Megan Oldenburger has mastered the art of not breaking the mold—rather, instead, redesigning it. The founder of Dichotomy Interiors, Oldenburger has spent a decade taking the Hudson Valley’s outdated Colonials, worn-out farmhouses, and funky, falling apart hand-built homes, as well as myriad other vernaculars, and transforming them into livable, flowing, thoroughly modern spaces. “Most places up here haven’t really been updated and still have `70s-, `80s-, or `90s-style interiors. I basically go in and completely gut them,” she explains. “But some of my favorite compliments come from clients who thought their homes were beyond saving and then ended up falling in love with them when we were done.”
The 3,400-square-foot split-level home she shares with husband Richard Smykowski, a graphic designer, superbly showcases Oldenburger’s considerable renovation savvy, her eye for design, and the artful aesthetic she’s honed as both designer and artist. Flowing between three staggered levels as well as a fourth sunken living area, the home manages to blend myriad elements into one harmonious composition. “I like to curate a space more than decorate it,” says Oldenburger, who attended the San Francisco Art Institute as a painting and drawing major. “I like furniture, art, architecture, and objects to create an overall composition. Each individual piece and decision becomes a singular expression.” It’s a home characterized by lovely contradictions. A sitting area with soaring ceilings remains cozy. An elegant chef’s kitchen is comprised of handmade, earthy ingredients. In a neighborhood where the homes were built for a singular purpose, it’s distinct. On a cold winter day, art and objects make summer seem right around the corner.
This masterwork was no overnight sensation. “It was a long, seven-year process,” explains Oldenburger of the home’s design. “We did things a little bit at a time because both I and my team had to work around our schedules. If we were working on my job, we weren’t working on another job. I’m always last.” But being last in line had its upside. “The good thing was that I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I found the time to do it.”
The Smarter Cookie
Like many before them and many more to come, Oldenburger and Smykowski originally moved to Woodstock in 2009 to escape “the craziness of city life.” “We loved the landscape, the food, and the spirit of Woodstock,” says Oldenburger, an Illinois native. Smykowski is originally from South Dakota. “We were both used to solitude and quiet,” she explains. “The chance to create our own businesses and opportunities was also a large draw—we both have an entrepreneurial spirit.”
In 2014, they found a five-bedroom, 3.5-bath house in a mixed enclave of Mediterranean- and Colonial-style homes just outside of Woodstock. Part of one of the IBM executive neighborhoods that was built in the late 1970s, the home stood out for its classic shed-style architecture, with steeply pitched roof lines and gray-painted wood siding. “It was the last house that was built in the loop, and was designed by a different architect, from outside the area, than the rest of the neighborhood,” says Oldenburger.
It was that mix of interior and exterior spaces that entranced the couple. “We loved a lot of things about the house,” remembers Oldenburger. “But what initially drew us was the layout. It had just the right amount of openness, effortlessly flowing from the entry in and out of entertaining spaces and out to the deck and pool.” Like many of Oldenburger’s projects, however, it hadn’t been updated since its IBM days and needed a total overhaul. “We had to completely renovate pretty much every part of this house,” she says.
Some Guts, All Glory
Both the kitchen and master bathroom were in need of immediate attention. “The kitchen was original to the house and hadn’t been cared for,” says Oldenburger. “And the appliances were really old as well.” Oldenburger is an accomplished cook, and both she and Smykowski love to entertain. “Having entertaining areas and a large kitchen was very important.” In the master bathroom, both the shower and tub had been similarly neglected, and were no longer functional. Working with long-time colleague and local builder Tom Mayone, she set to work making both spaces that they could love.
Oldenburger approached the kitchen remodel in stages. Its footprint was already generous, with an ample sunny breakfast nook at one end of the room separated from the kitchen’s working space by a large U-shaped counter. Vaulted ceilings added height to the ample length. Not wanting to change that footprint, Oldenburger evened out the frames of the room’s three entrances, then widened an opening between the kitchen and a formal dining area in the home’s main living space, centering it on a bay window on the opposite dining room wall. To accentuate the high vaulted ceilings and add a distinctive backsplash, Oldenburger lined the kitchen’s back wall with handcrafted Moroccan Delije tiles of varying texture and shades of white.
She replaced the home’s appliances with modern stainless steel varieties and then initially installed IKEA cabinetry and counters. “But I decided it just wasn’t me,” she says. Two years ago, she updated her update—keeping the IKEA guts, but replacing the cabinetry doors and handles with locally crafted door and drawer fronts and black metal handles bought on Amazon. She also added a custom-made oven hood and marble countertops, as well as custom shelving with a second refrigerator in the breakfast area, to serve as a small butler’s pantry. “It’s a classic mix of high and low,” Oldenburger explains of the kitchen’s elegant yet functional design. In the bathroom, she installed a new shower and tub, and then used a combination of white subway and gray hex tiles to brighten the space.
The Fire Element
To transform the home’s rectangular, open concept dining and living room into a space that was warm and inviting, Oldenburger had to muster all her decorator’s acumen. “It was a really, really hard room,” explains Oldenburger. “It is really long, tall, and narrow so it was super cavernous when we moved in.” Oldenburger began by refinishing the heart pine floors (she also matched the planks and extended the pine flooring throughout the kitchen) then sourced rough-cut pine from Rothe lumber and created a custom floor-to-ceiling bookshelf along one wall. “That really helped,” she explains. The formal dining area and sunken living room were divided by two steps running the width of the room—Oldenburger deepened the steps to create extra ad-hoc seating. With its 15-foot-high vaulted ceilings, the space still felt a bit vast.
She finally came up with the solution a year and a half ago. “Adding the fireplace was a real game changer for the room,” says Oldenburger. “I spent a while trying to work out the proportions of it.” Oldenburger began by tearing out a rock wall and then designing a fireplace for the bottom portion. Framed by Mayone, the actual built-in fireplace was installed by Fireside Warmth. Above the dark frame, Oldenburger painted the remaining wall white. “We are huge movie buffs, and I designed the fireplace facade to double as a giant viewing space to project movies on.” Low white cabinets in the dining area serve both as banquet and projector stand. The fireplace-movie screen combo helped to cozy-fy the room. “Breaking up that space really created a less cavernous kind of look because you don’t look from top to bottom anymore,” says Oldenburger.
Oldenburger took the opposite approach to other areas of the home—opening them up, rather than closing them in. She tore out the enclosed, carpeted, split staircase. In its place, she designed and installed an open concept staircase with custom wooden treads again from Rothe Lumber, then had custom railings and stringers made by local metal worker Steve Cross. Downstairs, “a really weird long, skinny room” lead to two small bedrooms. Oldenburger removed multiple walls and widened doorways to create one large guest bedroom suite, ultimately turning the five bedrooms into four.
Even though she clearly has a talent for it, lately Oldenburger has been feeling like gut remodeling isn’t enough. She is now turning her talents to designing homes from scratch. The project, called “The Homes at Live Edge” will feature modern homes and begin construction this year. “We hope they will be reflective of what clients typically love and ask for, and yet are unique to the majority of the houses on the market,” she says. “When finished we will be offering them as turn-key furnished residences, ready to move right into.”