Kingston’s First Mini-Mansion | House Profiles | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
Kingston’s First Mini-Mansion
Deborah DeGraffenreid
1840s Greek Revival Christian Philips House. The columns, added in 1850, were originally from the Saint James Methodist Church.

When interior designer Haynes Llewellyn and legal technology expert Gary Swenson began house hunting in Kingston in 2007, they drove from New York City to look at a listing they'd found on the Internet that they found needed too much work. Charmed, however, by the architectural quality of homes for sale in their price range, they soon looked at five and ultimately bought a stately 1848 Greek Revival on St. James Street in Uptown, chosen for its striking looks, fundamental condition, and walkable location, since Llewellyn does not drive.

"Ghastly wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpet everywhere, all in pink and blue, and it hadn't been updated in decades," says Llewellyn, a native of Alabama who together with Swenson, his partner of 14 years, previously owned a 7,000-square-foot 1890 townhouse in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, DC, and, later, a rather swell apartment on Central Park West. "During college, Gary was a professional house painter, and that's always been something he will cheerfully do for us, but I'm afraid I've rather exhausted him lately. I've just completed my fourth phase of renovations of this house, and it required his repainting four rooms with 17 different colors, including the accent tones on the moulding."

Llewellyn says he sources ideas from every available source and makes them manifest in his own digs on an ongoing basis. "I like everything to look fresh, just as I like glossy paint, and yes, I am something of a perfectionist," he admits.

They bought the house from the estate of a former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon. It had been unoccupied for three years. The initial renovation consisted mostly of removing existing decorative elements and took a large crew 12 weeks. When the couple moved to Kingston, they didn't really know anyone, so once Llewellyn had the house presentable, he walked around the neighborhood and left a party invitation at the home of every house he admired.

"They all came. That's how I met Taylor and Elizabeth Thompson, who own the Calvert Vaux Chronogram featured," says Llewellyn. "We're now very good friends. Elizabeth is the only person I have ever asked for decorating advice for this house, by the way."

Kingston’s First Mini-Mansion
Deborah DeGraffenreid
Haynes Llewellyn seated on a 19th-century Chinese Chippendale sofa in the living room with his rescue Scotties Mac and Heather. The walls are painted Gardenia Leaf Green, a color created by 20th-century designer Billy Baldwin.

Llewellyn Loves Chairs
The four-bedroom, three-bath, 3,000-square-foot two-story has an attic and a full basement, but only three closets. "The closet situation is terrible. They used wardrobes mostly back when the house was built. I keep my clothes in the attic," says Llewellyn, who favors dress shirts with French cuffs from chic haberdashers Thomas Pink and Ascot Chang. His favorite pair of cufflinks, yellow gold with deep blue lapis lazuli inlays—a treasured Christmas gift from Swenson—mirror the cobalt accents charging their home, in which intense shades of yellow, green, and curry red otherwise prevail. "And you can tell I'm from Alabama, because I have to have a lot of Transferware pottery, just like my mother," says Llewellyn.

"I also just love chairs. My favorite is a Chippendale, so pricey, but one can get tired of having too much brown furniture, so that's another good reason I mix it all up," he says, gesturing to an artfully asymmetric grouping of fine mismatched chairs. "We only have one guest bedroom, really enough, because we have so many guests as it is, people in the city just love to come stay. But two sitting rooms, and we really use them; we eat dinner all over the house, sometimes using tray tables."

Fred J. Johnston's Former Residence
The house was redesigned in 1960 by Fred J. Johnston, an antiques dealer who counted DuPonts and Rockefellers among his deep-pocketed clients, for owner Flossie Pratt, a well-heeled civic enthusiast. Johnston is remembered as the benefactor of the museum which bears his name on the corner of Wall and Main Streets. He was one of the founders of Friends of Historic Kingston. Llewellyn was president of the preservationist group last year, winding down a decade in which he devoted most of his energies to not-for-profit organizations. He has a few private design clients, and has begun looking for more, while debating whether to open his own antiques and decorative objects boutique, possibly in a converted industrial space.

"I've also been writing a cookbook for decades," shares the designer, quasi-famous for his dinner parties. Typical menu: corn soufflé, roast pear salad, pork loin, and a white French burgundy such as Pouilly-Fuisse to drink. "But now the holidays are upon us, and we're on the Christmas tour again this year, so lots of decorations to consider and put up, plus several parties to give. I'll think about the other work later."

Llewellyn knows a lot of famous decorators, socialites, and set designers, but won't divulge names. "Our front hall is painted the same shade of purple as was used in the dining room of the film Grey Gardens; we know the set designer. And recently a dear friend who is downsizing gave us her fabulous collection of English Majolica, huge vessels, quite valuable—I'm still gasping at her generosity, we love them so much. I found the perfect spot for them on a ledge above the back stairs."

Kingston’s First Mini-Mansion
Deborah DeGraffenreid
The Llewellyn-Swenson home has very little outside space.

Repurposed Pillars from a Torn-Down Church
The home's stately Doric columns aren't original to the house, built for the Philips family, otherwise forgotten in Kingston history. They came from the original St. James Methodist Church, which was torn down and replaced; Llewellyn thinks they were added to his house in 1850.

Johnston installed a large bay window in the dining room and added bookshelves throughout the house. Llewellyn puts them to effective use displaying his collections of busts and other interesting objets d'art.

The only major structural change Llewellyn and Swenson made to the house was enclosing the former servant's entrance to create a small, walled garden. The house otherwise does not have much of a yard on any side; the front landscaping was redone by Llewellyn. "It's a true townhouse in that way. I like to call it Kingston's first mini-mansion," he says.

Llewellyn pays tribute to his favorite interior designers and historic homes. "The dining room is painted the exact same yellow as used originally in Monticello, it took eight coats to get right. The downstairs sitting room is wet-gardenia leaf green, a Billy Baldwin color. And the parlor is Nancy Lancaster yellow, an impossible shade to match, but now you can get it in C2, a line of hand-crafted paints using artist pigments. I bought it from Joan Ffolliott, the color expert Chronogram featured a while back, at Cabinet Designers, Inc. on Route 28 in Kingston," says Llewellyn.

"We Throw Parties. We Travel. We Do Not Hike."
Swenson and Llewellyn give and attend parties, sail and fly to places with nice beaches—they're sort of looking for a boat—and in general find myriad ways to savor the Hudson Valley. But they never, ever hike.

"Shortly after we moved here Gary went hiking with a friend to Kaaterskill Falls. It was like that scene in Auntie Mame when Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside plunges to his death taking a picture in the Alps. Our friend was standing backwards, taking a photograph, and suddenly he just fell, many, many feet, and nearly died, breaking lots of bones. I wasn't with them. It was just awful. I had to call his wife," the designer recalls. "So that was it for us and hiking. We do not hike."

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