Wabi-Sabi House | House Profiles | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
Pin It
Favorite

Wabi-Sabi House 

Feng Shui Fabulous in Millbrook

Michele and Ed in the living room. Of note: On extreme left, a media cabinet Michele designed and custom made by Tony Gorga of New York Handmade in Red Hook, to consolidate media equipment, firewood, and fireplace tools. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Michele and Ed in the living room. Of note: On extreme left, a media cabinet Michele designed and custom made by Tony Gorga of New York Handmade in Red Hook, to consolidate media equipment, firewood, and fireplace tools.

Ed and Michele Sayres's 1,100-square-foot creekfront home on five acres is anomalous in horsey, affluent Millbrook. The property feels secluded, but it's on a side road a quarter mile outside the village, where Michele has an office on Franklin Avenue for her thriving interior design business, M. Sayres Design.

The deceptively mundane exterior—board-and-batten siding, a generic 1984 contemporary—belies the striking pan-Asian interior. It's a serene blend of influences from Japan and China, leavened with decorative items collected on holidays; for example, rugs from a Navajo reservation in Arizona.

From elements seen and unseen, Michele's passion and prowess as a certified feng shui consultant pervades. Feng shui is the 2,000-year-old Chinese system of siting and designing healthful, harmonious, and auspicious spaces, and reducing less favorable environmental impacts.

"Most of my clients come via word of mouth, but a few have found me on the Internet when they search for interior designers who are certified in feng shui, a small niche I am happy to fill," says Michele. When pressed for more details about her business—Millbrook's known as a haven for celebrities, and however ancient in origin, feng shui is enjoying a moment of upmarket vogue—Michele clams up. "Sorry, no name dropping. I respect my clients' privacy."

Michele's been studying feng shui since the early '90s. Her mentor, Howard Choy, is an architect and internationally recognized feng shui master and lecturer who currently resides in Berlin. In 2005, she was part of the first group of foreigners—20 students from 11 countries—to be certified in feng Shui by an accredited Chinese university. "We studied in Wuhan, a city of eight million, and the courses were conducted in Mandarin and translated by Howard. Wherever we went, we were greeted with stares and giggles. It was very challenging, but an enormous growth experience!" says Michele.

Ed recently retired as president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Since relocating to New York from San Francisco in 2003, Sayres was instrumental, together with a task force assembled by Mayor Bloomberg, in reducing the euthanasia rate in New York City's shelters from 74 percent to 39 percent. For two decades, Sayres worked at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, a statewide animal protection agency in Madison, New Jersey, where he created the largest humane society-based dog training facility in the country. His father, uncle, and grandfather were handlers for champion show dogs.

The couple—married for 38 years—met through friends at the New Paltz Craft Fair. They have two adult sons. Other household residents include their rescued dog, an ornery toy poodle-chihuahua mix named Jezebel, and Mr. B, a portly, affectionate, once-stray cat.

Wabi-Sabi House
"I call our home the wabi-sabi house. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese aesthetic of celebrating imperfection," says Michele. "There are dings in the wide pine floors."

Translated in a design sense as flawed beauty, characteristics of wabi-sabi include asymmetry, economy, modesty, and an appreciation of textures including the patina of age. Incorporating centuries of Chinese art and Buddhist thought about impermanence, wabi-sabi evolved into a distinctive Japanese ideal, embraced by the nobility. A taste for wabi-sabi is associated with wisdom and satori—that is, the first step toward enlightenment.

"It's an eclectic, rustic home for relaxation, rejuvenation, and contemplation, where nature is the origin of its ambience. That's why it's decorated in soothing earthy tones," says Michele. "It's my favorite of the many houses we've owned. Moving around for my husband's job, we kept downsizing. We've edited down our possessions to just our very favorite things."

Looking into the kitchen from the living room. Of note: Broadway Linear Crystal Chandelier above the bar by James R. Moder. Michele, a feng shui expert, says, “The fiery nature of the crystals balances the strong wood element throughout the home.” - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Looking into the kitchen from the living room. Of note: Broadway Linear Crystal Chandelier above the bar by James R. Moder. Michele, a feng shui expert, says, “The fiery nature of the crystals balances the strong wood element throughout the home.”

More View, Fewer Walls, Plus a Deck
Since buying the house nine years ago, the Sayreses added a deluxe master bath, with a separate toilet area outfitted with shiny nickel plumbing fixtures. It's decorated in tone-on-tone neutrals to create the illusion of space. They removed a wall between the kitchen and the living area blocking the waterfront view, transforming the public area of the first floor into a dramatic "great room" with a 17-foot bar. They added an 800-square-foot deck with a custom-made see-through cable railing. The deck is made of Ipe, also known as Brazilian walnut, a sustainably produced hardwood. A traditional woodstove was upgraded with a revolving high-end Rais, made in Denmark. The hall bath was gutted and reoriented to include a compact but visually dramatic laundry room featuring a marble-topped folding area.

"We've now lived here for four years longer than any other home we've owned," says Ed. "We recently bought a place in Sarasota, Florida, but we're going to hold on to this one. I've recently started a consulting practice."

The Four-Animal Format
The Sayreses paid over the asking price for their place—there was a bidding war—because it provided a great foundation for Michele's artistry, rich with obvious and esoteric attributes.

There are different schools of thought on feng shui. The two most common are classic feng shui, which uses compass directions to analyze the situation, and Black Hat, a simplified Western version that uses the entry door as the basis of analysis.

"I initially studied Black Hat, but tired of its superstitious rules," says Michele. "Black Hat uses a lot of red as 'cures'—not the best word, really, but you often see that mentioned in general-audience feng shui articles."

The siting of the house on the lot is in keeping with what is known in Classic/Compass feng shui as the preferred "four animal format."

"Imagine sitting in an armchair. The back of the chair is the Black Turtle, providing support and protection. The arms on the side of the chair, considered the Green Dragon and White Tiger, are also supportive and protective but lower, so that one's peripheral vision is not impaired. The open space in front, called the Red Phoenix, allows energy, or qi, to flow freely toward the house," says Michele.

"This house is sited on the lot with a hill at the back, lower hills on the sides, and a sweeping lawn in front of a wall of south-facing windows, which bring in healthful sunlight. There are minimal openings on the cold north side. Wappinger Creek flows toward the house, symbolically bringing prosperity. The movement of the water is considered yang (masculine, active), which balances out the quiet, yin (feminine, still) nature of the property as a whole. There's the ever-present sound of flowing water," she adds.

"Even the slope of the vaulted ceiling enhances the good feng shui, as it's highest on the open south side and lowest on the north, allowing maximum qi to be collected in the house."

According to Michele, intention plays a vital role in positive feng shui—a powerful and useful tool—plus every situation and client is unique.

"Common blanket statements such as 'Feng shui condemns the use of king-size beds' are very strong and could create a negative attitude. I have a friend who loved her apartment, considered it a sanctuary. She hired a feng shui consultant who told her that the spiral staircase connecting the two levels was horrible and she should remove it or move. She was unable to do either, and now every time she enters the apartment, she has a feeling of discomfort," says Michele. "What was formerly her sanctuary is now a negative experience."

Pin It
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Open Minded Tango for All @ Roost Studios & Art Gallery

Open Minded Tango for All

Wednesdays, 7-9 p.m. Continues through Feb. 6 — Tango is very unique and can be compared, as art historian R....
Wednesday Play Group @ New Baby New World

Wednesday Play Group

Wednesdays, 4-5:30 p.m. Continues through Dec. 31 — This group for mamas, papas and caregivers looking to meet other babies...

View all of today's events

Latest in Home & Garden

Chronogram on Instagram

@Chronogram