Renaissance woman in the truest sense, interior designer Sheila Bridges has hosted a TV show, published two books, and created the now-iconic Harlem Toile pattern every socially aware aesthete loves. The AD100 talent talks fast—ideas whirling out of her mind and mouth—and it can be tough to keep up. Searingly quick-witted, she somehow manages to balance charm, warmth, and humor without sacrificing her exacting eye. As layered as her interiors, this gracious spirit has used design as an avenue for experimentation and discovery for the last 30 years. “One of the things I really try to do in my interiors is to not use the same thing twice,” she says.
There’s certainly no fear of repetition in a recent large project she completed in Bedford Hills, New York. Set on 23 acres of verdant land, the Cotswolds-style estate was originally built in 1936 by architect Phelps Barnum as a country escape for avid equestrians, whose passion is shared by Bridges and the current owner. With architect David Abelow overseeing the comprehensive renovation (his third project for the clients), Bridges was tasked with creating cozy, livable spaces within the historic 8,000-square-foot house, all while staying true to its elegant original spirit and the Art Deco details that remained. Those details served as a decorative starting point for Bridges, who did a deep dive into the history of the house and the area in preparation for her work. “My process always starts with a lot of research and design reconnaissance,” the designer explains. “It’s about discovery and learning.”
Though large, “the home feels more like a cottage than a grand mansion,” says Abelow. Bridges enhanced the feeling of intimacy by creating an independent decorative narrative within each zone, taking cues from the 1930s features still sprinkled throughout. One of the many well-preserved gems in the house is the pine-paneled library. Here, we see Bridges’s characteristically lush and playful layering come most vividly to life. Comfortable seating and a considered apportioning of the space makes the most of the limited natural light. Bridges upholstered the bay window’s curving seat in a deliciously wild Clarence House print, depicting a Tibetan-inspired repeating tiger motif. Roman shades in a slightly more subdued Loro Piana textile offer a soothing counterpoint to the cushy riot underneath.
Nearby in the living room, the historical integrity was maintained by preserving the delicate plaster medallions that pepper the ceiling depicting Tudor roses with soft curling petals, as well as a heraldic crest and lion. Grander still is the formal dining room, where lively custom scenic wallpaper showing the Bedford Hills property in a fictional past time covers the walls. The clients had commissioned a hand-painted mural for a previous home, which Bridges took inspiration from.
A top contender in the battle for the home’s best original detail is the dining room’s exquisite limestone mantel, carved with the Latin inscription Dum spiro, spero, meaning “While I breathe, I hope.” A close runner-up might just be the refrigerator—a 1930s “icebox” with countless compartments, which the homeowners had refurbished by a specialist in Maine.