Photo: Simon Upton
For a woman this adventurous, the prospect of refurbishing a beautiful old house was a huge attraction. But she was in no hurry; the main thing, at first, was to find some respite from her whirlwind life. As soon as the papers were signed, she and Neil began coming up on weekends. After a spate of small catastrophes that rattled her urban soul—the well dried up, the house was overrun with beetles (who turned out to be beneficial migrating ladybugs)—"Canoe Hill" became the one spot where Mindy could "decompress" when her closely calibrated schedule allowed it. She and the couple's teenage daughter, Lizzie, discovered a passion for cooking. Neil acquired a tractor. ("It's a man thing," Mindy says. "They come up here and all of a sudden they become Paul Bunyan.") Six years later, she was ready to renovate and expand, and turned to local contractors for advice.
"They said, 'Well, for what you're going to spend, you might as well knock it down,' and I said, 'Over my dead body.'" She loved that the house had a history, that it was suffused with character. Unluckily, though, it was structurally compromised, so she ended up preserving the three-story core—including the dining room, library, guest suites, and Lizzie's room—and building around it. Jim Crisp, an architect right in Millbrook, set up a closed Internet site, says Mindy, "so if I was in China, they could send me an e-mail and say, 'Could you take a look at this piece of hardware?' And wow, I could log on and weigh in on a hinge or a doorknob. I tell people that my house was built by e-mail."
Her entrepreneurial instincts kicked in instantly. Like any new venture, building a dream house required planning, flexibility, a flair for improvisation, and a healthy chunk of time. "It's still not finished," she tells me, "I'm still building and layering and collecting. I could probably tell you the story of where I found every piece in the house and why I picked it. I want a memory. I want a story. That's what makes something special." She learned that bit of wisdom from Ralph Lauren. "He used to look at me and say, 'Mindy, tell me where it came from.' It didn't matter if it was just a fixture for a store. What was it before it was a fixture? And you just start thinking that way, even in your own life, because that makes everything much more meaningful."
I'm getting the message that this woman isn't just talking about decorating houses. There are some lessons here. Lesson number one: Treasure the past, and build on it.
Her work fostering the community of more than 60 brands under IAC's umbrella is all about connecting, collecting, communicating—and that's what Mindy did as she gathered ideas for the house. If her friend Todd Dewey Jantz, who has a savvy eye and a retail store in Portland, Oregon, came to New York City, they'd make a pilgrimage to the D&D (Decoration & Design) Building, the midtown warren of showrooms that is the mecca of design industry professionals. If she had a day, a couple of hours, she'd go antiquing or shop online. (Lesson number two: Even if you're insanely busy, steal time for what you love.) She'd shoot Todd some nutty possibility via e-mail; he'd shoot one back saying, "Mindy, take a nap." She'd swap ideas with the architects, who appreciated her decisiveness. "I'm a love-it-or-hate-it person," she says. "I don't waffle." She did do "gut checks." She knew, for example, that she loved a certain shade of Farrow & Ball paint: "Parma Gray! I was obsessed with it! I painted swatches on the bedroom wall and went through every time of day to see how the light changed the color."
We Hear You!