When Jeffrey Seller, the producer of Hamilton, looks at the colorful Matisse Jazz cutout series from 1947 in his living room, it makes him smile and think about the creative process. “It speaks to my sense of childlike wonder and appreciation for the everyday simplicity of taking scissors to paper to create art from cutouts,” Seller says. “It was just completely revolutionary.”
One could say the same about the historic hip-hop musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda that — almost five years after its Broadway debut — will be available to stream online July 3 on Disney+ in a filmed stage version featuring its original cast. But then Seller’s radical producer’s eye also brought to Broadway Rent and Avenue Q, along with Miranda’s first rap musical, In the Heights. Clearly, the discovery and nurturing of a groundbreaking production based on an academic biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton is no more unlikely than anything else in Seller’s career. Likewise, the narrative of the quirky lakeside house he shares with his partner, the advertising, lifestyle, and portrait photographer Josh Lehrer, is anything but typical.
When they bought their weekend home, they initially didn’t plan on living in it, but rather using it as a guesthouse adjacent to a new statement-making modernist home they envisioned building on the 70-acre property in a remote pocket of northern Westchester County, New York. But a visit from their friend James Huniford, the convivial ELLE Decor A-List decorator with a flair for relaxed design, turned them around. He persuaded them that the 50-year-old traditional American house could become a comfortable family retreat just over an hour from Manhattan, where the couple’s two teenagers attend school.
“I showed them how I could use the structure that was already there to give them a house based on how they live,” Huniford says. “They are very present with their kids and friends and love to engage, and that’s not possible in a house with big, open formal spaces.”
TOUR JEFFREY SELLER’S CHARMING COTTAGE BY JAMES HUNIFOR
And so the existing traditional dining room had to go, and the newly expanded living room now has a long refectory table for casual dinner parties. A master bedroom upstairs that was too big for its own good got downsized to make way for a larger bathroom and closet. And a relaxed study, where the family plays Catan on a felt-topped vintage Italian games table, replaced an unfriendly office. “They’re all about being grounded, not at all theatrical,” Huniford says.
But if the house, with its whimsical mix-and-match palette and patterns inspired by Bloomsbury-era florals, conveys intimacy, and ease, the woods and meadows outside are about something else. “I didn’t know I’d fall so in love with the land that my hands are now in the dirt all day long instead of on my cameras,” says Lehrer, whose book Hamilton: Portraits of the Revolution was published in April and features black-and-white portraits of the original cast and passages from the historic figures they played. “Being a steward of such a large piece of the property gives you a sense of responsibility.”
“It’s an impressive piece of land,” adds Seller about the property, where Lehrer has been clearing a network of pathways among the trees, ferns, and rocks. “It’s like a park that’s a work of art.”
The art in the house breaks its own ground, too. With the assistance of art adviser Yvonne Force Villareal, the couple acquired a framed Kara Walker silhouette and positioned it playfully near the Matisse cutouts. A Lisa Yuskavage painting of a baby reminds them of the adoption of their own kids, and artwork by the Bruce High-Quality Foundation of a sylvan landscape covered with graffiti speaks to the integrated city and country lifestyle they enjoy.
The place is so bright and welcoming that even the kids don’t miss the city when there. Their 17-year-old daughter (they also have a 16-year-old son) said she had always wanted a screened-in porch, and so Huniford redid the patio kitchen to create one. It overlooks a secret lake and the lush surrounding scenery, and there isn’t a day when Seller doesn’t remember he’d always dreamed about having an unpretentious retreat not much more than an hour’s drive from the city.
“I mean,” he says with a sigh, “I just can’t believe we get to live this way.”