Ushering a North Salem gem into the future
Seasonal Decor Provided by Hayfields Market
Photos by Rana Faure
For two centuries, generations of the Keeler family farmed hundreds of acres in North Salem. The family homestead on Keeler Lane included several houses, one of which was built for Cornelia Keeler Storrs in 1860—reportedly from the remains of an old 1830s goat herder’s cottage. Many years later, the expansive Keeler estate was subdivided, and Storrs’s home was spun off on its own parcel. Today, a high stone wall runs along the lane with two sets of gates that swing open to allow entry to the two-acre property where a pair of basset hounds, a pot-bellied pig, and an ever-changing number of chickens have free range. When current homeowner Hilary Silver sees that Sir Francis Bacon, her porcine pet, is headed toward a gate left open by a visitor, she calls out “Francis!,” and he trundles back, settling into the cool dirt below a bush.
Silver purchased the 19th-century charmer, replete with gingerbread trim, in 2003 with her husband, Philip Fox-Mills. The natives of Puerto Rico (Silver) and Ireland (Fox-Mills) had moved from Manhattan to try out country living, and with two little children, they quickly found they were outgrowing their small rental. After a family dinner, they took a walk and found an advertisement for a large country home for sale in North Salem—a town they’d never heard of.
Fox-Mills had acquired a new car when they moved from New York, and he was anxious to take it for a spin, so the couple packed up the kids for the drive over to take a peek. When they pulled up to the house that had been unoccupied for some time, Silver was not even remotely put off—in fact, she was smitten. “We didn’t want turn-key. We definitely wanted a blank canvas that we could make our own,” she says.
Once the couple took possession, they endeavored to take the house back to its 19th-century bones, removing a mid-20th century addition as well as some partitions that made the interiors feel closed in. From Keeler Lane, the three-bedroom farmhouse looks much as it did in a vintage photo taken around the time of Storrs’s death in 1912. The small left wing now houses the eat-in kitchen where Silver loves to cook for her expanded brood of four children. This is where family and friends enter the house, though a dowel installed at ankle height keeps Francis from wandering in during summer months when the doors are flung open to keep breezes flowing. Silver reconfigured the layout, painted the walls and old brick fireplace white, added a tin ceiling and pops of red, creating a fresh, crisp décor. Her cozy, office loft overlooks the kitchen.
Beyond the kitchen is a passageway that leads to the living room. The dining room, to the right, is outfitted with an eclectic mix of furnishings, including an industrial light fixture and vintage Belgian staple factory table that Silver found at Avant Garden in Pound Ridge. The prints on the wall came from The Silk Purse in New Canaan, and Fox-Mills had them re-framed to compliment the architectural molding. A window looks straight into the sitting area of the kitchen. “I find it interesting that we have interior windows,” says Silver. “The way they built additions back then—they basically built a house against a house.”
Silver chose to open up the living room to maximize light and simplify the flow and added pillars for support and a new-old mantle she found at Demolition Depot in Harlem. When the stacks of books began to take over the floor space, she had a shelf installed opposite the staircase to lift them up and integrate them into the room’s décor. Overhead, she restored the decorative ceiling molding, and around the corner, she tucked a wet bar into an underutilized closet
Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and three bathrooms on two floors. The loft-like bathroom in the attic features a 19th-century copper bathtub that came with the house and a vintage fold-down sleeper train sink that Silver found at Demolition Depot.
The Fox-Mills children delight in the property where over the years, their parents added a sandy beach by the swimming pool, a bocce court, a chicken coop, an outdoor sink and shower plus an outdoor bathtub (rescued from the North Salem Historical Society and believed to have once been installed here during Storrs’s era). “We do take bubble baths under the stars,” Silver notes.
The pool house outback is a year-round gathering place boasting a gym upstairs, a fireplace in the great room, and a new baking kitchen. “I made that into a working kitchen for our baking company—Fox-Mills Baked Great—that I started with the kids. Customers order cookies and cakes from our website, and the kids custom bake them,” she explains, as she follows a path across the lawn past the guest cottage decorated with her signature found objects and back to the main house.
Over the past decade and a half, Silver has put her stamp on this vintage home, blending historical references and present day passions on the walls and on tabletops where art and mementos bring the original blank canvas to life. This is a family hub where life unfolds, and as it does, Silver finds a way to weave each day’s record into the patina.