Lesson number four: Quality counts, even when no one else is looking.

We move through the sunroom—imagine walking into a shower of light—and open the doors to the main space for entertaining. This "great room" is an open invitation to relax and socialize: high, beamed ceilings, and behind the amply cushioned sofa, the unquestioned knockout in a room full of exquisite artwork: a gigantic portrait of boxer Joe Louis by British painter Sandor Camille. Neil, who among his other talents (he's a physicist, financier, musician) has an artistic bent, bought it before the couple acquired the Millbrook house. "I said, 'Are you mad? Where are we going to put this?'" Mindy recalls. But of course she fell in love with it, and when she was designing the great room, she proportioned the back wall to showcase this splendid treasure.

It's tempting to flop down in the library, with its casual collection of reading matter ("I don't like places where it looks like somebody just went out and bought books by the yard," Mindy says, grimacing at the thought of shelves lined with leather-bound volumes that have never been cracked open) and its whimsical "lollipop chair." But onward and upward we go. Envisioning a classic staircase in the entryway, Mindy researched Georgian staircases, then scoped out a Canadian company that would build one to her specifications, including an elegantly turned newel post and rhythmically varied spindles. "To be honest with you, I call this the almost-divorce staircase," she says, referring to Neil's reaction when he saw the pricetag, and her less than compliant response. Still, "it was the best decision we ever made," she says, "because every time I walk in the front door, I'm in love with it." As for Neil, on warm summer nights he loves to open the French doors at the landing, take his telescope onto the balcony, and gaze out at a sky full of stars.

Lesson number five: If you know exactly what you want, it's worth fighting for.

Upstairs is Lizzie's Ralph Lauren–inspired jewel box of a bedroom: rosy linen-velvet upholstered walls and curtains, a mini crystal chandelier, and an oversize standing mirror. By contrast, the master bedroom is expansive, a subtly varied wash of color (Parma Gray!), from the twin, faintly regal sofas and soft-toned Megerian rug to the bed swathed in Frette linens and the primal Sandor Camille Torso of Lady in Blue. "The second I saw that, I went crazy for it," Mindy says, "so Neil got it for me for my birthday." There's no strategy to their art collecting: "We buy what we love."

She leads me back to the sunroom, where Neil has prepared a tray of cheeses and nuts. A blueprint is spread across a table—plans for a pool and tennis court the couple is in the process of rebuilding on their 65-acre property. Mindy's overstuffed idea book rests on a nearby chair.

"Do you think this house will ever be finished?" I ask her.

"I hope not!" she says, laughing. "I pretty much know not."

She looks around the room and past it— the pocket doors between the rooms are paned with glass, so she can always see beyond her immediate surroundings. Having vision means keeping your eyes open.

That would be lesson number six.


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