A Peripatetic Pair
Making the home a design lab in the countryside
Linda Zelenko and Stephen Piscuskas never stop. In addition to maintaining a household, raising two daughters, and running the highly successful York Street Studio, they are always thinking of new ideas and projects.
Take their house, for example. On the outside it appears to be a modest 1950s Cape Cod structure—the epitome of country living in Washington, Connecticut. Once inside, you have entered an expansive house that stretches out in back and is the ultimate laboratory for their designs and creative outlets.
The couple met in high school—Stephen’s father was Linda’s tennis instructor—lost touch and reconnected when Stephen was attending Brown University and Linda was studying industrial design at Rhode Island School of Design. “I walked into the local sandwich shop and literally ran right into him. We’ve been together ever since,” Linda explains. Stephen had started York Street Studio in Brooklyn after graduation. “My first job was as an assistant to Julian Schnabel. I wanted to make beautiful things, so I started York Street and made boxes for the Museum of Modern Art and was doing product for Giorgio Armani as well.”
Meanwhile Linda was now working for Charles Jourdan. “From the time I was a little girl, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a shoe designer,” Linda says. “It was a dream come true for me. Then in 1984, during the sneaker rage, I began working with Reebok and Adidas designing new and stylish sneakers and running shoes.”
Eventually the two married and Linda joined Stephen at York Street and moved their studio from Brooklyn to the peaceful countryside of Connecticut. Together they have created a vehicle for designing home and decorative products and furniture. “The leases were up on both our apartment and our studio. I was feeling claustrophobic and wanted more space. Linda had gone to Rumsey, so she was familiar with the area,” Stephen explains, “and we had friends who lived there.” By this time the couple had two children so additional space was needed.
The couple rented a house in Warren for a short time. And when one least expects it, the perfect house materializes—well, almost perfect. “On the way to the airport one day, the driver starts talking about Connecticut and this property on which he was renting the guesthouse. The main house and acreage were for sale and he was sure I would love it,” Linda says.
The property—28 acres of unspoiled woodlands—was beautiful, but the house was another story. While it may have had good bones, they were hard to find under the dilapidated structure that greeted Linda and Stephen. “Anyone else would have torn the whole thing down and started from scratch,” says Stephen. “We loved the land, the location, and I am always trying to save things and work with only original material. So, we took the plunge.”
Stephen did most of the renovations himself. “The bones were there, I just needed to go in and restore them.” Point of fact, the original item remaining is the fireplace. Restoration included removing the roof and installing trusses he designed to reinforce the structure.
“I drove up the driveway one day and there it was. Oh, I said to myself, our roof is in the driveway,” Linda recalls. Once Stephen gets started, there’s no stopping him. The roof was put back where it belonged and the family moved in. There is now an enclosed sunroom and a bathroom where the refrigerator used to be. The kitchen has been totally redone and boasts much of Stephen’s handiwork, such as a zinc-top island, concrete counters and a cast iron door that conceals the refrigerator, new cupboards, new hardware and lots of drawers. “I’m mad for drawers,” Stephen says. “ I would guess there are about 300 in this house.”
Fifteen years later the house is still a work in progress—a laboratory where Stephen can design and try out new products. Walls are covered in panels of sleek beige leather, installed by Stephen. There are also leather floors. One of York Street’s original dining-room tables is surrounded by vintage chairs that were designed by Linda’s parents Marion and Harry Zelenko, who were well-known graphic designers. Everything works together and plays off each other.
In addition to designing product, Linda and Stephen also do interior-design work. “You have to consider both parts of the client’s life,” says Stephen. “The lifestyle part is easy; but scale and proportion are crucial to good design. Once they are adjusted, everything begins to fall into place. We study how the client lives or would like to live, take what they know and make it their vision.”
While every room is welcoming, the family often gathers on the sun porch, furnished with two large white sofas from Ikea, a gold-leafed cocktail table, a tripod side table and Douglas-fir stool, all designed by Stephen for York Street Studio. And yes, Stephen poured the concrete floor himself. Old pieces mix with the new and serve as a stage for new ideas to develop. When they couldn’t find the ideal knobs for the cabinets, Stephen simply designed his own. Now they are part of the York Street inventory. “It’s not about throwing out and starting over,” says Stephen. “When we take on an interior design project, it’s a marriage of what’s there and what is needed to complete the ideal rooms for the client. It’s about fine-tuning the whole picture. People get to a point and they are stuck and that’s where we’re helpful.”
The couple continue to expand the ever-growing business. Recently they have signed a licensing agreement with Swarovski Crystal. “We are also trying to integrate technology with what we are doing,” Linda explains. “A desk that has WiFi, but not one wire is visible.”
No one is ever at rest at York Street Studio or at chez Zelenko/Piscuskas. Stephen’s mind is going 24/7 and his eyes light up when he has a new inspiration. Linda’s begin to roll. Here we go again. Life at their house may not be settling but it certainly is exciting. n