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Tour Alison Cayne's Stunning West Village Townhouse

As founder of the New York cooking school Haven's Kitchen and mother to five children, Alison Cayne could be described as an ultimate working mom.
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As founder of the New York cooking school Haven's Kitchen and mother to five children, Alison Cayne could be described as an ultimate working mom.

After deciding to move closer to her downtown school, she snapped up a West Village townhouse that is the stuff of real-estate dreams: five stories with original turn-of-the-century details and lots of garden space. Far from intimidated, Alison decorated the home top to bottom, guided only by her own instincts, a serious Pinterest habit, and her beloved palette of grays, blacks, whites, and the occasional gold-mustard tone.

The result is a pitch-perfect space that's both a creative sanctuary for Alison and an idyllic childhood home, where her kids have sprawling family dinners every night and regular sleepovers with friends. We stopped by to hear how this über-accomplished entrepreneur lives, works, and of course, daydreams.

Acting on Instinct
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Perhaps most notable upon entering Alison’s home is the pared-down palette. But rather than being overly studied, it’s the result of pure instinct. “I actually love color,” she says. “I have these dreams of red, blue, pink rooms, yet somehow I never go down the color road.” The one exception is gold-mustard, which was inspired by an image Alison clipped from a magazine years ago. “Oddly I realized it’s a color that I grew up with in the 1970s, and here I am, with these yellowy mustardy sofas. It’s totally subconscious.” The living area is set off by a pair of velvet George Smith sofas and a chandelierfound at Clignancourt, the famed Paris flea market. Alison skipped a rug in favor of showing off the beautiful wood floors.
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Alison takes a decidedly egalitarian approach to design. “There’s this idea that only these specially trained people can design and decorate a home in this proper way. But actually I think decorating is a lot like cooking—you just have to learn what you really like and how to get that effect.” She’s been able to hone her own unique tastes thanks to fresh visuals from World of Interiors and, of course, Pinterest. “I realized this doesn’t have to be anyone else’s favorite place. It just has to be my favorite place.” An Ellsworth Kelly drawing of black leaves hangs by the window.
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Alison loves to collect anything to do with hands; this one is a fragment of a sculpture. A friend found the glass nesting tables in Paris.
Fine Family Dining
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As a leader in the movement for a healthy, grounded relationship to food, Alison practices what she preaches. Her whole crew -- her children range in age from 9 to 17 -- know to be home by 6:30 p.m. for dinner. All friends are welcome thanks to a dining table that easily expands with an added leaf. “Dinner is 100 percent cell-phone free. It’s the one moment we can all connect. I like to hear about everyone’s day.” After dinner, the table goes back to being the homework station. All of this happens against the backdrop of a serious art collection. Alison loves “quiet but bold” art, gravitating to the Minimalism of the 1960s and ’70s, and her taste for restraint is evident. The pieces range from a black line drawing by Alberto Giacometti to a giant white Robert Ryman piece. Alison swapped a piece of art for her best friend’s dining table, which perfectly complements her 1940s dining chairs.
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At dinner parties, Alison just puts out “a vat of ice” at the bar and lets guests make their own cocktails. She goes with whiskey on the rocks.
Starting the Day Right
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From dawn until bedtime, life really revolves around the kitchen. For the space Alison chose marble countertops and gray-blue cabinets, finished off with classic brass bin pulls. Most mornings Alison does short-order cooking for breakfast, coffee in hand. One daughter loves avocado toast, while another always wants eggs, and everyone eats on the stools along the kitchen island. She does the school drop-off before heading to work. “There are mornings where I think of myself as like Mother Nature, like I should be on Oprah,” says Alison. ” And then other mornings I think, I should never talk about how to parent, ever!” She gets a second cup of coffee—her own special blend of La Colombe—on arrival at Haven’s Kitchen. A black Lacanche stove is a clear centerpiece of the kitchen. The walls are covered in a bricklike subway tile, framed by dark grout.
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When asked why she landed on “Haven’s Kitchen,” Alison says, “My impression of the kitchen was always the hearth, the happy place, the yummy smells, where friends and family gather. But I realized people had so much fear, about what to cook for their kids, about recipes not working, about nutrition. I wanted to bring back that concept that the kitchen should be the haven.” Alison’s a fan of putting out ingredients and letting children and guests create their own version of a dish.
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Alison prefers open shelves—“It’s all so beautiful, why hide it?”
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Appliances stay accessible along the bottom of the wall of custom shelving. With five kids and frequent dinner parties, plates are “always breaking, chipping, peeling. But that’s what makes it fun.”
A Room of Her Own
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With her days spent between children’s activities, Haven’s Kitchen, board meetings, and teaching and speaking events, Alison’s office becomes a sort of getaway zone. When she embarked on decorating her special space, she was reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and that helped shape her thinking, freeing her to create a dreamy space for working. “Woolf was so ahead of her time in knowing that women really needed things and space,” Alison says. “I realized it’s not being selfish or being a bad mother to have those boundaries—they make for better relationships and happier environments. This house is sleepover central, everyone’s running around. But when my door is closed, everyone’s clear that it’s my time.” Alison “reads and piddles” around her office, and has begun serious work on a Haven’s Kitchen cookbook, due out in 2017. She keeps her working world as clutter-free as anywhere else, with a white-on-white color scheme and glass desk keeping things clear and airy.
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Alison has kept a bulletin board of inspirational tears since fourth grade; she’ll collect a big pile and then remake the board. One thing that’s always there is her favorite line: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
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A pair of mod slipper chairs and a Moroccan rug give softness to the light-filled office. The Chuck Close portrait of Jasper Johns at right might be the most colorful piece in the house.
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Among the dark walls, the airy white bed seems to float in the center of the bedroom.
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Whether it’s Mary Oliver’s poems, Virginia Woolf’s diaries, or a James Beard cookbook, Alison loves getting lost in a book.
A Personal Haven
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For her own room, Alison layered luxurious textures, from the Moroccan rug to the fur blanket. It’s a zone of total peace, and it’s where her children love to stay when they’re under the weather. Cayne, who’s divorced, once again sought to please only herself with the decor. “I’d been married since I was 22. I’d liked making joint decisions in the past, but the idea of completely choosing everything and not running it by anyone felt like a treat. I realized I could paint my bedroom black if I wanted to!” And that’s what she did. For her dressing room, Alison chose a black-and-white scheme, brightened by flashes of brass in the hardware and the lighting.
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As you can imagine, downtime is rare. “I love going from working at the cash register to designing the website to a fun interview. But there are times when I need to decompress. I love Friday-night dinners with my family and then quiet weekends where we stay in.” The vanity is as curated as the rest of the house, with photographs of friends and a three-dimensional artwork by her daughter.
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The freestanding claw-foot tub was chosen because it felt romantic.
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While she debated white grout in the bathroom, Alison went with black since inevitably “white gets orangey and dirty-looking.”

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