Douglas Brenner: A lake house in Skaneateles — isn't this a sort of homecoming for you?
Thom Filicia: It is. I grew up nearby, in Syracuse, and we came here when I was a kid. My new book on the house, , is a little bit about going home and staying connected to where you're from and what you're about. It's also about the idea of not having to knock things down to make them relevant today. My house was built in 1917. I happened to see the For Sale sign when I was up here for a wedding. I pulled in the driveway, and it looked like it was about to implode, it was so dilapidated. There were squirrels living in it! I thought, 'Ah, this house needs me. And I need this house.'
What was your vision for it?
That it would feel like a lake house, but also a home. Sophisticated, but also down-to-earth and approachable. Specific to where it is, but not a musty camp cliché. Younger, fresher. It really represents my aesthetic and my point of view for a country house. I designed the furniture, the rugs, the fabrics, the wall art, the curtain hardware. It's about as me as you can get.
You have quite a few rooms where the furniture is pretty densely packed in. What was your motivation?
Entertaining. I mean, I go to people's houses that are twice the size of mine, and there's not enough seating. There's a lot of seating here. I wanted comfortable, inviting rooms where people can come in, sit down, put up their feet, relax, have fun. My partner, Greg, and I have the entertaining thing in common. We like having lots of people around, and there's rarely an empty guest room.
That living room sofa could seat an entire party.
It's kind of ridiculous, isn't it? I think it's 10 feet long. It's called the Skaneateles sofa, and it's part of my furniture line — but not in that length. I made it that long for this house.
Do you have designs in the works now that were inspired by your house?
Without a doubt. My furniture line is called the New American, and it represents a fresh approach to Americana. It's easy, relaxed, and comfortable, but also chic.
What does 'Americana' mean to you?
To me, Americana has always been based on the way people in this country actually live. There's something rugged about it, something simple and clean, humble and restrained. I love when things are humble. I love when things are restrained. I love when things are inspired by something fanciful, but they're dialed back. The idea of a reinvigorated, more relevant Americana excites me. I'm not looking to live in a Tuscan villa or a Loire Valley château in upstate New York. If I wanted a château, I'd want to have it in France. Things should make sense for where they are. And I'm very inspired by the American lifestyle.
Your dining room really reflects your love of restraint.
Bare floor, bare table — I'm not big on tablecloths, to be honest. It does have a more austere look, but the walls are upholstered, so the room feels warm and cozy. And it helps the acoustics. All the clinking and clanking of glasses and silverware doesn't reverberate and drown out conversation — dining rooms should be conducive to that. Sound and lighting are very important to me when I entertain. There are built-in speakers hidden in every room, and every single light in the house, including in closets, is on a dimmer. I like the atmosphere to be rela and soothing, and then around 10 o'clock I might amp it up and make it a little more fun. And then later, maybe make it darker again.
Is there a grand finale?
After dinner, we sit around the fire pit down by the lake. We do this summer, fall, winter, spring. It's magical. After New Year's we burn our Christmas tree in the pit. Last time I had to remind people to take the base off. Sometimes we have a few too many cocktails and start getting creative.
Are you here for Thanksgiving?
Yes. A bunch of friends come up from New York, and we have a dinner party the night before Thanksgiving. The next morning, we all get up and do the Turkey Trot, which is a three-and-a-half-mile run with about 300 people. And after the run they have Bloody Marys on the lawn outside a big tent. Then some friends have a big cocktail party, so we go there, still in our running clothes. By five o'clock, our eyes are going in all different directions. Everyone goes home and takes a nap, and then we all go to an inn in the village. There's a room with a fireplace that seats 30 people. We do one long table, and both of our families join us.
Any last thing you want to say about your book?
American Beauty is partly a case study — it shows how to take an ugly duckling and make it pretty again. It's about an American house and an American approach to decorating. A house that's fun, friendly, relaxed, stylish, and cool. A house that's enjoyed and used and really lived in, that's a great backdrop for my life. The house feels alive. And that's why I think it's a beautiful story.