Lesson number three: Get lots of input, then go with your gut.

Mindy takes me into her kitchen, an airy, inviting space with a sleek walnut-topped center island, a deep red Viking stove, a textured tile countertop ("I don't like granite, I don't like speckles, I don't like shiny"), and warm copper fixtures. "I fell in love with the Web site," she says, referring to an online marketplace for antiques. "I like copper accessories, so I typed in copper, and anytime something copper became available I would get an e-mail from them." She enjoys cooking here for company, and while she'll follow a recipe, she prefers to improvise: "Which is why I like to cook a lot more than I like to bake. Baking is too precise. It's not as creative. I'll struggle through making the cake just so I can decorate it." I tell her that sounds like a design philosophy to me, and she nods emphatically, "It is! It is!"

Neil comes in from the yard, a handsome man bearing grocery bags. "I brought you salad, tomatoes," he says. And he thinks he found a weeping cherry tree for the front of the house, so to mark the event, "I brought some dried cherries."

"Oh, that's beautiful!" Mindy says.

The kitchen area flows into what is now the family room, with its upholstered kilim armchairs in rich earth tones and double-sided rustic stone fireplace, built by local masons to replicate a picture from Mindy's "image book" of places and things that inspire her ("I'm a serial magazine reader and ripper"). She's also a collector, but monetary value isn't what drives her; she collects objects that "make me smile"—old toys, biscuit boxes, tomato-shaped crockery that reminds her of her father, who used to be in the wholesale produce business. She gets a kick out of her monogrammed dining chairs (she collaborated on the design) and her quirky hunting-themed chandelier with tiny foxes circling its rim.

She always knew the house would be livable, not simply a showplace. "I wanted great family space. I wanted a bedroom suite on the ground floor, so when our parents came they'd be comfortable. And I wanted a big room for entertaining." She didn't choose especially modern decor, but she did want the house to be fully wired, which among other innovations meant TVs strategically placed and camouflaged so she could indulge her HSN habit—"Yes, I do watch incessantly," she says with a laugh.

We walk along a hallway where I have to tear my eyes away from an Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph, and then we're in the dining room, with its antique table that seats 16, its ruby-bright Persian rugs and romantic, handpainted de Gournay wallpaper—a brand she discovered while flipping through a magazine and spotting an exquisitely designed wall ("At first I thought it was a mural, and then I realized it was paper"). "You can see how everything in the room is saturated in color," she continues, noting the vivid blues, reds, and greens that, she explains, will lighten as we move to the second floor. Down here she wanted warmth; upstairs, a tranquil coolness.

She touches my arm and points to a collection of rotund antique Chinese pickle jars from Red School House Antiques, one of her most cherished local resources, then steers me to a Côté France corner cupboard, which she opens to reveal the painted interior. "I love hidden things," she says. "When you buy something with quality, you like the inside to be as beautiful as the outside. Nobody's going to see it, but you know it's there."


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