Words Doris Chevron Images Michael Mundy
Kimberly von Koontz sits on the porch, bathed in the gentle, vanishing sunlight and enjoying a plate of prosciutto, olives and Parmigiano with a glass of Prosecco. She cherishes moments like this, a special ritual usually shared with friends.
Von Koontz calls this idyllic location her “Halfway House,” though it bears no resemblance to the place of rehabilitation that would normally evoke. Instead, she’s referring to the old stone house’s location, halfway between Manhattan and the Greek-Revival home in Cooperstown that belongs to her friend, renowned New York interior designer Christine van Deusen. The designers exchange ideas and collaborate on the greenery there.
Von Koontz’s picturesque old structure proves to be a good starting point for “weekend release prisoners” who are fleeing the tight spaces and overbearing noise of New York City for the freedom and endless vistas upstate. It’s a trip the two women—and a host of international friends en route to the Catskills, the Upper Delaware and the Hudson Valley—love to make.
The building, whose oldest section is now the kitchen dominated by a walk-in fireplace, was established in 1713 as the homestead of a Dutch immigrant. “It’s a very small house with big flair,” says von Koontz, who had barely settled into Manhattan before seeking a quiet place to relax and read. Falling in love with a photograph on a realtor’s website, she impulsively fired off a down payment to the broker, sight unseen. “The house seemed to talk to me,” she muses. “In an instant, I rediscovered the romance I indulged in while living in Europe and had been missing in America.”
Falling in love with a photograph on a realtor’s website, she impulsively fired off a down payment to the broker, sight unseen. “The house seemed to talk to me,” she muses.
Von Koontz applied the same “gentle, exquisite attention” to the interior of the house that she normally focuses on her landscape projects. She preserved the character of the low-hanging oak beams and kept the dark red and mustard-colored lime-washed walls, transporting the colonial character into the present by splashing a fresh linden green onto the wood-paneled ones.
The cosmopolitan mix of furniture and objects perfectly reflects the career trajectory of the 39-year-old designer. She was born in Sonoma Valley and studied architecture, first in Boulder, then in Florence. From there, she moved to Hong Kong—“a fascinating city in which I never felt grounded nor quite at home.”
Guided by an immaculate sense of style, von Koontz initially entered the world of fashion. Her collection, applauded for originality and elegance, fell victim to the last financial crisis. She went on to design and create store concepts under the auspices of the iconic Roberto Baciocchi, architect for Prada’s global retail empire.
Slowly, von Koontz began to notice that the color green played an increasingly important role in her life. “I come from a family of gardeners,” she says. “Landscapes were always second nature to me.” So she started to conceptualize and create private habitats.
She still wears Prada as she dirties her fingernails working on luxury properties from the Hamptons to the Delaware Valley. As with her other endeavors, success came fast. Alongside Louis Benech, the legendary French landscape designer, she is working on roof installations for Sotheby’s. She is also collaborating on three projects with the architect Deborah Berke, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. On Isola di Giglio, near Elba, von Koontz is developing a biotope for her friend Gherardo Follini, the Paris-based designer of Miu Miu.
“I come from a family of gardeners. Landscapes were always second nature to me.”
Because Benech, the first designer allowed to restore part of the Versailles gardens of Louis XIV, calls himself a “gardener” von Koontz takes no offense when the doormen of her privileged New York clients refer to her in the same way. Like Benech, she believes that the secret of a great garden lies in subtle intervention. She likes to spend three days on a new piece of land and always invites the owner to picnic with her on the grounds. “You have to direct your attention to the things that are already there.”
There are no borders for the artistic scenes von Koontz creates, and there is no room for fatigue. “My biggest desire is to visit the world’s most interesting places,” she says resolutely. That seems to work even better if you have established strong roots, as von Koontz has done, both in Manhattan and in her enchanted garden upstate.