"I call it Beauty and the Beast,” says Vivia Horn of her vacation home in New York’s Catskill Mountains. On the outside, the house, if not quite beastly, is certainly unremarkable, with black-and-white siding that is more akin to a garage exterior than a gorgeous oasis.
But upon stepping through the entry’s wooden sliding doors, one discovers a veritable temple of Japanese design, complete with customized interiors. An art and creative director, Horn designed the getaway in the skiing and hiking town of Hunter with her now-ex-husband, lawyer C. Steven Horn. Of the reticent exterior, she adds: “I’ve been up there as a single person, and I want to keep a low profile.”
An antique Satsuma vase (far left), an antique gold fish vessel, and a wooden pillar purchased at Manhattan’s 26th Street flea market decorate the cocktail table in the living room.
Horn was born in Taiwan and grew up in a Japanese-style house there, sleeping on futons and bathing in a traditional wooden soaking tub. When she was 16, she moved to Benghazi for a couple of years — her mother was a doctor employed by the Libyan government. Later, she studied marketing in New York, worked as an art director for Estée Lauder and Avon, and started her own consultancy with such clients as Clarins, Revlon, Aramis, and Prescriptives.
Her country home, which she affectionately calls Hunter House, is a product of both her own artistic, cross-cultural background and Steven’s deep passion for Japanese culture. His mother bought the house in the 1970s as a summer retreat. A decade later, the Horns, avid skiers, spent six months gut-renovating its interiors.
A Japanese-style staircase in solid mahogany, framed by Douglas fir beams, leads to the mezzanine; the antique Chinese ceramic container at the foot of the stairs was originally used for preserving eggs.
An early client of Steven’s was a certain Mr. Kobayashi, a Japanese artisan whose full name they no longer recall (“We think he retired and moved back to Japan,” Vivia says). They enlisted him to transform the 1950s ranch into a Western-inflected, traditional Japanese space.
After the demolition that created a huge, open living-and-dining area with a mezzanine, Kobayashi and his team began the meticulous work of customizing the space, armed with reference books lent to them by the Horns on Japanese architecture and interior design.
In the living room of Vivia Horn’s Japanese-style retreat in Hunter, New York, the leather-and-plastic Italian sofas, cocktail table, and wool shag rug were purchased in the 1980s at Bloomingdale’s. The Japanese-style fire pit and tin range hood are custom, the floor lamp is from the ’70s, the sisal carpet is by , the ceiling beams are Douglas fir, and a series of color lithographs from Japan are displayed along the pine wainscoting.
In the living room, they installed a dramatic black ventilation hood above a custom maple-and–Douglas fir fire pit, which was modeled after a traditional irori, or sunken hearth; a 100-year-old example is displayed as decoration in the mezzanine tea area. Many of the ceilings are fashioned with tiny, thin lines of bamboo sticks. The couple noticed an ad for a cache of Brazilian hardwood in the New York Times and ordered it; the Japanese craftsmen painstakingly cut the wood for the kitchen counter and floor.
An antique Japanese pot holder consists of a bamboo pole with a hand-carved wooden fishhook.
“Something I’ve truly admired my whole life is great collaboration,” says Vivia, happily recalling how she and Steven swapped ideas for the design of the space with their team of artisans. The couple searched far and wide for the home’s furnishings. “We are shopaholics,” she says. “Once the project started, we went to all the piers and antiques shows.”
An embroidered-silk obi lies next to a lacquered-wood tea set from Japan.
Among the treasures unearthed was a Japanese tansu chest that now resides in a guest bedroom. A friend gave them a wooden footbridge, and a handrail from it now displays Vivia’s collection of vintage obis in the living room. And the late wrestler and restaurateur Rocky Aoki gifted a hibachi from Benihana. During the demolition, it was accidentally thrown out, but the Horns rescued it, the craftsmen refurbished it, and it now serves as a breakfast table.
In an attic bedroom, the cushions on the custom daybeds and the fabric on the ceiling were purchased at Bloomingdale’s. The cocktail table is pine, the side table is an antique Korean box, and the white-linen oor pillow with a Japanese crest was designed by Horn. The carpet is by .
Up a custom Japanese-style mahogany staircase to the mezzanine, Vivia has created something of a sanctuary, with a seating area where she likes to have afternoon tea and “little sweets.” An attic guest room with two daybeds doubles as her “artisan room.” Ever creative — she has taken classes in silk-screen printing, weaving, and leather-handbag making, among many others — Vivia uses the space for painting and designing and assembling jewelry.
In the kitchen, the table was a gift from Rocky Aoki, the late owner of the Benihana restaurant empire; the Harry Bertoia chairs from Knoll are topped with Japanese cushions, the range is vintage, and the custom hood is made of tin framed with Brazilian hardwood.
And she continues to make improvements to Hunter House, recently installing those sliding front doors, which were made in the Japanese style with vertical slats, then given a fish-shaped doorknob and topped with copper ornaments from Shibui Japanese Antiques in Brooklyn. A beautiful set of sliding screen doors, known as fusuma, had been rescued from the interior of the now-defunct New York restaurant Nihonbashi; carefully stored in the garage since the ’80s, they now grace the master bedroom.
Containers fashioned from reeds mix with porcelain and Japanese papier-mâché dolls.
“She’s all about maximizing potential, which is why she’s always tweaking,” explains , Vivia’s 33-year-old daughter, a teacher and disability-rights activist. “As great as it is, my mom always thinks the house can be better. At the same time, she brings this authentic hominess.”
In the master bedroom, the bed is dressed with a coverlet by Jackson Hole Home and a pillow from , and the antique Japanese screen is from Takashimaya in Japan.
Indeed, though Vivia frequently entertains friends at Hunter House, the retreat mainly serves as her year-round respite from New York’s high-octane pace. “Every time I come back from the house, my daughter will say to me, ‘You should stay up there more often — you look so tranquil,’” Vivia says. “I have a girlfriend who invites me to the Golden Door [spa in California] every year. I tell her, ‘I have a Japanese house. I don’t need to go to the Golden Door.’”
This story originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of ELLE Decor.