank loan, and $12 in business cards was all that remained—and the only thing that kept her going. “After a horrific experience like that, you make a conscious choice to be defeated or to move forward,” Bohm says. She chose to move forward. She poured her heart and soul into Shleppers, and it flourished.
In time, Bohm remarried. She and her husband (above), Dr. Ilan Bohm, a chiropractor and director of the Office of Integrative Medicine in Manhattan, began a new family and started a new life in Israel. In 1999, they left their small town north of Tel Aviv, settling in New York City. Several years later, they decided that a home away from the frenetic city would help create balance in their lives. In August 2001, barely a month before the attacks on the World Trade Center, they moved into their Westchester house. “After September 11th, I was very happy to have a house in Harrison,” she says.
That Mediterranean-style home stands out among the mid-century residences and new construction prevalent in the area. “We love the Mediterranean style, its inherent warmth, and use of natural materials,” she says. “And this place has a guest house, which is great because we have plenty of guests.”
Built in 1920, the house is tucked far off the street on nearly two acres of land. When the Bohms first saw the place, the rooms were small (although plentiful), and the pink-and-yellow bathrooms hadn’t been updated since the 1960s. “Still, there was a charm to it, a simplicity,” Bohm says. “It had been lived in.”
Charming and lovely, yes, though, at 4,000 square feet, too small for four active children. The Bohms bought the house knowing they’d have to fix and expand it. “We weren’t planning to invest a lot,” Bohm says with a laugh. And for a year or so, they didn’t do anything at all. When they began renovating, it was full-speed ahead. “My husband said, â€˜If we’re going to do this, why don’t we do that.’ You wind up with no limits.” Today, the house sprawls at 9,500 square feet, with an additional 2,500 square feet of guest house space.
The Bohms hired architect Cal Petrescu of Scarsdale. When Petrescu began the project, the Bohms had put in a pool in front of the guest house, exactly where the court of the driveway had once stood. Petrescu worked with Ilan to transform the garage and its second-floor loft into a 2,500-square-foot guest house, where the family lived for nearly two years while the construction was underway. “In planning the house, I envisioned how we would use it,” he says.
Once the family was settled in the new guest house, Petrescu went about working on additions to the rest of the house, including a large kitchen and oversized living room suitable for frequent entertaining. These public rooms (and the bedrooms above them) plus the garage were included in the new wing, connected to the original house by a long limestone back stairway that rises into a tower.
Reconfiguring the space allowed for fewer but larger spaces. Thanks to her work experience, Bohm insisted on extra-wide hallways and doorways. “I know how hard it is to get a sofa through a small door,” she says.
And years in Europe and Israel served as inspiration for a less formal architectural design and dÃ©cor. The house has no sharp edges, crown molding, or cornices. “I fell in love with the uncomplicated look of Provence,” Bohm says. Doorways don’t have casings; they are instead inset into the deep walls. Base moldings are simple: painted boards with no decoration. “It creates a softer look, reminiscent of the old Mediterranean homes,” Petrescu says. “It suggests techniques of artisans from long ago, who didn’t have the building technology we do now.”
The main kitchen, thoughtfully designed with help from the Bohms’ friend, Micki Michelman of Interior Decisions in
An oversized island in the kitchen, topped with white Carrera marble, is home to a second sink, a built-in steamer, and two Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers. The kitchen is also equipped with a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a double oven and two warming drawers by Thermador, and a DCS six-burner grill.
For the oversized pantry, which often doubles as a second kitchen or dining space, Bohm found at an antiques market in Provence a zinc-topped bread rack. “I fell in love with it and shipped it home,” she says. She found the most striking feature of the room—oversized weathered green farm doors—in a Ralph Lauren showroom display in Manhattan.
“I really liked them, but I wondered how I could use them. Our architect built a cabinet in the corner of the pantry and then built the rest of the cabinets in the room to match, with the goal of the room looking as if it’s straight from a French farmhouse,” she says. “We wanted to create the feeling that this house had been here a hundred years.” And with such timeless design, it should remain as is for at least one hundred more.