A Victorian Abloom in Rhinebeck | House Profiles | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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A Victorian Abloom in Rhinebeck 

click to enlarge A hallway wall of the Walker family’s renovated Victorian. Marla Walker chose a floral printed wallpaper by Swedish Designer Josef Frank - to cover the central hallway and stairwell up to the second floor. The portrait silhouettes by Catskills-based artist Jenny Lee Fowler are cut from leaves. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • A hallway wall of the Walker family’s renovated Victorian. Marla Walker chose a floral printed wallpaper by Swedish Designer Josef Frankto cover the central hallway and stairwell up to the second floor. The portrait silhouettes by Catskills-based artist Jenny Lee Fowler are cut from leaves.

Marla Walker has a wallpaper problem. "I'm a pusher," she admits. "I think I've talked almost every single person I've worked with into using wallpaper. I'm dead set on it. I think it just immediately adds style, pattern, color, and personality. It's a very easy way to take design up a notch." The Rhinebeck-based interior designer makes an equally compelling case for fresh flowers, the use of bright colors, and buying and hanging original art, especially from the plethora of talented artists based in the Hudson Valley. Walker's talent for creating beautiful interiors was bred into her by a design-centric family and honed over years of experience, and she loves helping others find their own personal decorating visions.

"My mission is partly to demystify decorating," she explains. "People tend not to trust what they like. They sometimes choose pieces or set things up in a way they think they're supposed to, but then it doesn't actually work with how they live. My mantra is: If you really love something, it will work."

click to enlarge Walker’s 1870 Victorian is located in the Rhinebeck’s historic district. After removing - the exterior shingles, the family plans to paint the exterior walls and trim. “I think the house is going to tell me what color it wants to be when we remove the shingles,” Walker explains. “I don’t think it wants to be a dark color. I think it will be a lighter color and the - sashes and trims want to be dark.” The teal blue door is a shade Walker employs often in her designs. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Walker’s 1870 Victorian is located in the Rhinebeck’s historic district. After removingthe exterior shingles, the family plans to paint the exterior walls and trim. “I think the house is going to tell me what color it wants to be when we remove the shingles,” Walker explains. “I don’t think it wants to be a dark color. I think it will be a lighter color and thesashes and trims want to be dark.” The teal blue door is a shade Walker employs often in her designs.

In 2016, after building a business inspiring clients to find their own style, Walker got the opportunity to put her distinctive flair to work for herself. She and her family bought a three-bedroom, two-bath Victorian in need of a major spruce-up. Dating back to 1870 and part of an enclave of Victorians that make up the village of Rhinebeck's historic district, the 3,000-square-foot home hadn't been altered or updated in 40 years. With Walker's deft touch and eye for color, as well as a little help from her architect husband, Brian Walker, she was able to preserve the historic Victorian's classic beauty while fully modernizing the interior and transforming the vintage home into a comfortable and colorful, family-friendly space.

A Bird in the Hand

Walker's journey to becoming a Hudson Valley interior design maven began in the South, where she spent her school years in Atlanta and Birmingham. "It's sort of my family business," Walker explains. "My mother does it and I've helped her my whole life." Growing up, Walker accompanied her mother on design installations, helping with everything from moving furniture to finding art. After college, Walker moved to New York City where she landed a job at the Children's Television Workshop, makers of "Sesame Street." She loved the work, but ultimately a desk job wasn't for her. That's when she got the idea for Bird, a clothing store, which she founded with a friend in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1999. "It just took off like total wildfire," Walker remembers. "It was really, really needed at that time and in that place. We had no idea what we were doing, but it worked out really well. I think it's good when you start a business and you don't know what you're doing, because then you're not afraid to just try things."

click to enlarge Walker sitting at her desk. The geometric paper cuttings hung above are also by local artist Jenny Lee Fowler. “A lot of what I do is help people find their own style and inspire them to be more confident with their own design decisions,” explains Walker. “Every job is completely new. It has to do with that person, their space, and who they are. I love collaborating and find myself appreciating someone else’s idea that at first I might have disagreed with. That’s the fun part.” - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Walker sitting at her desk. The geometric paper cuttings hung above are also by local artist Jenny Lee Fowler. “A lot of what I do is help people find their own style and inspire them to be more confident with their own design decisions,” explains Walker. “Every job is completely new. It has to do with that person, their space, and who they are. I love collaborating and find myself appreciating someone else’s idea that at first I might have disagreed with. That’s the fun part.”

In 2008, Walker and her family decided to move upstate to Barrytown, prompting her to sell Bird. "We loved the natural beauty up here," she explains. She and her husband thought the slower pace of life in the Hudson Valley would be more conducive to raising young children than the city, offering the chance for the family to spend more time outdoors.

Walker's professional evolution from "dressing Brooklyn to designing the Hudson Valley" was an organic one. "In the city, people are more into how they dress because they are on the street so much, but up here, people spend a lot more time at home and even entertain at home. Our homes nourish us and are a place to recharge." She began Marla Walker Interiors by offering three-hour sessions helping clients with everything from rearranging furniture to choosing color schemes and hanging art. From there, her business grew by word of mouth to include whole house projects and even the recent redesign of a new restaurant in Tivoli slated to open this fall.

click to enlarge The back corner of Walker’s office/mudroom - space looking into the central hallway and stairwell. One of her specialties is coming into a home for a single three-hour session where she helps with everything from rearranging furniture layouts to choosing pieces. “Interior design doesn’t have to be this expensive, fancy thing. A lot of what I do is helping - people pull furniture out from the walls,” says Walker. “Anybody can hire someone to help them.” - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The back corner of Walker’s office/mudroomspace looking into the central hallway and stairwell. One of her specialties is coming into a home for a single three-hour session where she helps with everything from rearranging furniture layouts to choosing pieces. “Interior design doesn’t have to be this expensive, fancy thing. A lot of what I do is helpingpeople pull furniture out from the walls,” says Walker. “Anybody can hire someone to help them.”

Letting in the Light

As both her children and her business grew, the family began to outgrow their rural Barrytown home. They also had a hankering to try village life and so began to search the quaint streets of Rhinebeck for something suitable. They found a Victorian that was a bit smaller than they'd hoped for and needed some work, but it was in walking distance to the village center, so in 2017, they bought it and began a major interior renovation.

click to enlarge A corner nook of Walker’s downstairs living room was created by closing up an extra kitchen door. The sketch above the chair is a limited-edition print Walker bought in Brooklyn. One particular task she loves is - helping clients hang art. “I think it’s something I’m very skilled at. People often don’t know how to hang work or the right space to hang it. Sometimes beautiful pieces - are hidden away somewhere,” she says. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • A corner nook of Walker’s downstairs living room was created by closing up an extra kitchen door. The sketch above the chair is a limited-edition print Walker bought in Brooklyn. One particular task she loves ishelping clients hang art. “I think it’s something I’m very skilled at. People often don’t know how to hang work or the right space to hang it. Sometimes beautiful piecesare hidden away somewhere,” she says.

Downstairs, the home's street-facing front section included a small entranceway and hall, as well as separate parlor and dining rooms. Walker and her husband removed the interior walls dividing the three spaces to create an open, light-filled dining and living room area and then painted the brick, load-bearing pillars white.

The middle and the back spaces of the downstairs needed a major overhaul as well. Walker and her husband captured space from an awkwardly located closet at the back of the former hallway to expand the downstairs bathroom, incorporating a laundry area into its design.

click to enlarge Walker modernized the home’s galley kitchen - adding new appliances, granite counters, and floating shelves. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Walker modernized the home’s galley kitchenadding new appliances, granite counters, and floating shelves.

Opposite the bathroom, the first-floor pass-through kitchen was "too much of a warren," explains Walker. "It just felt like there was a weird flow." The couple closed up a second door at one end of the space, creating a true galley kitchen with a breakfast nook overlooking the property's extensive side yard. They then added stainless steel appliances, marble countertops, and floating shelves for a modern look. At the back of the first floor, a former television room was reimagined as a home office. Walker added a large closet along a side wall. With a backdoor and path leading to a separate garage, the space doubles as a mudroom in the winter.

The home's central staircase leading to the second floor had to be completely rebuilt. "When our contractor came in he told us he was surprised no one had fallen through. They were that bad," recalls Walker. The couple removed a wall separating the staircase from the central hallway and then rebuilt the stairs with wood treads. By adding a new door to one wing of the upstairs, they were able to transform a railroad-style configuration of bedrooms to create two bedrooms separated by a lounge area for their teenage sons. At the top of the stairs, a hallway leads to a shared bathroom and the master bedroom wing with vaulted ceilings and a skylight. Here, Walker is hoping to soon add a master bathroom and more closet space.

click to enlarge A sitting area makes up a cozy corner of the - home’s master bedroom. “I love pattern, and I’ve always collected textiles,” she explains. She bought the triptych photo of a mountain range hung above the chair from a thrift store in Brooklyn. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • A sitting area makes up a cozy corner of thehome’s master bedroom. “I love pattern, and I’ve always collected textiles,” she explains. She bought the triptych photo of a mountain range hung above the chair from a thrift store in Brooklyn.

Everywhere, Flowers

With the interior of the home fully reconfigured, Walker was then able to unleash all her powers of design and decoration on the space. True to her love of wallpaper, she chose a black floral print by Swedish designer Josef Frank to line the walls of the home's central downstairs hallway and staircase.

click to enlarge A view to the home’s dining table, adorned with flowers. In 2016, Walker joined with flower farmer Marina Michahelles to form the nonprofit Abloom, which specializes in flower recovery. Along with a group of volunteers, the two gather flowers after weddings and other events, retrim the stems, and then distribute the still fresh, seasonal flowers to women’s shelters and other institutional living spaces throughout the Hudson Valley. “It’s a very straightforward, noncontroversial thing - to give people flowers. What’s not to love? Everyone deserves some beauty,” explains Walker. “What we didn’t realize was how powerful it was going to be for people to have something beautiful in their rooms. It reminds them of their value as humans.” - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • A view to the home’s dining table, adorned with flowers. In 2016, Walker joined with flower farmer Marina Michahelles to form the nonprofit Abloom, which specializes in flower recovery. Along with a group of volunteers, the two gather flowers after weddings and other events, retrim the stems, and then distribute the still fresh, seasonal flowers to women’s shelters and other institutional living spaces throughout the Hudson Valley. “It’s a very straightforward, noncontroversial thingto give people flowers. What’s not to love? Everyone deserves some beauty,” explains Walker. “What we didn’t realize was how powerful it was going to be for people to have something beautiful in their rooms. It reminds them of their value as humans.”

Inspired by the various colors of the paper's floral design, she then added splashes of bright color throughout the downstairs. The downstairs bathroom is finished in a bright shade of coral and is decorated with a framed rose print silk scarf—a gift from her husband. In the kitchen, she painted the bottom set of cabinets deep blue, offsetting the color with a scheme of white tiles, counters, and shelves. To match a favorite filing cabinet, Walker painted the back office/mudroom a shade of lime green.

An avid collector of work by local artists, Walker hung two large canvases in the sitting area of her downstairs open-plan living and dining area. A large abstract piece she'd had for years matched the blue of the kitchen cabinetry perfectly and now hangs from a kitchen wall. Upstairs, Walker created a gallery wall of smaller artworks in her sons' lounge room.

The family moved in last spring. Walker has added an indoor garden—a menagerie of houseplants populates every room. She also makes a habit of having fresh flowers on display and beginning an outdoor flower garden is at the top of her to-do list for the property. "I believe flowers are a part of self-care and health," she explains. "I had a revelation recently on a trip to Italy with my sons—there was beauty everywhere we looked." The trip inspired her to find new ways to incorporate beauty into her daily life, which led her back to one of her first design inspirations. "It made me remember that my grandmother always had fresh flowers in her house—every room," Walker recalls. "It always felt so good to go there. It just made you feel special, like someone was thinking of you."

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