A PASSION PRESERVED
It is not surprising that the skeleton sitting in Patrick Robinson’s cellar is beautiful: simple but elegant, voluptuous yet sleek. For the past few years, the fashion designer has been crafting the shell of a barrel-back boat out of mahogany, meticulously taking his cues from a blueprint from the late 1930s. The frame sits upside down on a trailer in what was originally the garage of his country house in the Hudson Valley, awaiting for the planks to be sanded, planed, bent to fit the hull and fastened to it. When will it be finished? “Maybe never,” says the 53-year old who loves to show off his collection of precision-edged planes and other tools. Maybe the vessel will be launched nearby, in Copake Lake, and Robinson will move on to building a sailboat to be used on the Hudson River. “Building from a blueprint is super hard, I love it, it takes away all my stress. This is where I find my flow.”
The flow feeds his passion. After a career turning around and revitalizing fashion companies from Giorgio Armani (as a creative director at age 24) to Anne Klein and Perry Ellis to The GAP, three years ago Robinson started Paskho, a line of cool essentials for fashion-conscious travelers. Its name derives from a Greek word for passion. “You are constantly looking to navigate uphill, through the valley from start-up to a sustainable, profitable company,” he says. Building his boat — just as keeping bees, tending a flock of chicken, building stone walls, drafting a master plan to plant more trees, and a myriad of other projects that might or might not include a flock of goats — help him stay on a forward path. He adds, “Breaking out of your everyday comfort zone opens up my best thinking.”
To break out you have to build first. Robinson, who grew up in California and started to make patterns for swim trunks he designed for his surfing buddies at age 10, and his wife Virginia Smith, the fashion director of Vogue, have built their zone in Columbia County. While renting a Stanford White designed carriage house on an estate facing the Hudson in nearby Rhinebeck, the couple took their time to look for the right property. “I was obsessed with finding a barn,” says Robinson. “But most places that had been converted into living spaces had all the beautiful old wood hidden and covered up.”
They finally found the perfect spot just before their son Wyeth was born in 2003. Sitting on a country road quiet enough to allow the chickens to roam, the property came with a towering silo, a pond full of turtles, and a cow barn from the 19th century. The barn featured a double-story center and lower wings on both sides where the cattle used to winter.
Looking upstate and not in the Hamptons was a very deliberate choice. “If you go there [to the Hamptons] you want to be seen, at the right dinners, the right parties, with the right people, and at the right beach. All that is stressing people out. Up here, people escape that and can connect to nature. I need to be unplugged, “ says Robinson who cherishes his extensive runs along empty country lanes under a canopy of cathedral trees.
To achieve their goal of bringing “as much of the outside in as possible,” the couple hired the Manhattan design firm Bonetti/Kozerski Architecture, who had previously redone their city digs. Instead of rearranging the existing rooms, the architects — whose work Smith and Robinson had fallen in love with after seeing Donna Karan’s “very zen” Central Park West apartment — proposed an addition which now contains the master bedroom, bathroom, as well Wyeth’s quarters.
Much thought and time have been dedicated to finding beams to match the ones visible throughout the original structure, defining the ceilings and many of the walls. “History has left its marks here,” says Robinson who chides Spoon, a 1 1/2-year-old bernedoodle, for happily adding more marks by trying to dig up the pine floor. It seems that every door is different, many made out of wood formerly used to grow mushrooms on. “The wood gives you the sense that the house is alive. That calms me down.”
Furniture and artifacts speak of fashion and comfort. An eclectic mix of furniture happily coexists with art and photographs from many of their friends. “Everything in here has meaning,” says Robinson. As for future projects on their compound, the taste-making couple says in unison, “No.” But you cannot really take their joint protest seriously. Under one roof with so much cool creativity, something is always stewing. The open kitchen was put in by the previous owners, and giving it a new look might be on the upcoming project list. For now, colorful varieties of peppers and tomatoes Virginia grows in the vegetable garden rest in big bowls on the dining table, waiting to be added to dishes Patrick likes to prepare for their guests.
“Patrick and Virginia are very authentic people. They don’t just have a house, they live in it,” observes Joan Osofsky, owner of the furniture and home accessory stores in Pine Plains, Great Barrington, and Rhinebeck who included the residence in her book, Entertaining in the Country. “The kitchen is a hub for people to watch Patrick cook, and you can just feel how happy they are being there.”
In his Twitter bio, Robinson, who travels frequently to China and Laos where his fashion line is produced, refers to himself as a micro-adventurer, “somebody who takes lots and lots of short trips.” Some of his destinations are exotic, like Vietnam, some of them have a low carbon footprint. “This house never lets me up from having an adventure.” That might lead him to the upstairs guest bathroom, dominated by a massive freestanding Duravit bathtub reminiscent of an oversized cattle trough. “The room has the ambiance of a treehouse,” the designer says. “In winter, you just turn off all the lights, sit in the tub and watch the sun go down. It’s incredibly peaceful.”