Life Within Reach
At home with the Edelmans
Bonnie and John Edelman are perfectly matched: they aspire to the same aesthetics, love horses, the outdoors, and designed their house together. And they are both very tall, which is how they came to meet. “I was on a photo shoot for Seventeen magazine and the creative director was a good friend of John’s older brother Sam,” Bonnie recalls. “He and his wife Libby came to dinner that night and he asked if I’d like to meet his brother. ‘He’s six-four. You’re six-two—you’d be a perfect match.’ I never expected John to call, but he did. Two weeks later we had our first date. A few weeks after that we saw each other again, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Bonnie and John Edelman have a yin-yang approach to design: he sees the big picture; she supplies the details and the accents. While John sees something as a whole, Bonnie sees all of its components. “John is more pure and modern,” says Bonnie, “whereas I am more eclectic. Our tastes have evolved and tend to blend together. We both appreciate what the other brings.”
Together they have created an exceptional environment for themselves and their two children. To walk into their spacious home is to enter a mecca of design, a house that has evolved over the years, one that has not been “decorated” but instead has been slowly transformed into a house with warmth and style and two sets of very fine eyes.
Although John was born in New York City, he and his family moved to Ridgefield when he was two years old. His parents, who owned a leather company, bought sixty acres of land and settled here with their six children, John being the youngest. “My older brother and sister had a passion for horses,” he explains. “We had about thirty horses on the property and would have hunts and various horse events all the time. Since then the property has been broken up—we have 14 acres and my parents held on to 30 for themselves. One of my brothers has the remaining acreage.”
John was an entrepreneur from an early age and is highly skilled in the art of selling, which is how he started his career. “I went to the Wooster School and then on to Manhattanville College. I wasn’t a good student and even though teachers believed in me, I did very poorly. The famous story is that I failed French 1 four times. Now I can speak French and four other languages, but I learned them after I left school. I knew I wanted to be in the sales field. My brother Sam was starting up the fashion shoe line Sam & Libby, so I went to work for him. The day after I graduated from college I flew to Brazil to begin work.”
John eventually went to work for Edelman Leather, his parents’ successful business. He moved the operation to Newtown, got married, and moved back to Ridgefield. In seven years he grew the company to six times its original worth and it became the best brand for leather in interior design. In 2007 the company was sold to Knoll.
“When we moved to the property,” John explains, “the structure that is now our house was nothing more than a charming shack. At night we’d hear the rodents moving their nuts around. If we’d been wise we would have torn the whole thing down, but we didn’t.”
Bonnie’s mother Heidi Störmer is an architect and she designed a rectangle as a start to the addition. The original structure, which consisted of three bedrooms and three baths, was salvaged. “We did everything on a shoestring budget,” John says. “I bartered leather with the tile guy. We scoured flea markets here and in Paris. We tend to buy something because we love it, never thinking about where we’re going to put it. If we love it we have to have it. Gradually the house came together. But even after 17 years, it’s far from finished. It’s still evolving.”
The main floor is expansive and the living room, dining room, and kitchen are open to each other. Huge leather chairs and sofas surround the fireplace and invite guests to curl up and stay for as long as they like. “We thought long and hard about the fireplace,” says Bonnie. “One of John’s brothers is a welder and he built a raised fireplace so we could see it from the kitchen and when we were at the dining room table. There are brackets underneath, giving the illusion that the hearth is floating. And underneath there is the perfect place to store wood. It’s practical as well as beautiful. I like things that are multipurpose.”
Much of the furniture in the main room comes from Design Within Reach, the company John joined as President and CEO in 2010. “At the time the company was losing a fortune every year,” John says. “ When my partner and I joined the company it had 75 stores and was doing $100 million a year in sales. Four years later, when we sold it to Herman Miller, we had 40 stores doing $200 million a year. We changed DWR’s profile from doing knockoffs to being the leader of authentic midcentury furniture. And we moved the company from San Francisco to Stamford.”
The Edelmans have an impressive photography collection, part of which becomes the focal point of the staircase leading to the second floor. Included in the mix are some that Bonnie has taken herself. “Because my mother is an architect, we always had a camera around the house. We even had a dark room carved out of one of the bathrooms,” says Bonnie. “I didn’t take myself seriously until our daughter Olivia was born and I was taking a lot of pictures of her. John’s mother was the one who encouraged me to pursue photography as a career.”
And pursue it she has most successfully. Her love of animals and horses, in particular, has supplied her with ideal subjects. “Horses are so majestic and regal. I had the opportunity to visit the mother of a friend of mine who lives in Uruguay and breeds working horses. It was the most magnificent experience of my life and I just started taking pictures of them. They are incredibly calm and petlike. I went back every year for 12 years.” Those photographs became the subject of Bonnie’s first book—Sermo per Equus (Conversations With Horses).
In addition to the main house, there is a pool house which, in warm weather, becomes the family entertainment center. “Bonnie sketched out the design for the pool and the pool house on a napkin and it worked beautifully,” John says. “We really live out here during the summer; every aspect functions perfectly.”
“We have an annual party for our friends and their kids,” says Bonnie. “We pitch tents around the pool house, which has every-thing we need—hot shower, bathroom, wifi, and full kitchen with a fully stocked refrigerator. It’s the best time of the year.”
While John is active at Design Within Reach, and Bonnie is busy at her photography, they still manage to enjoy the fruits of their labor—their extraordinary house. “We live across from my parents,” John says. “Our son Oscar attends the same school I went to and is happy playing sports. Olivia is content to spend her free time walking around the pond, observing nature, and visiting her grandparents. We couldn’t have a better life.”