Skip to main content

Modern pastoral: Inside a Calvin Klein Home exec's cabin

By Celia Barbour, ELLE DECOR
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
This is the exterior of the home of Amy Mellen, creative director for Calvin Klein Home. This is the exterior of the home of Amy Mellen, creative director for Calvin Klein Home.
HIDE CAPTION
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
Clean lines in a rustic retreat
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A rustic retreat got a modern makeover from a Calvin Klein exec
  • Amy Mellen recharges her creative batteries in her upstate New York cabin
  • Mellen incorporated trees from her property into the home's walls and furniture
  • "Everyone has heirlooms or meaningful pieces with journeys and stories behind them"

(ELLE DECOR) -- When Amy Mellen set out in search of a weekend house 15 years ago, what she wanted was a place to see and be seen—by crickets, sparrows, coyotes, and frogs, as well as by a few dear friends.

ELLE DECOR: 14 one-of-a-kind fireplaces

To Mellen, already a rising star in the design world at the time, weekends were a chance to recharge her creative batteries. And for that, nothing worked as powerfully as time spent outdoors, which meant that a quiet corner of Dutchess County, in upstate New York, was a better setting for her downtime than, say, the über-social Hamptons.

ELLE DECOR: 9 rooms with awe-inspiring views

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

"I love, love, love being outside," she says. "I take inspiration constantly from things I see in nature."

ELLE DECOR: 8 most unique homes you can rent on airbnb

Today Mellen is the creative director for Calvin Klein Home; as such, she oversees nine different product categories encompassing everything from teacups to sofas. Yet she still trades in her leather pumps for Blundstone work boots every Friday evening before heading north to the cottage that captured her heart.

ELLE DECOR: 7 inspiring bathroom makeovers

She remembers the first time she saw it: "The Realtor and I drove up the driveway—it's really long and goes over a stream, and all the trees were weighed down with snow. It was so tucked back; we were like, 'This has to be a mistake.' Inside, the owners had left a fire going in the fireplace. I fell in love with the place immediately."

ELLE DECOR: Here's the newest surprising 'it' color to decorate with

She also fell for the sellers themselves, an older couple who had lived in the house since it was first built as a fishing cabin in the 1960s, and had painstakingly cared for it ever since. "They had records for everything: how much they'd paid, every repair, every warranty. And all the tools in the shed were meticulously labeled: 'potato hoe,' 'garden hoe.'" When they moved out, they left her a canoe, a lawn mower, and a sense of reverence for the spirit of the place.

ELLE DECOR: You know your decorating style is preppy when ...

"I told them, 'I'll never touch anything,'" says Mellen. And for a long time, she kept her word. But Mellen's creativity, it turns out, is not just a contemplative or reactive practice. She creates. Constantly. Gradually she began making the house her own, installing windows in the back rooms and painting the walls, which were paneled in dark, knotty pine. She planted a garden and, because she longed for a new porch, got out a shovel and dug the foundation for it herself, then used the rocks she'd unearthed to make a stone wall.

And when a cherry tree started encroaching on the house and had to be cut down, she had the wood milled and used it to make her dining room table. An ash tree, meanwhile, became paneling for the bathroom walls.

Finally, two years ago, she undertook a major renovation. Even then, her motivation was practical as much as it was aesthetic. "There was frost on the bedroom windows in the wintertime," she says. "It wasn't energy efficient. And if you took a bath, you ran out of hot water."

She built a studio onto the garage, and outfitted it with a potter's wheel and supplies to paint and dye fabrics. The kitchen, meanwhile, needed a deeper rethinking. "The cabinets had scallop edges," she says. "Plus it was small, and I love to cook. I entertain a lot." Indeed, Mellen is known for exotic meals inspired by her frequent travels. "My friends joke that I could make food from any country just from what's in my pantry," she says.

The influence of her international travels is evident beyond the pantry as well. All over the house are objects and furnishings Mellen acquired abroad, including rugs from Morocco, copper faucets from Italy, a set of nesting tables from England (made of elm, "they're incredibly fragrant," she says), and a mirrored panel from India. Interspersed throughout are numerous pieces from the Calvin Klein Home collections, which, despite the company's reputation for austere minimalism, blend happily into the eclectic, rustic mix. "Our furniture is modern, but not super--hard-edged modern," says Mellen. "The materials and finishes make it warm.

"One of my philosophies at Calvin Klein is: You can't really expect someone to go out and buy all brand-new matching furniture," she continues. "Everyone has heirlooms or meaningful pieces with journeys and stories behind them. You want to be able to mix them with what is new and modern."

At Mellen's house, that mix is constantly changing in small and subtle ways. "I'm always making little vignettes out of things I find," she says. "Last weekend, I found a dead beetle and set it on top of a rock. I'll have that next to a bird's nest that blew out of a tree, and a feather that I found in the yard."

Creating keeps her happy; it always has. "When I was little, I had a dollhouse I made myself," she says. "And I loved decorating it. I was always working on it. Then my parents bought me a really swanky new dollhouse, and it wasn't as fun."

Collecting, building, designing, inventing, and playing in the woods: "All the stuff that kids do," she says. "I just made a career out of it."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, throws America's problem with talking about race into sharp relief.
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:09 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
updated 6:40 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT